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Rebecca Zahau's Death Might Be Homicide, Dr. Cyril Wecht Says On 'Dr. Phil'

First Posted: 11/17/11 10:59 AM ET Updated: 11/18/11 01:26 PM ET

A woman found naked, bound and hanging in her boyfriend's Southern California mansion might have been murdered, according to a prominent pathologist.

That inconclusive finding contradicts the investigations of two police departments and a medical examiner who ruled that Rebecca Zahau killed herself in July just days after her lover's son was seriously injured in a fall while she was babysitting him in Coronado, Calif., according to CBS News.

Dr. Cyril Wecht revealed his grisly hypothesis to Zahau's family on the "Dr. Phil" talkshow on Tuesday.

The family had Zahau's body exhumed from her Missouri grave and flown to Wecht for a second autopsy in Pittsburgh, because they disagreed with the official reports that called the death a suicide.

Wecht disputed the original postmortem, saying that he found evidence of blunt trauma to Zahau's head, which could have been caused by an attacker "Good Morning America" reports.

He also doubted that Zahau, 32, hanged herself, because her neck wasn't fractured.

The evidence was suspicious, Wecht says, leading him to say he'd change the cause of death from suicide to undetermined on the death certificate, according to "Good Morning America."

The San Diego County Medical Examiner interpreted the head injuries differently, saying that they were "relatively minor," according to TV station KFMB.

San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore chided Wecht and the Zahau family's attorney for allegedly misrepresenting the investigation on Dr. Phil McGraw's program and urged them to share new evidence, if they found any, KFMB said. For now, he considers the case closed.

The tragedy unfolded in July at the home of Zahau's boyfriend Jonah Shacknai. Zahau was looking after Shacknai's six-year-old son, Max, when he fell down the stairs and slipped into a coma. Two days later, Jonah Shacknai's brother discovered Zahua's limp body hanging from a balcony in the suburban San Diego palatial home. Her mouth was gagged with a t-shirt and her hands were tied behind her back. Her ankles were also bound together. Days later, Max died from his injuries.

But family members didn't believe that Zahau was depressed and were vexed by a cryptic message scrawled on a bedroom wall that said "She saved him. Can you save her," according to "Good Morning America."

The "Dr. Phil" show helped fund the exhumation and had heavily publicized that it would air the results.


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  • Flowers and messages adorn a flower box outside the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado, Calif. Monday, July 18, 2011. The mansion is the site where a woman was found dead July 13, she was hanging nude from a balcony with her hands and feet bound. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi, AP

  • This 2010 photo released by Medicis Pharmaceuticals Corp. shows CEO Jonah Shacknai. Shacknai's 6-year-old son and 32-year-old girlfriend have each died in a span of less than a week, and both deaths were tied to his historic mansion on the San Diego Bay. Credit: Medicis Pharmaceuticals Corp. / AP

  • This August 2008 photo released by Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center shows Rebecca Zahau, also known as Rebecca Nalepa, 32. Nalepa, the girlfriend of Arizona pharmaceuticals tycoon Jonah Shacknai, was found dead last week hanging nude from the second-floor balcony of a historic mansion, her wrists and ankles bound. Credit: Dwight Smith, Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center / AP

  • This photo family released on Sunday, July 17, 2011 shows his 6-year-old Max Shacknai. Shacknai, son of Medicis Pharmaceuticals CEO Jonah Shacknai, has died, almost a week after falling down the stairs at his father's San Diego-area mansion, the same house where his father's girlfriend was found dead hanging nude from a balcony two days later. Credit: Family Photo / AP

CORRECTION: An earlier version misstated the timeline of Rebecca Zahau and Max Shacknai's deaths. Zahau died two days after Shacknai suffered serious injuries from a fall, but he was still alive at the time of her body was found.

Filed by Michael McLaughlin  |