CORONADO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- It's been exactly two months since the San Diego County Sheriff's Department announced that Rebecca Zahau committed suicide by hanging at the Spreckels mansion in Coronado.
Now, a News 8 reenactment of the alleged hanging has raised new questions in the case.
The reenactment was unscientific because it was staged at a different location and all conditions inside the mansion could not be exactly replicated. Still, the recreation was based on evidence released by the sheriff's department.
News 8 used a 100-pound punching bag – the same weight as Rebecca Zahau – to represent her body in the hanging scenario.
We used the same type of rope to tie the punching bag to the foot of a bed, as shown in sheriff's evidence photos taken at the Coronado mansion.
Based on those law enforcement photos, bed maker Elliott Jones, 73, was able to identify the bed at the Spreckels mansion as a queen-size, Imperial 61 model bed.
Jones manufactured the Imperial 61 bed for 28 years at his Elliott's Designs factory in Compton.
"They're direct copies of antiques," Jones said.
Jones retired from the bed-making business about six months ago, but he kept the specifications for the Imperial 61 bed, which list the total weight of the bed and frame without a mattress as 151 pounds.
"We specified heavy hitches on them of extra thick material, extra rivets so they wouldn't come loose," Jones recalled.
Jones let News 8 borrow a similar bed and frame – though not quite as heavy – to use in our reenactment of the Coronado death scene.
We added 50 pounds of weight to our borrowed bed to bring it up to 145 pounds, close to the weight of the bed at the Spreckels mansion.
The reenactment was staged at the home of Ted Greenberg, the operator of the Camp Diggity Dogs pet-care facility. He had picked up Rebecca Zahau's dog from the mansion the day before she died and Greenberg was one of the last people to see Zahau alive.
CORONADO MANSION DEATH TIMELINE: CLICK HERE to view related stories and events.
For our reenactment, we used an average-weight box springs and mattress that weighed 154 pounds, which – when added to the test bed weight of 145 pounds – came to a total weight of 299 pounds.
Evidence photos from the Coronado mansion showed a rope tied to the leg of the bed in the bedroom with the balcony.
A measuring tape seen in one evidence photo revealed the mansion bed moved just 7.5 inches; that's the distance under the sheriff department's suicide scenario that Zahau's 100-pound body moved the Imperial 61 bed when she jumped off the balcony to hang herself.
News 8 used the 299-pound bed for an initial, test drop and a second higher drop during the reenactment.
For the next two drops, we added an additional 100 pounds to the bed, just in case the mansion bed had an extra-heavy mattress and box spring.
The autopsy report said Zahau dropped 9 feet, 2 inches off the balcony. Because of height constraints, News 8 used a seven-foot length of rope for all our tests, as measured from the top of the balcony railing.
For the final drop, we held the punching bag two feet over the top of the railing to simulate a nine-foot drop, but the actual length of the rope was still seven feet.
The following table shows the results of the four test drops:
|Bed & Frame||Mattress & Box||Added Weight||Total Weight||Drop Distance||Bed Move|
|95 lbs||154 lbs||50 lbs||299 lbs||4 feet||12 inches|
|95 lbs||154 lbs||50 lbs||299 lbs||7 feet||36 inches|
|95 lbs||154 lbs||150 lbs||399 lbs||7 feet||20 inches|
|95 lbs||154 lbs||150 lbs||399 lbs||9 feet||37.5 inches|
News 8 informed the sheriff's department about our results. A spokesperson issued a statement saying:
Your test was invalidated from the beginning. Even if you had the exact bed frame, you don't know the exact mattress (and weight). You don't know what was on the mattress (if anything), and you don't have the same carpet, padding, and indentations made by this particular piece of furniture. You cannot simulate the exact conditions of that particular night, and you don't know precisely how Rebecca went over the railing. While this suicide is unusual, it is not unprecedented and it would be an enigmatic homicide.
The sheriff's department confirmed to News 8 the bed was not anchored down in any way.
Zahau family attorney, Anne Bremner, recently received evidence photos from the sheriff's investigation. She confirmed that the photos show no heavy objects on top of the bed.
In a phone interview with News 8, Bremner said the reenactment raised major new questions about the case.
"You have dramatically different results from what the police had in the investigation and you've accounted for any variance on how much the bed weighed," said Bremner.
"This is huge. It means that this was staged," Bremner continued. "She (Rebecca) could not have gone over the edge and have the bed only move a few inches."
Bremner said the results of the reenactment were so dramatic, small variables in scene recreation likely would not have made a major difference.
"It didn't happen as a suicide," Bremner said. "Because if indeed she tied the ropes there and went over the edge that bed would have moved like it moved in your reenactment and it didn't."