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.

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?


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.


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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“Rebecca Zahau was probably sexually assaulted…” No, she probably wasn’t.

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.

Evidence That Points To Rebecca Zahau’s Death Being A Sexually-Motivated Homicide– Oxygen

Expert Witness Believes Rebecca Zahau Was Sexually Assaulted Despite Official Findings – Oxygen

Attorney claims further analysis of evidence disproves Coronado mansion suicide – Fox5

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.

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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.

Is it?

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.

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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…?