Seeing Double? Rebecca’s Height at the Door

What is it with doors and crime scenes? Doors seem to feature almost as characters of their own in many high-profile cases. In the Oscar Pistorius case the door is elevated to a kind of time machine.

Through the 4 bullet holes, when lined up to the trajectory of the shooter and the bullet wounds from the autopsy, the entire split second shooting can be reanimated. I bought a door and measured the recreated the exact ballistics as research for Justice Eventualis, my final book on the Pistorius case.

More: Modelling Reeva’s Fall Behind the Door

In the McCann case there was a lot of confusion about front and rear doors in the beginning. Was the front door locked or the rear? Did Gerry McCann do his check through the front door or the rear? Was Madeleine’s bedroom door open or closed? How many degrees was her bedroom door open? How much light was visible insight the room through the partially open door…

A bathroom door also features prominently in the Jason Rohde case. I remember attending two court cases within a few months of each other in South Africa, and both the Pistorius case and Rohde case had the doors removed and reassembled in the court.

In the Rohde case the door was discolored with fingerprint dust and other stains. So many questions surrounded the white hotel door from Spier hotel where Susan Rohde was found bound and dead against. Was she actually hanging behind the door or just sitting? Was it possible to hang from the flimsy bathroom hooks? Would anyone hanging from those hooks not kick around and awaken someone snoozing in a bed immediately opposite the door? And what sort of maximum weight might one of those bathroom hooks actually hold?

Rohde Crime Scene Schematic: What else are we missing? [ANALYSIS]

5 Key Difficulties for Jason Rohde’s Defence [and they’re all unexpected]

Would a CEO really not know how to manually unlock a hotel door with a spoon or a coin?

Interestingly, in the Pistorius and Rohde cases, the height of the victim was critical to figuring out the forensics, and in the Pistorius case, his height without his prosthetics was also vital to figuring out the ballistics.

In the Amanda Knox case, a locked bedroom door, and broken windows and broken door latches all played a prominent role. Ditto the Ramsey case.

With Rebecca Zahau there’s not just a door but a message explicitly painted in bold, black ALL CAPS on the door. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department take a simplistic, reductionist view by simply imagining Rebecca in front of the door and painting the message. In their version she’s the right height, it’s painted with her paint, so it has to be her, right?

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In the civil trial counsel for the Zahaus very cleverly did handwriting analysis on the seven word message, something the cops and experts for the defense did their best to scoff at.

But handwriting aside, if we look closely at the model used in the Sheriff’s PowerPoint presentation, she’s wearing shoes with a slight heel, and the door is slanted very slightly away from her. This simultaneously raises the model at least an inch in vertical height, while the slanting of the door lowers the message at least an inch. The model in the image also demonstrates painting her message on the lower line of text.

It’s easy to model the scenario yourself. Stand in front of a door with a pen and pretend the door is a piece of paper. Where would you automatically, naturally start writing your message? Go do the experiment quickly and then come back.


Where would you automatically, naturally start writing your message when standing right beside a vertical door?


Answer: In line with your shoulder, and looking down approximately 45 degrees [mirroring somewhat how one would write on a flat horizontal plane, in a line parallel with one’s bent elbow].

Keith Greer’s exhibit shows the height of the message a few critical inches higher than the police exhibit. The text on the bottom line is clearly above Rebecca’s shoulder level, and the word HIM virtually eye-level or slightly higher.

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Sometimes, on these tiny nuances, the height of a message on a door, a trial or an investigation can turn – for better or worse.

Two Sides to the Tugboat Captain

When Adam Shacknai appeared in court he was impeccably dressed in a polished suit. His answers were polite and mild-mannered.

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When he testified Adam spent some time cleaning his glasses when he was asked to examine photos of the crime scene and the victim – arguably his own handiwork.

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This was his demeanor when the 911 call was played back in court.

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On Adam’s final day in court, he appeared completely different – dressed casually in black, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and compared to everyone else in the room, under dressed, especially for January in California.

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Outside court Adam was less polished, and so was his statement to the media. Fullscreen capture 20190701 011149Fullscreen capture 20190701 011306Fullscreen capture 20190701 011424Fullscreen capture 20190701 011610Fullscreen capture 20190701 011629

As the retinue left the premises, Adam stood out as something of an oddball, even from a distance. Fullscreen capture 20190701 011808Fullscreen capture 20190701 011723Fullscreen capture 20190701 011733Fullscreen capture 20190701 011749Fullscreen capture 20190701 011758

Apparently on the same day as the civil trial concluded, Adam sat down for an interview, still dressed in the same clothes. The interview appears to be in a hotel room.

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This same wardrobe change from brown-grey suit to brown-grey shirt repeatedly itself in 2018.

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DEATH AT THE MANSION – The Final[e] Analysis [Part 3 of 3]

Significantly, two different pairs of gloves are identified in crime scene reports, and crime scene photos. In one instance what appears to be a single black latex glove was found in the dirt in the crawl space under the stairs. The second glove seems to be missing.

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And then there’s this pair, found in plain sight upstairs on the living room table.Fullscreen capture 20190701 005852

This same pair, or a similar pair, appears in Greer’s “War Room” resting on a packet of cream-yellow Multi-Purpose Latex gloves.

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In the above image we see the gloves stored beside the ski-rope in Greer’s War Room. The possible use of the gloves raises a few possibilities. Were they used to grip the rope when lowering Rebecca? A ski-rope is by its very nature slick and slippery. Were the gloves used to intentionally transfer black paint onto Rebecca’s hands, to make it seem as if she painted the message? The gloves in question appear to resemble gloves associated with watersports, including boating.

