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TCRS assessment of DEATH AT THE MANSION [Part 1 of 2]

Where a crime is covered up there’s always an absence of evidence.

The absence of evidence is evidence.

After the first two episodes [with two to go], it may be too quick to criticize [or compliment] Oxygen’s documentary on Rebecca Zahau – Death at the Mansion.  But based on what I’ve seen I do have a few comments. We’ll see if any of these issues are brought up or resolved in the final two episodes.

I don’t know whether the producers of some of these shows go to some lengths to do a sort of true crime cocktease [pardon the term], but it sure feels that way sometimes.  They don’t want to seem too biased in the beginning, but then…when do they nail their colors to the mast?


There are a few cases out there that don’t require one to be a Rocket Scientist to see the basic mechanism. I’m not saying the Zahau case is a simple case, but to dedicate the first half of their documentary so far to a game of “on the one hand X” but “on the other hand Y” tends to get a little tedious. After two episodes it still feels like an about even score on both sides, and that’s not good.

A decent investigation finds its feet fairly early on, not prematurely of course, but it develops a theory and then over time, assimilating the evidence but keeping an open mind, it fine-tunes and tightens the screws. But we don’t see that here, we simply see more information adding to the tension, more exculpatory evidence versus more incalpatory evidence, and the viewer is left – intentionally – with what ultimately amounts to a middle-of-the-road neither-here–nor-there analysis.

In many of these documentaries we see the same thing. They bring in a revolving door of experts and yet they never quite seem able to choose which side of the fence they want to be on. This is no accident, of course, but from the purview of an authentic investigation, it’s kinda sucky isn’t it?

I get it. To be too on-the-chin where a suspect hasn’t been convicted, where the police case and will to prosecute is weak is risky. To be too explicit about where you’re driving at when huge sums of money [massive resources] are available for litigation if a narrative oversteps the line, is dangerous and bad for business for any media player.

But there is a way to point fingers at evidence that’s a deeper dive than the light vanilla analysis we see. We see so many TV shows giving the appearance of investigations.  If you’re going to investigate a case, investigate it. Forget about bias, don’t pretend to forget about it. What do I mean?

Both images above appear – fleetingly – in the documentary, but thus far neither the balcony floor nor the railing have been discussed in any detail. The image on the left depicts a few toe impressions and a single boot impression in the thick grime and dirt of the balcony.

In their online coverage, Oxygen rightly notes that the boot print was traced to a responding officer. Now although they’ve recreated how a knot could be self-tied, and gone to speak to some “experts” in bondage, why not take it further and try to recreate stepping into the dirt on the balcony and leaving as few toe prints as Rebecca did. That’s the first part of the equation.

The second part is the railing itself. The black, wrought iron railing was 36 inches high, or 0.91 meters. In the image on the right above, there’s very little dirt rubbed away off the surface of the railing. Rebecca was short, 5 feet 3 inches [1.6 meters] and if her legs were bound as well her hands, she would have bent over the railing and smudged the dirt off as she toppled over. Also, her hands and clothing should contain traces of the same grime.

During the civil trial a forensic kinesiologist [James Kent] made the same observation. Kent stated:

“She would have to fall forward onto the railing. She wouldn’t go over because her center of gravity is below the railing.”

More on this topic: Zahau could not have tipped herself over balcony in suicide, expert testfies – SanDiegoTribune

Jurors Hear Evidence in Coronado Mansion Mysterious Death – NBC San Diego

Here’s a closer view. Notice even where the rope is in its final position, the grime seems undisturbed. There is a small area on the far left which is about the size of a hand or a few fingers. But it’s hard to imagine someone short stepped over the railing.

Fullscreen capture 20190611 060238

The alternative is that she placed her feet on the metal latticework below, leaned over and then slipped off. But then we should see indentations or grime rubbed off on the latticework.

I would also like to see the view neighbors might have of that balcony, and the line of sight angles onto it. This is somewhat visible in aerial photos, but there are almost no photos taken from the balcony itself showing line of sight to the neighbors while standing on the balcony, and from neighbors to the balcony. This is important because if she was murdered, the murderer wouldn’t want to be seen out in the open.


The absence of smudge marks or prints on the floor and railing suggest Zahau may have been tossed over the railing, rather than dropped. This may be why her killer felt so many knots were necessitated, and the reinforcing use of the bed post to “anchor” her fall – all so he could remain out of sight. And if that’s the case, did her body swing back and damage the cactus below?

balcony-rebecca-zahau-4-ht-jt-180228_16x9_992Fullscreen capture 20180512 131833

If it was a suicide, why not simply tie the rope to the balcony? Why this complicated apparatus?

Fullscreen capture 20190611 062842

The other aspect that I thought was both strong and weak was the input from the criminal psychologist at the end of episode two. The expert provided a little nugget of insight that Rebecca was a disciplined, mentally strong and stable person. This goes against the idea of a spontaneous act. I’m not sure one needs to be an expert to see that, but it’s nevertheless a valid point.

Hickey mentions investigating many cases over the years and never seeing a situation like this – with a woman taking off all her clothes and then supposedly committing suicide. I have. The Rohde case. That was also case involving a multimillionaire, staged to look like a suicide.

Handyman shows how he released naked Susan Rohde from curling iron cord

My tears fell on Susan Rohde’s naked breasts‚ says ex-priest

Susan Rohde’s ‘overstaged suicide was grotesque’

One of the strongest elements in the first two episodes, besides the 911 call from Xena [where Rebecca can be heard whimpering in the background] is the input from the Crime Scene Analyst, or CSA.

