Was Rebecca Zahau Murdered or Was It Suicide?
Was it murder or suicide? That is the never-ending question prevailing over the death of beautiful Rebecca Zahau, who was found hanging by a noose from the second-story balcony of the Spreckels Mansion on the morning of July 13, 2011. Her body was nude, making the red rope wrapped around her neck, and binding her arms behind her back, and feet even more prominent. A blue t-shirt was wrapped around her neck and a gag placed harshly in her mouth. At just 32, Rebecca Zahau was dead. It was the beginning of a case that would grow to sensational proportions and bring unending pain to those who loved her so.
Although her death was initially labeled “suspicious” the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office ruled within two months her death was a suicide. Citing the lack of any fingerprints, DNA, or footprints belonging to anyone else other than Rebecca, the September 2, 2011, ruling was definitive.
Rebecca’s heartbroken family, led by her sister Mary and mother Pari were outraged, refusing to accept the decision for even a second. Rebecca’s love for her family and her strong Christian faith would preclude her from taking her own life they firmly believed. Rebecca was savagely murdered they concluded, and they would vindicate her.
Years of legal battling ensued, before a civil jury found Adam Shacknai, the brother Rebecca’s boyfriend, liable for her death in April of 2018.
The Sheriff’s Death Investigation of Rebecca Zahau
Under intense pressure, Sheriff Bill Gore finally announced he would assign a new task team to re-evaluate the evidence and the death investigation.
On December 7, 2018, Sheriff Gore released the panel’s findings, writing, “After conducting a thorough review of the case, this review panel found no evidence that would lead us to believe that Rebecca Zahau died at the hands of another. In addition, we found no evidence that would dispute or be inconsistent with the Medical Examiner’s findings that Rebecca Zahau’s manner of death was a suicide.” Again, the Zahau family was heartbroken and outraged.
The Zahau Family Files Lawsuit Against Sheriff Bill Gore
On the ninth anniversary of Rebecca’s death, her family filed a public records lawsuit against Sheriff Bill Gore and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department seeking records of the investigation. The family maintains Sheriff Gore is hiding records, and though promising to turn over the entire file, released only selected items which furthered his suicide theory. The lawsuit specifically alleges Sheriff Gore’s instructions “were designed to make it virtually impossible for the panel to do anything other than support Sheriff Gore’s initial determination that Rebecca committed suicide.”
Will Rebecca Zahau Death Investigation Records Be Released at Last?
Attorneys for the sheriff’s department are seeking a dismissal of the suit, arguing the records, including Sheriff Gore’s instructions to his team, are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act.
In the court hearing on November 12, 2021, passionate argument was presented by both sides before Judge Timothy Taylor. Keith Greer, the Zahau’s long standing attorney, told Judge Taylor there was fraud by Sheriff Gore, who lied, and paid lip service to the investigation. “He told officers one thing, and the public another.” The county’s attorney, Thomas Deak, argued there are “no circumstances where those instructions are discoverable.”
As the argument went back and forth, what became evident is the legal question: Are instructions considered “records” and thus protected? Both sides agree there is no current case law either way, and it will be left up to statutory interpretation. The issue may eventually make new case law, as the current legislation does not provide a clear answer.
While Judge Taylor issued a tentative ruling in the Zahau’s favor, after oral argument, he took the case under submission.
Following the court hearing, Keith Greer addressed the media. Here is what he had to say:
About Aleida K. Wahn, Esq.
I am an attorney, award-winning true crime writer, and legal analyst of criminal cases. I cover criminal trials and write stories about compelling, gripping, and unforgettable cases that impact our world. I take you into the courtroom in high-profile murder trials, rape cases, crimes of passion, cases involving mental illness, deviant behavior, and more. I have a deep passion for true crime, criminal law, and all aspects of the criminal justice system. I have appeared as an expert on true crime shows and provided legal analysis on high-profile criminal trials on Court TV, the Law & Crime Trial Network, Fox 5 News, ABC 10 News, and KUSI News. I also create and host shows with the Del Mar Television Producers Group, addressing criminal justice and social issues in recent criminal trials.
I provided my insight and legal analysis on Court TV and the Law & Crime Trial Network of the high-profile trial of former NFL star Kellen Winslow Jr. It was a trial that captured the nation as the heralded ex-football star with fame, fortune, and a famous name stood accused of multiple rapes and other sex crimes involving five women. As the trial delved into shocking facts, complicated legal issues, and unexpected twists and turns, I was there for every minute. After the trial, I wrote a book on the case, going behind the headlines to share the extraordinary details of what happened inside the courtroom. Judging Winslow Jr.: From NFL Star to Serial Rapist? Inside the Shocking Rape Trial of Kellen Boswell Winslow II is now available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZLM5HCG
I am passionate about telling true crime stories, as these penetrating stories have the power to move us all, while highlighting societal issues which need to be addressed. I have personally seen the human devastation which is present in each trial and believe there is a lesson to be learned in every single case. It is through awareness and examining critical issues society can effect change and even make new laws. To learn more, please visit: www.aleidalaw.com.