The body of Rebecca Zahau was found hanging in the home of her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, in July, 2011. Her death was ruled a suicide, but on Friday, her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court, asking for 10 million dollars in damages.
Zahau’s body was found on a second floor balcony, hanging from a rope. She was naked, and her hands were tied behind her back. Her feet were also tied, and she had a torn tee shirt tied around the lower part of her face. The coroner ruled her death a suicide.
Zahau had been living in the mansion of her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, a pharmaceutical magnate. His six-year-old son, Max, lived with them. Zahau’s body was found just hours after Max succumbed from injuries after he had fallen down a long staircase days prior to her death. He had been alone in the house with Zahau.
The lawsuit names Adam Shacknai and Dina Shacknai, brother and ex-wife of Zahau’s Arizona millionaire boyfriend Jonah Shacknai, as well as Dina Shacknai’s twin sister, Nina Romano, as defendants. Jonah Shacknai is not named in the suit.
The lawsuit, filed by the mother and sister of Rebecca Zahau, accuses three people of “threatening to stalk, attack, choke, gag, bound and hang her on the premises.”
The three “did thereafter brutally, and with malice aforethought, stalk, attack, choke, bound and hang Rebecca at the premises,” according to the lawsuit.
Adam had been living in a guest house on the premises. He found the body of Ms. Zahau, and cut her down. Dina and Nina, who are twin sisters, lived nearby. Dina was Adam’s mother.
In September, 2011, Sheriff Bill Gore told reporters that the circumstances of the death of 32 year old Zahau were not that unusual for a suicide. The only fingerprints and DNA found on the scene belonged to the deceased. They were on the rope, and the knife used to cut it into pieces.
Investigators said they spoke to an unnamed person, who knew Zahau well. They said that she had not been eating well for months, and had stopped exercising.
The sheriff found notes written by Zahau which Gore said, described additional evidence as “compelling” and pointing “persuasively” to suicide.
The sheriff’s office tested a woman about the same size as Zahau, to see if she could tie herself in knots in the same manner. She was able to perform the task. The sheriff said, “science doesn’t lie.”
The family will have its day in court. The jury will have much to ponder. Was this death by suicide or otherwise?
Alfred James reporting