Family of Rebecca Zahau Files Wrongful Death Suit, Alleges Hanging Was Murder Plot



The family of the late Rebecca Zahau, who resides in St. Joseph, filed suit in federal court this week alleging that the woman did not commit suicide in 2011, but was in fact murdered.

Zahau was discovered hanging by her neck at the mansion home of her boyfriend, Medicis Pharmaceuticals CEO Jonah Shacknai. She died two days after Shacknai's six-year-old son, Max, was discovered mortally injured on the stone floor below a balcony. He was in Zahau's care at the time of his fall. She had reportedly stated she was in the bathroom when Max tumbled over the railing. Max's death was ruled an accident; Zahau's, a suicide.

Ever since the deaths in July 2011, the Zahau family maintained Rebecca was murdered in retaliation for Max's accident. Now, they've named the people they believe are responsible in the lawsuit.

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The state of Zahau's body immediately raised suspicions. She was naked, bound at the hands and feet, and had a t-shirt wrapped around her neck and stuffed into her mouth. She was hanging from her neck from an outdoor balcony. Someone allegedly painted the phrase "she saved him, can you save her" on the door leading to the balcony, which some interpret as a suicide note. Zahau is buried in a cemetery in St. Joseph.

The suit was filed by Zahau's mother Pari and sister Mary, and on behalf of Zahau's father Robert who died just over a week ago. The named defendants are Max's mother Dina Shacknai, her sister, Nina Romano, and Max's paternal uncle, Adam Shacknai. Dina and Nina had flown to California to visit Max in the hospital and were staying at a home near the mansion; Adam was staying in the mansion's guesthouse and was the first to find Zahau. Jonah Shacknai, Zahau's boyfriend, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Max's hospital that night and is not named in the suit.

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The lawsuit also lists up to 50 unknown people who may have been involved in Zahau's death. The complaint says that either the defendants themselves threatened and killed Zahau, or that they knew someone was going to and did not save her.

"To the extent that any individual Defendant did not directly participate in the acts causing Rebecca's death, their knowledge of and/or participation in the scheme to cause harm to Rebecca created a duty to warn Rebecca or take reasonable effort to prevent the other Defendants from executing the plan, which they failed to do so," the suit reads.

Continue for the full complaint and response from Dina Shacknai, Max's mother.

Here's the response from Dina Shacknai, obtained by ABC 10 News:

Today marks the second anniversary of the death of my only child, Maxfield Aaron Shacknai. He was six years old when he died while under the care of Rebecca Zahau.

Yet today, instead of being able to merely mourn the loss of Maxie, my sister Nina Romano and I are dealing with a baseless lawsuit which has been filed against us. I have lost my only son and Nina has lost her only nephew. While we empathize with the Zahau family regarding their grief over the loss of Rebecca, for Nina and I to be named as parties to this frivolous lawsuit by the Zahau family is cruel and irresponsible. There is absolutely no truth to these allegations. Unfortunately, I have now been left with no alternative but to initiate significant measures to ensure the ongoing protection of myself, as well as my remaining family. The accusations are shameful and groundless and have no basis in fact or evidence.

I respectfully ask that the public continue to keep us in their prayers as we remember Maxie on this somber occasion.


Below, check out the full complaint the Zahau family filed in San Diego earlier this week.

Rebecca Zahau lawsuit wrongful death Max Shacknai

Follow Jessica Lussenhop on Twitter at @Lussenpop. E-mail the author at

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