Why Do Some People Think Bondage Was Key To Rebecca Zahau's Death?

Rebecca Zahau’s case was officially ruled a suicide, but the strange way she was found dead has led her family to insist it must’ve been murder.

By Gina Tron

In 2011, a  woman was found at her wealthy boyfriend’s mansion tied up, bound, gagged — and dead. Yet despite the seemingly bizarre way Rebecca Zahau was found, her death was officially ruled a suicide. So, why do some people think bondage could be an important clue to Rebecca’s death?

It all has to do with the way she was tied up and some eerie searches made on a computer from inside the mansion on July 13, 2011, the night she died.

When authorities arrived at the Coronado, California beachfront mansion where pharmaceutical company CEO Jonah Shacknai lived with his son, Max, and his girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, that fateful night, they found Rebecca bound up. She was lying on the grass in the rear courtyard of the mansion, according to a San Diego Sheriff's Department investigative report obtained by Oxygen.com.

"Rebecca was nude, her hands and feet were bound with red rope," the report states. "There was also red rope tied around her neck and a blue cloth tied around her neck."

Jonah’s brother, Adam Shacknai, who was alone with her in the mansion when she died, claimed he found her hanging from a rope, but had cut her down before authorities arrived, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

"Adam told officers he moved a wooden table so he could reach her and cut her down," their investigative report states about the incident. Officers also reported seeing what appeared to be the other end of a red rope hanging from a second story balcony that overlooked the courtyard.

The scene included another disturbing detail: An ominous, confusing message was written in black paint on one of the mansion’s interior doors which read, “She saved him. Can you save her?” according to a San Diego Sheriff’s Department report.

Rebecca’s death was officially ruled a suicide, but her family doesn’t believe that, maintaining she would never kill herself.

Sean Elder, a freelance journalist who wrote an in-depth piece on the story for Town and Country, told the producers of Oxygen Network’s “Death At The Mansion: Rebecca Zahau” that there has been some speculation there might have been a bondage element involved in Rebecca’s death.

One reason for that speculation is that somebody was apparently viewing bondage pornography from inside the 10-bedroom home the night of Zahau’s death, he said.

“When the authorities did a search of house computers, they found that someone had been looking at bondage porn on the internet, and Asian porn on the night, in fact, when Rebecca died,” Elder told the producers of the show.

He said Google searches for keywords like “sexy,” “Asian” and “rape” were made the night that Rebecca died.

“The links themselves were of Asian bondage porn and anime porn,” he said.

One of the images that was reportedly looked at from inside the mansion the night of Rebecca’s death was of a bound Asian woman,  Zahau family attorney Anne Bremner told CBS 8 in San Diego in 2011.

"It's important to the investigation because there is an image from anime, and it’s called bond anime and it shows an Asian woman bound; at least her hands are bound behind her back," she told the outlet.

Additionally, the bondage speculation comes about because of the way that ropes were used in Rebecca’s death and because the way she was tied up was intricate and complicated, according to Elder.

"I think the public latched onto it [the bondage speculation] for a variety of reasons, the unusual nature of her death, perhaps a fetishization of Asian women," Elder told “Death At The Mansion: Rebecca Zahau” producers, adding that the fact that police didn’t publicly discuss the intricate bound ropes left the case ripe for speculation.

Elder said if Rebecca was into bondage herself, especially rope bondage,  she might know how to tie these knots herself. He mentioned Shibari specifically, which is a Japanese form of bondage that involves complicated knots and sometimes red ropes.

Meanwhile, Bremner said she doesn’t believe Zahau was ever into bondage, or porn.

"Never in a million years would she have those fantasies; and never in a million years would she even look at porn," Bremner told CBS8 in 2011. "There was somebody interested in doing her harm, with these kinds of searches."

Elder said if Rebecca was, in fact, murdered, it could mean the killer had a bondage fetish.

“If the killer had a bondage fetish, he may have been trying to humiliate Rebecca in a sexual way,” Elder explained. “Usually bondage is done by consensual partners, but in this case, it might have been someone trying to harm or humiliate the victim.”

Elder said he is unsure if the bondage porn element, and the fact that these sites were looked at in the home the night Rebecca died, were ever officially investigated.

“The public began to wonder why the police did not followed up on this, especially in a case like this where a woman clearly was tied up, who wasn’t necessarily raped but was certainly perhaps murdered,” he told the producers of  “Death At The Mansion: Rebecca Zahau.” “Why would this not be considered, uh, a very active clue?”

Adam was actually found responsible for her death in civil court in 2018. Adam appealed the decision, but his insurance company reached a settlement with the family in February, according to the Los Angeles Times.  

Adam Shacknai has maintained his innocence.

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