Death of Medicis CEO’s Girlfriend Was Suicide, Sheriff Says

The death of a woman at the home of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. Chief Executive Officer Jonah Shacknai was a suicide and not a crime, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.

The death of Shacknai’s girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, was determined to be a suicide, Gore told reporters today. Shacknai was at the hospital where doctors were trying to keep his 6-year-old son alive after an accident when Zahau hung herself in July, Gore said. It appears she became distraught after receiving a phone call reversing earlier, optimistic reports about Max Shacknai’s condition, the sheriff said.

“Given the totality of the evidence, there’s really no other logical explanation for what happened to her other than she took her own life,” Gore said.

Medicis, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based maker of wrinkle treatments and acne drugs, fell the most in almost five months in New York trading on July 14, after Zahau was found dead at the executive’s beachside home in Coronado, California.

Zahau, 32, was found nude, with a rope around her neck and her hands and feet bound, a sheriff’s department official said at the time.

At today’s news conference, Gore said Zahau left a painted message on the door of the guest bedroom from which she stepped onto a balcony that she fell from after binding herself with a red rope. The contents of the message, which have been made available to the victim’s family, won’t be made public, he said.

Son’s Death

Shacknai’s son, Max, died on July 16, from injuries sustained in a fall from the stairs in the house on July 11.

“While the investigation is over, the emptiness and sadness in our hearts will remain forever,” Jonah Shacknai said today in a statement. “Max was an extraordinarily loving, happy, talented, and special little boy. He brought joy to everyone who knew him, and we will miss him desperately.”

“Rebecca too was a wonderful and unique person who will always have a special place in my heart,” Shacknai said. “Nothing will ever be the same for our families after these losses, but with today’s information providing some much needed answers, we will try to rebuild our lives and honor the memories we carry with us.”

Gore and other officials at today’s news conference said they were told by witnesses that Zahau had been having emotional problems since January, had lost weight and was not exercising regularly any more even though she was a “health nut,” as one of the officials said.

Zahau ‘Unhappy’

“There were indications she had been unhappy for a while,” Gore said.

The Coronado Police Department received a 911 call on the morning of July 11 from Zahau’s 13-year-old sister, reporting Max Shacknai had fallen down stairs and wasn’t breathing, Commander Michael Lawton said at the press briefing today. Rebecca and her sister were the only two people in the house, along with the family dog, he said.

Max hit his head and suffered an injury to his upper spinal cord, which stopped his heart and lungs. That resulted in brain damage that killed him, said Jonathan Lucas of the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office.

The officials gave a PowerPoint presentation showing how they believe Shacknai’s son tripped over a second-floor railing, clutched at a chandelier and landed face-first on a concrete floor covered by carpeting. They also showed a video of a woman demonstrating how an individual could tie herself with her hands behind her back, as Zahau was found.

“Was Max’s death a homicide? The answer is no; it was a tragic accident,” Gore said. “Was Rebecca’s death a homicide? Again, the answer is no; it was a suicide.”

Gore was asked repeatedly about whether the message that was put in black paint on the guest bedroom door was a suicide note. He described it only as “a message.” He said it didn’t appear to be addressed to anyone.

(Updates with sheriff’s comment in third paragraph.)
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