Was 'violent' death at Scottsdale CEO's home murder?


by Jared Dillingham and Natalie Rivers

Bio | Email | Follow: @JaredDillingham


Posted on July 13, 2011 at 9:09 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 15 at 9:27 PM

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Investigators in California say a woman was found dead at a beachfront mansion owned by Jonah Shacknai, who owns the Scottsdale-based pharmaceutical company Medicis.

Officers were called to the Coronado estate Wednesday morning and say a woman staying at the home was found naked and dying in the courtyard. Police have identified the woman as Rebecca Nalepa, 32. She was Shacknai's girlfriend and also goes by Rebecca Zahau.

Police call the death "suspicious" and "violent," but have not released information on a possible suspect. They have not ruled out suicide. They will not say where Shacknai was at the time. 

Shacknai's brother, Adam Shacknai, was the one who found Nalepa hanging with a rope from a second story balcony. He was the one who called 911 just at 6 a.m. and told police he cut her down from the balcony.

Investigators determined Adam was staying in the guest house.

At a press conference on Thursday, Captain Tim Curran with the San Diego Sheriff's Homicide Unit said Zahau was found with her hands and feet bound and completely nude.

Investigators are treating the death as suspicious, but have not ruled it a homicide nor a suicide.  An autopsy is complete, but results are being held from the public until further toxicology and forensics tests can be finished.   Search warrant findings are also not being released by police.

Former Phoenix Police Sergeant Paul Penzone says San Diego investigators are being appropriately cautious with their comments.

"They know more than they're letting on," says Penzone, who says it should be relatively easy for investigators to determine whether the victim committed suicide or was killed.

"Since she was bound, an expert will look at the way her hands were bound and be able to tell if she was able to accomplish that herself.  If not, you have a murder," says Penzone.

Zahau worked as a technician at Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center in Scottsdale from 2008-2010.  CEO Michael Trier said she was well-respected and well-liked by the staff and patients.

"Rebecca was a high energy person.  She was great with our patients.  We are saddened and troubled by the circumstances of her death.  It is our hope that justice can be served for Rebecca.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Zahau family and the Shacknai family as they deal with these terrible tragedies," Trier said in a statement to 3TV.

Shacknai founded Medicis, which specializes in anti-aging techniques and skincare.  A company spokeswoman expressed sadness, and asked for privacy on behalf of the family.

Police say Shacknai's 6-year-old son was severely injured in a fall at the Coronado home earlier this week, but don't believe the two incidents are related.