Only one of the two pairs has potentially the sort of “skin pattern” that may have left the characteristic imprint on Rebecca’s fingernail. But if a glove made this imprint, why was no black paint found on either of the gloves?

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Finally, why are we talking about two pairs of gloves?

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Who did the gloves belong to?

It makes almost no sense that no DNA was recovered from two pairs of gloves, especially because gloves would essentially serve as a receptacle for hairs and skin cells. But apparently only minute partial and mixed DNA traces were found, and the San Diego cops were pretty good at not doing much with the little they did find.

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The finale does a good job to undermine the amateurish efforts on the San Diego PD side, both in terms of the original investigation and the so-called “reinvestigation”. One of the presenters hits the hammer on the head when describing the reinvestigation as “not a true investigation”.

Crazy as it sounds, apparently whoever tested the plastic bag on the floor by the bed, and even the entire door, used a single swab in each case. That’s a little like using a toothpick to measure the size of a football field.

But even without DNA analysis to guide us, we have one pair of those same gloves appearing in a series of crime scene photos. At the bottom of the stairs on the railing.

Who did they belong to?

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DEATH AT THE MANSION – The Final[e] Analysis [Part 2 of 3]

Many of those covering the Zahau case seem to be fixated on the knots, as well as demonstrating that they could be “self tied”. Personally I find the whole line of inquiry odd and unnecessary simply because there’s very little effort to replicate the exact bindings the way we see them in the crime scene photos.

In DEATH AT THE MANSION a fuss is made over the knot being at the top instead of at the bottom etc. It’s pedantic this late in the game to still be trying to prove it wasn’t suicide, but if you want to talk about the rope, look at how the rope is threaded under both the yellow and the black wristbands in this image.

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Ironically, I used to wear two wristbands when they were vogue, a black one and a yellow LIVE STRONG bracelet. They’re snug, they can stretch a little, but it would be impossible to tie the sort of knots under two of these wristbands.

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Remember Adam Shacknai saying he had to move “something” out of the way when reaching for Rebecca’s pulse? That statement always struck me as odd, and completely unnecessary to say. I’d assumed he was referring to the rope, but felt that didn’t make sense, because obviously he had to move the rope away. This seems to be a potential slip of the tongue. Whoever killed Rebecca had to navigate under those wristbands when securing her wrists together. That’s what had to be moved out the way and threaded inside and under, not once, but numerous times.

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DEATH AT THE MANSION – The Final[e] Analysis [WARNING – GRAPHIC IMAGES] [Part 1 of 3]

It’s always difficult presenting graphic autopsy images in an appropriate way. There’s nothing “appropriate” about death, and so there’s no way to do this that doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

In True Crime the cadaver is often by far the most important source of evidence. It’s also the surest way to feel the scale and scope of a crime from the victim’s perspective. It’s shocking, and it should be. It should disturb us.

In DEATH AT THE MANSION the wound to Rebecca’s neck is shown. Without seeing this wound firsthand it would be difficult to appreciate the injury even with a technical description.

What we do see is a very severe asymmetrical gash caused by the rope into the right side of the neck [Rebecca’s left side]. This immediately suggests two scenarios:

  1. Rebecca was hanging in a lopsided fashion [similar to how she is seen laying on the lawn, and also with her head turned slightly].
  2. Rebecca seemed to have been dropped fairly rapidly to create the gash in the first place.

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If we imagine Rebecca hanging “lopsidedly”, we see her knees bent upwards even though gravity ought to be pulling her legs down. It also means her head is turned at an angle that is at odds with how it should look if she had hung herself.

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This suggests she was cut down not only to dramatize a theatrical rescue [even though she was clearly dead], but because if she had been found hanging, the unnatural position would immediately arouse suspicion. If Rebecca was killed close to 03:00, then, if she was hung relatively late, close to sunrise or shortly before Adam called 911, then her body may have had several hours to stiffen in the position she was bound and strangled in.

From the perspective of neighbor’s noticing something and alerting the cops before her murderer “was ready”, we can imagine leaving the staging of the suicide until the last possible moment. Does that make sense?

Although it’s debatable whether in practice law enforcement could have or should have done a reverse suicide staging in situ, if Rebecca was hung up again, this could have “proved” the above point – that immediately on sight, seeing her hanging, the cops would have realized the suicide didn’t look right. However significant tissue damage would have been incurred in such an exercise.

From the original Case File images, a black and white image presents a very different view of Rebecca’s face and neck than the autopsy photo. Her eyes are slightly open and her mouth wide open either from the shirt stuffed in her mouth, or Adam performing CPR or both. Contrast her mouth with the above image where her lips are obviously closed.

The use of the shirt might also be to conceal or minimize the ugliness of the hanging wound after the fact.

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First Review of ZAHAU: INSIDE THE WHALE

The second book of the Red Rope series was terrifically difficult to write. There was a simpler alternative which would have been easier to write, but that – I felt – would be cheating. I wanted to do due diligence to a much more complicated dynamic, and to be honest, when I started it I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make sense of it.

The Death at the Mansion series provided some useful and prescient insights that I hadn’t encountered before. Audio recordings of Jonah Shacknai’s police statement helped in the process of unraveling certain psychological mechanisms underlying this case.

Do we know all there is to know about this case? No, but we’re getting there.

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