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Tag: Death at the Mansion

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

The finale of the 4-part series is by far the best, basically because the presenters finally quit pussyfooting around the main suspect – Adam Shacknai – and finally get to grips with the idea of Rebecca’s death being a homicide, not a suicide. Why it takes these documentaries so long just to get up to speed is just plain sad. If each of the 4 episodes was as solid as the last, it would have been a damn good package.

One aspect touched on in the final few minutes of the finale was the same limiting aspect I discovered writing the first book and second in the Red Rope series. There is a heck of a lot of information that the public and the media simply don’t have access to. This restricts the scope of documentaries and to some extent written narratives too. That being said, episode four provides some useful glimpses at items of evidence from the crime scene that haven’t been seen before. So, without further ado, let’s deal with seven significant evidentiary aspects.

1. Rebecca’s Bed

For some strange reason it’s been very difficult to locate images of the bed besides where the rope is connected to it. It’s obvious from the image that no one lay or say on the bed. This is a weakness in the sexual assault theory. It’s certainly indicative that the sexual assault a) didn’t occur on the bed and thus b) was likely brief.

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2. The Orientation of the Room 

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In a scenario where the suicide is staged, we can imagine Rebecca’s killer standing behind her and lifting her already dead body over the railing, and letting it descend in a relatively controlled motion. The obvious point to clarify is if we impute a killer in the room and on the balcony [or even simply his foot on the balcony], why wouldn’t he be in front of Rebecca? It’s obvious right. The upstairs balcony was very visible through line of sight from very many vantage points, an issue I clarified and illustrated in detail in INTO THE BELLY OF THE WHALE. Greer actually mentions as part of his theory that the killer stood behind her, basically just off the balcony and maneuvered Rebecca’s body over the railing. The balcony isn’t very wide at all, around half a meter, so this would be fairly easy to pull off.

But the mere fact that the doors were closed calls into question the entire suicide hypothesis. Did Rebecca close the doors with her hands tied behind her back, and while the heels of her feet were right against the door? If she did, why on Earth would she do that? Meanwhile, we can see clearly why a murderer would want the door or doors closed. Firstly to hide behind while lowering her, but secondly, and importantly, to hide behind while staging the bedroom [including painting the message on the door].

3. The Candle

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The candle on the grass is one of the seemingly inexplicable idiosyncracies of this case. Although I will be dealing with this aspect in more detail in AT THE EDGE OF CIVIL, for now it’s worth mentioning that the candle may have been used for “low light” illumination late at night, not only in Rebecca’s room but outside on the lawn. It’s also possible, but unlikely that the candle was used to “cut” the rope by burning through it. As unlikely as this scenario is, we nevertheless have to ask why the candle is where it is? What function did it serve? Was it only illumination?

And that raises the issue of the rope. Why is the length of rope so long behind Rebecca? Why is it in a virtual straight line?

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Why are Rebecca’s legs bent inwards, and her face turned upwards? Were her legs bent when she “fell” when she was cut down? Or was she cut down and carried, placed on the lawn and this “bent” her legs? The position we see here suggests the position she lay in when she was struggled at some other location. Note, her knees also appear slightly open.

4. The “Rope Burn”Fullscreen capture 20190629 153625

If the injury to Rebecca’s middle finger is rope burn, it suggests that she was lowered fast enough to inflict the injury – post mortem – but slow enough that she suffered no significant trauma to her neck vertebra. Since this would be the riskiest manoeuvre of all for her murderer, he had to do it quickly but also not too quickly. Too quickly would jolt the bed, perhaps breaking the leg that was ultimately anchoring the entire rig, and limbs might dislodge out of their bindings.

Oxygen provides useful analysis on this particular point in this post on their online blog.

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It’s very clear that Greer is quite correct and the Defense witness [Williams] judgement on the nature of the wound is questionable, to put it mildly. It also beggars belief that the cops didn’t test the blood for vaginal epithelial cells, but if the San Diego cops were trying to fuck up this case, and their forensic technicians trying to frustrate the prosecution of it, they were doing a great job in that department.

5. “Blood Imprint” on Rebecca’s Left Inner Thigh 

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We know there was also tape residue on Rebecca’s legs, possibly from duct tape. It does make sense if she was murdered and then a suicide was staged that the original device used to bind her wouldn’t be the lengthy ski rope.

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In episode four Greer suggests a bloody imprint fits the size of a knife handle with the blade facing outward and handle facing inward. This impression, frankly, reminds of the blade impression left on a sheet in the Amanda Knox case.

imagesDoubleDNAKnifeMap6. Two Pairs of Gloves were Found at the Crime SceneFullscreen capture 20190629 144850

I will deal with the gloves and additional analysis in a follow-up post at CrimeRocket II. But the issue of two pairs of gloves raises the possibility of a killer and at least one accomplice, an aspect Oxygen provides some reinforcing evidence to support.

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7. 3D Rendering of Rebecca’s Route to the Balcony

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The animation in episode four is extremely brief – a few seconds – but it’s arguably the best footage in the whole series. The animation seeks to cast doubt of the absence of blood drops in the imputed route Rebecca would have taken if she hopped [bound, obviously] from the bed to the balcony.

But what the animation also achieves is that it provides a context to imagine her attacker. Where is he? Where would he have stood [especially in the final image], and what would he have done with the shutters to avoid being seen? Probably he had one of those shutters [the left] completely closed, while the other was slightly ajar. Did he use a candle to illuminate what he was doing?

That’s seven assessments – that’s enough.  This analysis covers the first 18 minutes of the final episode. The last 20 minutes or so, including some of the insights from the DEATH AT THE MANSION crew and their experts, will be highlighted in due course at CrimeRocket II.

A final point: when the presenters enter Greer’s “Zahau Room” Adam Shacknai’s signature features prominently in the room, along with handwriting analysis taken from that signature as well as other handwriting.

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Although Adam Shacknai has been found guilty by a civil court [where the burden of proof is lower], the producers have been careful to be explicit that the evidence presented is “the opinion” of the prosecutor, and that Adam Shacknai “expressly denies all allegations”. Fullscreen capture 20190629 144537

Interestingly, both Greer and the DEATH AT THE MANSION presenters share a kind of consensus on their four primary person’s of interest. Adam, Nina, Dina [and Max] and Jonah.

We can see why DEATH AT THE MANSION spent a relatively short time dealing with Adam as its “main suspect”. Although a jury and Judge supported Greer’s version, the medical examiner and San Diego cops do not, and most important, Adam’s billionaire brother also still seems to be in his corner.

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.

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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?

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

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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.

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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].