Tragic Death Involving Az Locals Captivates Coronado, CA

Posted by: Phoenix Arizona Criminal Defense Lawyer Nick Alcock

Below is a very thorough and well written account of the tragedy that has befallen an Arizona family staying in Coronado, CA this summer. We wish the families involved peace and good blessings during this tragic and trying time. Hopefully more details will emerge and whoever is responsible for this tragedy can be brought to justice.

Original article source:

CORONADO, Calif. – At homes along the white sand, at restaurants on the palm-lined main drag, even at the city tourism center, the talk of this exclusive stretch of coastline has turned to death.

A woman’s body was found at the beachfront mansion of an Arizona businessman Wednesday – that much is certain. As few new details emerged as the week went on, the community’s hunger for answers grew.

“It’s just a shocking event,” said Katherine Matlack, manager of the Coronado Visitor Center. “It’s shocking and tragic.”

The center attracts as many as 90,000 people a year, she said. Most are looking for suggestions on sights to see or where to have dinner. But, this week, even the tourists are asking about the mansion, the businessman, the naked woman found dead.

“Everybody wants to know what happened,” Matlack said.

Investigators on Friday refused to release further findings in their investigation, but the sequence of the tragedies is known. It began not on Wednesday but on Monday at the Spreckels Mansion on Ocean Avenue. The cream-colored, 27-room estate is passed daily by throngs of visitors toting beach chairs toward the sand.

On Monday, the 6-year-old son of Jonah Shacknai, CEO of Scottsdale-based Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp., was hospitalized. The boy had suffered serious injuries in a fall near the mansion’s main staircase.

Two days later, emergency officials rushed to the mansion after a 911 call about a woman in distress.

The woman was 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau, Shacknai’s girlfriend of two years. Neighbors had seen him walking around town with her and his children.

Zahau, who previously had been married to Neil Nalepa, had her name legally changed to her maiden name after her divorce.

At the mansion, police officers found Shacknai’s brother, Adam, and Zahau. Zahau was naked, bound at her hands and feet, lying in the courtyard.

Adam Shacknai told police that she had been hanging from the balcony and that he had cut her down.

Emergency crews tried to revive her and pronounced her dead at the scene.

Coronado is a place quiet enough that the police don’t employ a full-time homicide team, a place that has recorded just two homicides in the past 10 years. News of the death quickly spread across the city, looming even larger than the shadow of the historic Hotel del Coronado.

Everywhere, everyone wants to know what happened.

Courtney Porter, 25, a waitress at Village Pizzeria on Orange Avenue, the island’s main commercial strip of restaurants, shops and art galleries, said Zahau’s death has dominated conversation among diners clustered at the sidewalk tables just a couple of blocks away from the Spreckels Mansion.

Porter and other waitresses talked about their good-natured run-ins with Jonah Shacknai, his penchant for wheat pancakes with peanut butter, his health-conscious habits, his indulgent nature toward his kids.

“This is just unheard of,” Porter said.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department, which is handling the investigation, has characterized the case as bizarre and unusual.

The department on Friday urged police departments from California to Arizona not to release police reports or other public documents about Shacknai or Zahau.

The Coronado Police Department on Friday would not release tapes of the two 911 calls from the mansion this week. The Police Department also refused Friday to release any documents related to any past calls to houses owned by Shacknai and his former wife, Dina Shacknai, who also owns a home on the island.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, which completed an autopsy on Zahau on Thursday, said Friday that the report was sealed at the Sheriff’s Department’s request.

Sheriff’s Capt. Tim Curran would not answer any questions about the case.

In a statement sent to various law-enforcement agencies Friday, the department said it also had restricted access to any search warrants issued in the case.

With no new information from law enforcement, questions swirled among residents and visitors.

Over and over, people said the death was so shocking because it was such a rarity in this tony, insular beach community, home to the wealthy and a popular Arizona vacation destination.

The Coronado Police Department reported just two homicides in the past decade. A drunken driver hit and killed a pedestrian last year, and a murder-suicide occurred in 2007.

For many, Zahau’s death is less a harbinger of fear and more of a curiosity. People want to know how and why it happened.

Andrew Prchal, 15, a Brophy College Preparatory sophomore from Scottsdale, is vacationing in Coronado at a house just three doors down from the Spreckels Mansion. On Wednesday, he and his friends stood on their roof and looked down into the mansion’s courtyard at Zahau’s nude body.

“We saw the body from the roof,” Prchal said Friday, adding that the image was disturbing but hard to look away from. “Definitely.”

Prchal said he is friends with Shacknai’s eldest daughter, 14-year-old Gabriele. He said he has talked with her several times since the death at her father’s home, mostly to make sure she is OK.

Prchal said Gabriele has not talked a lot about Zahau’s death or the injury to her 6-year-old brother. “It’s kind of intimate,” he said. “She doesn’t want to talk about them.”

Gabriele was in Coronado until Monday morning, when she returned to her South Carolina home, Prchal said. She was gone by the time emergency crews responded to calls that her brother had fallen near the mansion’s grand interior staircase.

Prchal said that the Shacknais were friendly and that Jonah Shacknai often walked with his daughters and Zahau around town.

Jeff Alison, who lives two doors down from the Spreckels Mansion, said neighbors along Ocean Boulevard largely keep to themselves.

Still, he said, the neighborhood shares a collective grief over the tragic death of one of its own. Residents want answers from law enforcement to lift the mystery that has enveloped their neighborhood.

“A young woman died. That is the issue,” Alison said. “It’s an important question that needs to be answered.”
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