New Information Raises Questions About Rebecca Zahau's Death

September 8, 2011

Photo courtesy of the Shacknai family

Recent evidence suggests that Rebecca Zahau did not commit suicide, as was originally concluded by San Diego police.

For those who haven't been following, Zahau was found dead naked with her feet tied and hands tied behind her back in the home of Jonah Shacknai. This happened several days after a fatal accident involving Shacknai's son. Though initially described as a "very violent and very suspicious" death by officers on the scene, San Diego police immediately ruled the death a suicide and quickly closed the case.

Recent mainstream articles question the ritualistic method of her death. Law enforcement responded to the new evidence saying it did not warrant a re-opening of the case.

Here are a few unsolved questions I have for San Diego Lt. Larry Nesbit:

  • Why does her skull have four separate, major blunt trauma wounds on it?
  • Why were there bruises and blood found on the body when investigators arrived?
  • Why is there evidence that a t-shirt was used to gag her, with t-shirt fragments found in her mouth?
  • How is it possible that Zahau was able to tie her own hands behind her back prior to hanging herself?
  • Why is there evidence of adhesive tape residue on her legs and body?
  • Why would Zahau choose to commit suicide in such a humiliating way?
  • The supposed suicide note painted on the bedroom said "She saved him, can he save her?" This note was painted at a height much taller than Zahau's 5 foot 3 height and does not match her handwriting. Why is this considered a suicide note (and not a chilling third-person message from her murderer), and why hasn't there been any work to try to match her handwriting?
  • Why did Adam Shacknai, Jonah's brother who was living on the premises and reported the death, cut Zahau's body from hanging before the police arrived? He did not do it to protect the exposed body, as her body was still naked when authorities arrived.

The mysterious facts of this case remind me of injustices regarding other murdered Asian Americans, such as Robert Wone and Vincent Chin. US law enforcement and judicial systems are not unlike academic or corporate settings, where they may operate based on ideals grounded on truth, objectivity, or meritocracy, but in reality can be influenced by how ineffectual or powerless an individual (or an entire group) is. Lack of strong community challenge to quesionable decisions by officers, judges, or decision makers -- such as the case of Rebecca Zahau -- perpetuates the cycle, and an argument can be made that little has changed since Vincent Chin's killers got away almost three decades ago.


Alvin Lin


Alvin Lin was born in Taipei, Taiwan and hails from New England. He blogs about Asian American pop culture, film, music, literature and politics, as well as relevant news around the world. He also writes for Imprint Talk. Alvin has degrees from Cornell and MIT.



When this story made the news I thought it most unusual. . Sadly, most murder cases go unsolved. . It is possible the police "closed" the case due to the only evidence they have could be argued down in court. By closing the case maybe the police are hoping Adam Shacknai will get sloppy and say or do something that gives himself away (if he iss indeed the guilty party). The charge of murder can then be brought into play as murder has no statue of limitations.
The Sheriff stated in his news conference on 2 Sept that the type of slip knot shown in a video given then to the press was the same type that was on Rebecca's hands, behind her back. But other statements to the press by the Sheriff's office relate that Shacknai's brother had untied the knot -- it would appear that the Sheriff simply took the description given by Adam Shacknai at face value, with no questioning. Also, very little attention has been given to the bizarre drunk driving done by Detective Barbara Crozier from the Sheriff's office in Palm Desert on 30 August,, smashing several cars, running over a person's hand, and then hours later running into a fountain at a golf course-- that detective had been stationed in Ramona in early 2011 but was transferred to Santee, so her locale was in flux. The timing of her bizarre behavior might suggest some connection to the Shacknai case, perhaps knowledge of the identity of the person who put the bizarre message on the bedroom door. (Why was the content of that message held back from public knowledge after 2 Sept, and why was it so quickly whited out?)
I've been following the Rebecca Zahua case and like many others I have serious doubts she committed suicide. I hope Rebecca's family and their attorney will be successful in their attempts to have the case reopened. My reason for commenting however, is to thank you for mentioning Robert Wone. To this day I remain appalled that the three freaks who were brought up on obstruction charges got off, and continue to get away with murder. The DC police should be ashamed. Robert Wone deserved so much more.
Responding To Previous Poster "perhaps knowledge of the identity of the person who put the bizarre message on the bedroom door. (Why was the content of that message held back from public knowledge after 2 Sept, and why was it so quickly whited out?)" “We can have reasonable confidence that the family actually got to see the unedited photograph of the door containing the painted message because the family has stated that it was not Rebecca’s handwriting.” “And we’ve heard it was block letters, etc. The autopsy account of the message is written as though it was not in block letters and indicates each word capitalized with the remaining letters in lowercase” Interesting signature on page 5 (Medicis Annual Report 2009)