Mother of boy who died at San Diego-area mansion asks to reopen case

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 18, 2012 9:09 PM
Mother of boy who died at San Diego-area mansion asks to reopen case

By Marty Graham

CORONADO, California (Reuters) - The mother of a 6-year-old boy who died in a historic California mansion where a pharmaceutical mogul's girlfriend was found hanged pleaded tearfully with city officials on Tuesday to reopen the investigation, saying she believed her son was killed.

Dina Shacknai told members of city council in Coronado, California, that she believes her son's death at the Spreckles mansion last summer was a homicide and not an accident as authorities have ruled.

"I'm here to be the only voice for my Maxie, my son Max, who can no longer speak for himself," Shacknai, a 41-year-old psychologist, told the council while fighting back tears. "As a mom and a scientist I couldn't make sense out of the conclusions the experts reached."

The council members and mayor did not respond to her presentation, which came during a public comment portion of the meeting.

Max Shacknai, her son with ex-husband Jonah Shacknai, founder and chief executive of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp, was critically injured in a fall from a staircase in the mansion in July of 2011 and died of his injuries six days later, authorities said.

Two days after the fall, while the boy was still hospitalized, Jonah Shacknai's 32-year-old girlfriend Rebecca Zahau was found hanged at the mansion.

Though Zahau's lifeless body was found bound and nude with a T-shirt stuffed in her mouth, trauma to the top of her head and blood on her legs, authorities ruled the death a suicide. Zahau had been babysitting Max at the time of his fall.

Police said Zahau had tied herself up with her hands behind her back, slipped a noose around her neck and threw herself over a second-story balcony overlooking an outdoor courtyard. Her body was found later that morning.

Relatives of Zahau's have also challenged the finding of accidental death but have been rebuffed by local authorities and have asked California's attorney general to review the case.

Neither Zahau's family or Jonah Shacknai joined in Dina Shacknai's plea to the city council on Tuesday. Dina Shacknai, who arrived at the council meeting accompanied by supporters including her mother and sister, did not say during a brief presentation who she believed killed her son.

But she said two experts she hired as part of an independent investigation had concluded that his death was not an accident.

"Both experts agree my son Max was the victim of an assault scenario that ended in a homicide," she said.

Police have said that Jonah Shacknai, whose company makes the popular wrinkle filler Restylane and the acne treatment Solodyn, was never considered a suspect in either death.

In September, he sold the 12,750-square-foot Spreckles mansion, which was built in the resort island of Coronado in the early 1900s by businessman and philanthropist John D. Spreckles.

(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)