Fullscreen capture 20190611 063913

The expert describes the coarse, abrasive language and style of the black brushstrokes against the door. The expert suggests that the original intention – if it was murder – wasn’t to commit murder, but something else. And then that something else had to be covered in a rushed, haphazard and spontaneous manner. sd-pg-day-18-civil-trial-wrongful-death-rebecc-006

The final two episodes of DEATH AT THE MANSION are on June 15th [Seeking Justice for Rebecca] and June 22nd [Final Theories].


  1. crimetravelerswife

    I’m waiting for all the episodes to air so I can watch them at once. I have always been in the death was a suicide. I’m not daft in anyway and just agree with what law enforcement say happened but this is the only case I do agree. It’s so out there in terms of a suicide scene but I nor anyone can truly understand the mind of a suicidal person. What might look bat shit crazy on how it was done may not have been in the moment to the person. There could have been a perfectly good reason on how the rope was tied that we won’t ever know. She could have been the most mentally fit and stable person in the world but no one can know how you would feel when you find out your partner’s child isn’t going to make it after the injuries he got while you where looking after him. That kind of news will effect you regardless if your not or ever been suicidal before. Also there are many suicidal people in the world that no one knows are suicidal because people don’t talk about it to others. You can also act completely fine or better than fine just before as well. It also doesn’t matter how religious she was as a factor either as she was living unmarried to a divorced father and I’m sure alot of religions see that as wrong and not the religious thing to do. She could have been in the shower when she listened to the voicemail saying max was going to die and it spiralled from there. That’s why she was naked. Depending on how thick and how long the dust which I would say is outside in the elements so isn’t going to be like it is inside on furniture easily marked. If this was genuinely a murder then why not prosecute it like that? Police seen the same if not more than us and I’m sure they thought it was weird as well. They would have charged murder but they didn’t. The 911 call isn’t weird to me either yes he says ive got a girl but I don’t find that odd considering he’s just opened his door to the sight of Rebecca hanging naked from the balcony so obviously he’s in shock and not thinking straight. The standing on a table isn’t odd either as you would want to be higher even if it’s not that high to cut the rope. She was still hanging off the ground therefore higher than him at this point so yes you would grab the first thing you could. Your not going to evaluate height your going to look and see what you can use to stand on and cut her down. He was on the property in a different part so how does everyone just go as it was him that did it. Anyone could have came to the house snuck in and murdered her not just him. Yes it’s an odd scene but truthfully I don’t see murder and have never heard one thing that suggests to me that it is. I know personally that suicide doesn’t always look like how we think it would or that the person is stable and religious and would never do that but yes anyone can think it and some do it and it always comes as a shock as no one ever commits suicide and family and friends go aw yeah I knew that was going to happen or not be surprised at all. It can be a planned thing or it can be a quick judgement in the split of a second acted in bizzare circumstances to us not them.

    • Sylvester

      crimetravelerswife and everyone, it would be great to discuss Zahau with others – over on Nick’s slick crime rocket blog about the case. He has case files and it’s very interesting! If people don’t know much about the case it won’t take long to get caught up, and of course the book “Zahau into the belly of the whale” is available here.

  2. Sylvester

    Apparently I’m only going to be allowed Episode 1 without a television subscription. I’ve watched One, plus read all of the blogs and numerous clips from previews. I’ve always wanted to make some sort of case for the relationship between the Shacknai brothers and that of Rebecca’ s death. There is an age gap difference for one, and it’s undeniable one brother went all the way educationally, making valuable contacts along the way and starting an extremely successful pharma company developing their own products that were marketed world-wide. The other preferred to live in the south, and couldn’t have a less glamorous job. The Bible verse John 3:11, 12 as it relates to brothers and brotherly love or dislike I found useful but both of these brothers couldn’t be more different, on the surface at least.

    We know Jonah has had a volatile relationship with women or wives in the past. After Max’s fall as he lay clinging to life Jonah’s ex wife and Max’s mother, Dina, is claimed to have told Jonah “you should get down on your knees and thank (Zahau) for saving Max’s life.” Jonah’s response was something you might get out of a robot: “Of course I am grateful to her, because she gave him CPR.” (from the San Diego Tribune).

    Rebecca’s diary (or text messages to her sister – not clear which) reveal a troubled relationship with Jonah. 1: “Being talked to like I’m a worthless person by kids who are spoilt” 2: “No amount of money is worth what I am going through.” and 3: “if I am not thinking I am crying.” Investigators think these messages indicate suicidal thoughts, but I couldn’t disagree more. They indicate a domineering- controlling (with money) partnership between Jonah and Rebecca. After the initial honeymoon stage of a new relationship the rules and expectations were laid down.

    Rebecca’s sister Mary thought Jonah took advantage of her sister. She described her as a “glorified Nanny”. She was always fixing Jonah’s breakfast, cleaning up the house, running the kids to and from events, picking family members up to and from the airport so much so that she quit her job to take care of Jonah and his needs full time. She was going to re-assess their relationship at the end of the summer.

    When Adam was told his nephew had suffered a terrible fall it was his parents who encouraged Adam to travel to Coronado. Then it was Rebecca who Adam called to discuss whether he should fly out to San Diego – not his brother Jonah.

    Finally, when Adam told Jonah Rebecca hung herself he said it must have been some kind of “Asian honor” and made a gesture, and again, we get the robot devoid of feelings.

    • nickvdl

      I lived in Asia for 4 years and had a a few Asian girlfriends. Saving face is big, but so is modesty.

      Which blogs are you reading?

      • Sylvester

        The ones associated with the Oxygen channel site. They aren’t interactive – they are posted paragraphs about the case and they are calling them blogs.

        • Sylvester

          Here’s the name: “Oxygen Crime Time Blogs”

  3. Sylvester

    amendment: only four year age gap in the brother’s ages. Jonah first born, 1960, Adam second, 1964.

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