In the run-up to the finale of 4-part Death at the Mansion series, the idea of a sexual assault has come up again. The Zahau family attorney – Keith Greer – believes the case “had the appearance” of sexual assault. That’s true, but there’s a difference between sexual assault and a staged sexual assault.
Obviously there are multiple “symptoms” to infer a sexual assault. Pornography was viewed on the night or morning of the murder [exactly when this occurred is strangely still unknown]. Adam Shacknai admits he masturbated to Asian pornography on his phone just before discovering and touching the body.
Adam testified that “with some embarrassment and hesitation” he told the officer he had masturbated that morning before finding Rebecca’s body. He also stated that believes he took a shower. Next, Adam said that he left the guest house and intended to walk to a nearby area to get a cup of coffee. It was at that time that Adam said he saw Rebecca’s body hanging from the second-story balcony.
If Adam’s semen or any of his DNA was found on the victim, he had not one but two handy explanations: he’d masturbated immediately prior, and he was performing CPR on the victim when the cops arrived. Plausible deniability.
But apparently a Hewlett-Packard laptop belonging to Rebecca in the guest room also showed searches for lesbian and anime pornography in the 24 hours prior to Rebecca’s death.
There are also the self-evident aspects of sexual assault:
“Beautiful woman, naked, bound, gagged, hands tied behind her back, hung off in this very demeaning manner, but then the sexual assault became apparent,” Greer said. At the civil trial, forensic specialist Lisa DiMeo, formerly of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, was called by Greer. DiMeo testified that Zahau’s menstrual blood was on all four sides of the knife handle that was found at the scene.
Greer alleged at the civil trial that the blood being on all four sides of the handle indicated a sexual assault.“The only source would’ve been if she was sexually assaulted, because it was menstrual fluid,” Greer said.
Greer also references the possibility that someone pinched Rebecca’s breasts. Since no black paint was found on Rebecca’s fingertips, it’s likely someone else – the same person who applied the message on the door, possibly – pinched Rebecca’s breasts.
Rich Williams, of the sheriff’s department homicide unit, reviewed the case with other agencies, following the civil trial. At a 2018 news conference, Williams said that no evidence of a sexual assault was found in either autopsy. The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office said in a presentation from July 2011 that their findings indicated “no evidence of a struggle or a sexual assault and no other significant injuries.”
So which is it? No evidence or is there evidence? Well, it’s a bit of both. It’s tempting to imagine that Adam Shacknai, and only Adam Shacknai, committed the sexual assault. He was there. He had opportunity. Who else would do it? And Rebecca Zahau was a much younger, and attractive woman. But it’s also simplistic. Would Adam simply engage with his brother’s girlfriend sexually, then murder her, then stage it to look like a suicide, and then expect his brother of all people to not only believe him, but support him? If he was the only one there, who else could have murdered Rebecca except him? Well, maybe Rebecca… Just as the notion of suicide in itself isn’t impossible, but we would argue, improbable, the notion of sexual assault isn’t impossible, but we need to look deeper and harder to see if it’s reasonably, possibly true.
The TCRS position isn’t that Adam is guilty or innocent of sexual assault per se, it’s that someone else might be too. If we look at the “evidence” of sexual assault, it includes the handle of a knife covered in menstrual blood, and Rebecca’s breasts pinched with fingers dabbed in black paint. But what are we talking about here? Rebecca doesn’t seem to have been raped. If someone attacked her for sexual gratification, it appears he [or she] forgot to sexually gratify himself [or herself].
The obvious place to commit a sexual assault would be on Rebecca’s bed. There is no evidence of a struggle on her bed. And the only explicit sign of a struggle in the guest bedroom is a wicker chair turned over, and even that may be part of staging – to make it look like there was a struggle.
So was there a struggle or wasn’t there?
There was undoubtedly a confrontation where Rebecca was chased, attacked, subdued [hit over the head four times] and eventually strangled. She may have been bound in a rudimentary way at first, then bound with the ski rope after the fact. It may be that during a period of torture she was taunted in a sexually demeaning way. Part of this may have included removing her clothes unless she wasn’t naked already.
Which is more likely – would a man or a woman insert a knife handle into a woman’s genitals in order to degrade her? It’s also possible once the attack and strangling was over, once Rebecca was already dead, someone staged the appearance of a sexual attack, purposefully leaving the knife – smeared with blood – where it was left, perhaps to implicate a third party. Because who is more likely to assault a beautiful woman? A man spending the night in the neighboring guest house, or some other woman?
And did the third party then – faced with this inculpatory evidence – try to reverse the implications, by staging things to implicate someone else…?