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Questions linger in Coronado mansion hanging death

There are lingering questions in the hanging death of Rebecca Zahau at the Spreckels mansion; and evidence photos from the law enforcement investigation posted online only seem to be adding to the mys

CORONADO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- There are lingering questions in the hanging death of Rebecca Zahau at the Spreckels mansion; and evidence photos from the law enforcement investigation posted online only seem to be adding to the mystery.

Internet forums like Websleuths.com are packed with conspiracy theories speculating on the death of the 32-year-old woman at the Coronado home, which is owned by Zahau's millionaire boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, 54.

Investigators with the San Diego County Medical Examiner and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department ruled earlier this month that Zahau committed suicide in the nude by binding her own hands and feet, gagging herself, and then hanging herself off a second-story balcony.

In a report posted Wednesday, tabloid web site Radaronline.com claimed that the rope used to hang Zahau was not visible on the balcony in helicopter video recorded by News 8 on July 13, the day of the hanging.

News 8 asked sheriff's homicide Lt. Larry Nesbit about that rope, which is clearly seen in an evidence photo posted online by the department.

"The picture we posted of the rope was actually taken by a Coronado police officer who was one of the first people to arrive on scene that day," Lt. Nesbit said.

News 8 reviewed the helicopter footage in question, recorded at approximately 4:45 p.m. on July 13.  Jonah's brother, Adam Shacknai, told police he woke up and discovered Zahau hanging around 6:45 a.m. that same day and called 911.

A freeze frame of the afternoon helicopter video clearly showed the rope hanging from the balcony in the exact same position as the evidence photo taken earlier in the day.

"The rope was hanging over the balcony from the moment (officers) arrived on scene until they seized it later in the evening as evidence," said Lt. Nesbit.

Some online observers have questioned the evidence photos themselves.

Three photos posted on the Sheriff's web site show the French doors of the mansion's balcony in three different positions.

One exterior photo – Nesbit said it was taken by a Coronado police officer before 9:20 a.m. on July 13 – shows one of the balcony's doors open.

A second photo – taken during darkness sometime after 3:32 a.m. on July 14 – was shot from inside the bedroom and shows both balcony doors closed.

A third photo – also taken after 3:32 a.m. on July 14 – shows both doors wide open.

Lt. Nesbit explained the sequence of events to News 8.

"Photo one occurred first. That was taken by a Coronado police officer who was on scene prior to the sheriff department's arrival," Nesbit said.

"Photo two – showing both doors closed – we believe the door on the left was blown closed by a breeze; the door on the right was secured with a bolt-type lock into the floor," Nesbit continued.

"Photo three has both of the doors open. We (officers) opened both of the doors to take that photo," said Nesbit.

Adam Shacknai, 48, had flown to Coronado from Memphis to offer comfort to his brother in the wake of a tragic accident at the mansion just two days prior to Zahau's hanging.

Jonah Shacknai's 6-year-old son Max had suffered a grave fall off the main staircase.

On the morning Adam reported finding Zahau's body, he had been sleeping in the mansion's guest house.

Questions have arisen over items found in a second bedroom in the same guest house.

According to Zahau's autopsy report, "The guest house consisted of two bedrooms. One of the rooms had a suitcase and the other room had an unmade bed, a few pieces of women's clothing on the floor, make up wipes on the dresser and a glass with clear liquid on the night stand."

Lt. Nesbit told News 8 the "clear liquid" was never analyzed by investigators. However, detectives do have an explanation for the other items found in the guest house bedroom.

"We determined that that clothing was not from Rebecca," Lt. Nesbit said. "The clothing was left by a female guest who stayed in the guest house earlier, prior to the (hanging) incident."

Nesbit would not identify that female house guest, but the autopsy report said Zahau's teenage sister was also visiting from out of town and staying at the Coronado home in the days before the hanging.

The report said the sister flew home July 12, the same day Adam Shacknai arrived in San Diego.

Many other questions remain unanswered in the death of Rebecca Zahau, including the cause of four head injuries described in her autopsy report and the source of sticky tape residue found on her legs.

Attorneys for News 8 and several other media outlets will go to court in the coming weeks to ask a judge to unseal search warrants and affidavits in the case that should contain unreleased information from the investigation.

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