Shacknai Death Probe Comes Down to the Rope, the Party and the Reputation

Last Updated Jul 27, 2011 12:45 PM EDT

With police still not able to say whether the death of Medicis (MRX) CEO Jonah Shacknai's girlfriend was a suicide or a homicide, the investigation appears to be coming down to three issues: The rope, the party and the reputation.

The police will eventually come to conclusions about the first two issues. Shacknai is moving to manage his reputation without their help as Coronado, Calif., authorities said they had been called to the homes of Shacknai and his ex-wife 12 times* in the last three years for noise, burglary and vandalism complaints.

Many of those calls -- which are in addition to the domestic violence accusations that Shacknai and his ex-wife Dina filed against each other at their other home in Arizona -- are unrelated to the Shacknais and not linked to the deaths on July 11 and 13 of Shacknai's son and girlfriend, in an accidental fall and a bizarre hanging death, respectively.
The rope
Numerous reports have stated that Rebecca Zahau Nalepa's hands were bound behind her when she was found hanging naked from a balcony at Shacknai's 27-room beachfront mansion. Police are interested in how the knots were configured, to see if they rule out suicide. It would not be impossible for Zahau to tie her neck and feet before knotting her hands behind her prior to her death. It would, of course, be extremely unusual, especially as she would have done so naked.

The party

Another witness -- a fitness trainer at Zahau's gym -- said that on the Saturday before her death, Zahau was planning a party at the mansion for Tuesday night. Police initially received reports from neighbors that a party took place on Tuesday night, or at least loud music was heard, the day after Shacknai's son Max took his fatal fall down the house stairs. But police have also denied that a party took place that evening, the night before Rebecca's death.

Zahau's family talked to her on the phone that evening; figuring out what exactly happened in the mansion in the hours before her body was found will be crucial. The police are examining security videotapes from the hospital at which Shacknai and his family kept vigil beside Max's bed to see who was where and when that evening.

The reputation
Shacknai has hired Sitrick & Co., a PR firm with expertise in handling crises for celebrities, to deal with the intense media interests in the case. Zahau's family have adamantly insisted that they do not believe she committed suicide, a contention which contains no good news for Shacknai. At the same time, over the last few days, Shacknai's friends have come forward to speak up for him in the media.

At some point, Shacknai must get back to the job of running the drug company he founded. But the deaths -- and the revelations that he and his ex-wife frequently attracted the attention of law enforcement in the past -- threaten to turn his reputation from grieving, inconsolable victim to ogre. Keeping the media in line will be Sitrick's job No.1 until charges are brought or declined.

*Correction: This story originally said there were 13 police calls. Some of those calls were duplicates. The story has also been altered to make it more clear that many of the calls had nothing to do with the Shacknais.
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