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Fifteen detectives probe woman's death at Coronado mansion

July 20, 2011 | 12:30 pm

Flowers and messages sit outside the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado.

A team of 15 detectives is investigating the death of a woman at the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado but determining the cause could take weeks, sheriff's officials said Wednesday.

Detectives from the San Diego County Sheriff's, Coronado Police and the California Justice departments are investigating the circumstances around the death of Rebecca Nalepa, 32, the girlfriend of mansion owner Jonah Shacknai, a pharmaceutical industry executive.

Nalepa -- also known by her maiden name, Rebecca Zahau -- was found in the courtyard of the mansion on July 13. The Sheriff's Department has said it cannot yet conclude whether her death was suicide or a "criminal event."

The homicide unit is waiting on results from forensic evidence and toxicology tests. A search warrant was served on the mansion but investigators declined to say what was found.

"We understand the concerns and questions of the public, but the San Diego Sheriff's Department does not rely on hearsay, rumor or speculation," officials said in a statement.

Among other things, investigators are interviewing anyone who spoke to Nalepa in the hours and days before her death.

Separately, the Coronado Police Department is investigating the death of 6-year-old Max Shacknai, the son of the owner. The boy fell down the stairs at the mansion on July 11 and was rushed to Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, where he died July 17.

The Coronado police have tentatively labeled the boy's death accidental. Investigators have said they have found no connection between the two deaths.

In the Nalepa investigation, department officials said, "We will go wherever the evidence takes us and will investigate however long it takes to make sure we get the facts right for Rebecca, her family and the public."

"Hopefully, the evidence will tell the story and solve this mystery."

Jonah Shacknai's brother, Adam, told investigators he found Nalepa hanging from her neck from a balcony, her arms and feet tied. He then cut her down in hopes she was still alive.

When firefighters, police and paramedics arrived at the 27-room mansion on Ocean Boulevard, Nalepa's nude body was on the grass, her feet were still tied together, but her hands were not.

Sheriff's investigators earlier this week said they cannot rule out suicide as a possibility. The results of Nalepa's autopsy by the county medical examiner have been sealed during the investigation.


Sorting out deaths at Spreckels Mansion could take time, police say

Mystery surrounds deaths at Spreckels Mansion

Six-year-old son of Coronado mansion owner dies from fall

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Flowers and messages sit outside the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / Associaed Press