Some answers to burning questions about the case of a millionaire's deceased child and girlfriend

By Ken Lee
July 27, 2011 07:00 AM
Courtesy Virgin Gotels Group Ltd; Inset: Dan Steinberg/AP

As the investigation continues into the mysterious deaths of Jonah Shacknai’s girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, and his son, Max, questions remain about what really happened inside the millionaire’s mansion near San Diego.

On July 13, Zahau, 32, was found hanging from a makeshift noose with her arms bound behind her back and her legs also tied. Max, 6, succumbed to his injuries several days later, after an accidental fall from a staircase in the home.

Here are some of the burning questions about the case – and what is known so far:

1. Was Rebecca’s death a murder or suicide?
That’s yet to be determined, pending forensic test results which are still weeks away. “Usually the forensics will solve these types of mysteries,” says Sgt. Roy Frank of the San Diego Sheriff’s homicide unit. “We don’t believe [her death] was accidental. So we’re down to suicide or homicide, which at times can look very similar.”

2. What will those tests reveal?
Any foreign DNA on her body, fingerprints, any drugs in her system, or signs of trauma.

3. Was she suicidal?
Rebecca’s older sister Mary Zahau-Loehner has strongly denied her sister was suicidal or depressed following Max’s accident. Ted Greenberg, a dog daycare service owner who saw Rebecca one day before she died, adds, “There were no signs of her being erratic.”

4. Does Rebecca’s family blame Jonah for her death?
So far, it appears no. “Jonah was very devoted to Rebecca,” said her brother-in-law, Doug Loehner, shortly after her death. “She treated his kids as her own.” And a Zahau family statement added: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jonah and the Shacknai family on the loss of their son Max.” Jonah also attended Rebecca’s funeral on Saturday and sat with her family.

5. Do police suspect Jonah or his brother Adam, who found Rebecca’s hanging body? What about Max’s mother, Dina?
“We have no suspects or persons of interest at this time,” says Sgt. Frank, who adds that all three have been cooperative. “We are checking the consistency of everyone’s statements. That includes anyone associated with the [mansion]. We are keeping an open mind and not jumping to any conclusions.”