Detectives seek clues in death of nude, bound woman at historic estate

CORONADO (CNS) – Homicide investigators sought Thursday to determine how a woman dating the multimillionaire owner of a landmark 103-year-old Coronado mansion wound up dead at the estate, lying nude in a courtyard with her hands and feet bound and a rope around her neck.

The brother of the pharmaceuticals tycoon who uses the historic Ocean Boulevard manor as a summer home made a 911 call about 6:45 a.m. Wednesday to report a possible death there, authorities said.

Police officers arrived to find 32-year-old Rebecca Nalepa lifeless on a lawn behind the 27-room main residence on the seafront property built by early San Diego power broker and philanthropist John D. Spreckels.

Medics tried in vain to revive Nalepa before pronouncing her dead at the scene, sheriff's homicide Capt. Tim Curran told reporters. Coronado police requested assistance from a sheriff's homicide team, since the small peninsula city does not have a full-time one of its own.

The man who made the emergency call, Adam Shacknai, told investigators he found Nalepa hanging from a second-floor bedroom balcony over the courtyard and cut the rope around her neck to get her down, Curran said.

Nalepa's live-in lover, 54-year-old entrepreneur Jonah Shacknai, was not at the estate, known locally as the Spreckels Mansion, when the death was reported, Curran said. The captain declined to discuss the executive's whereabouts at the time or in the hours that followed, though he said investigators had been “in constant contact” with the businessman.

Curran said the case remained classified as a “death investigation” until detectives concluded if Nalepa was slain or if she might have committed suicide. As such, the owner of the manor and his brother were considered witnesses, not suspects or even “persons of interest,” the captain said.

“Because of the unique and bizarre circumstances of this incident, it has yet to be determined if this will become a criminal matter or will remain as a death investigation,” Curran said.

Despite the many questions swirling around the lurid death, authorities said they were confident the public need not fear that a random killer might be at large.

“There's nothing to indicate this is anything more than an isolated incident right now,” Curran said.

Nalepa, who sometimes went by her maiden name, Zahau, had been staying in the mansion with her boyfriend, and Adam Shacknai was residing in one of the guest homes on the grounds. The property owner's brother apparently was the only other person at the estate with the woman at the time of her death, Curran said.

Two days earlier, Jonah Shacknai's 6-year-old son was seriously injured in a fall down a stairway in the manor, according to police. Curran said there was no immediate evidence that the incident was in any way related to Nalepa's subsequent death.

Officers and medics responding to an emergency call made by a woman shortly after 10 a.m. Monday found the child unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing, Coronado Police Chief Lou Scanlon told reporters.

The boy was taken to Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. His condition has not been made public.

The injured youngster's grandmother told the Arizona Republic he was with Nalepa at the time of the accident.

The mother of the boy reportedly lives a short distance from the historic manor owned for about four years by her ex-husband, who is chief executive officer of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Medicis Pharmaceuticals.

Asked if it was reasonable to believe Nalepa — whose wrists were bound behind her back when her body was found — might have committed suicide, Curran replied, “That is a possibility.”

“This is a very bizarre death; there's no doubt about it, no question about that,” the captain said. “There are some very unique ways, if it was determined to be a suicide — people will do some very bizarre things.”

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