Editor's note: One year ago two people died following incidents at the Spreckels mansion. Public fascination continued for weeks afterward, peaking in September as the cases were determined to have been a suicide and an accident, not crimes. This week, Patch revisits the deaths of Rebecca Zahau and Max Shacknai in pieces about the storied home connected to them, an upcoming book and the loved ones who have dealt with the aftermath of the tragedies.
The pain is still there and the grim determination hasn't waned, but for one of Rebecca Zahau's sisters, smiles are possible too.
Snowem Horwath can hear her big sister gently teasing her about her taste in clothing – Zahau didn't always approve – or about the items Horwath chose to feature in her new business, a boutique.
“‘You know what Snow,’” Horwath recalls Zahau saying as she viewed the stock during a Skype conversation, “‘I would even buy that.’”
Zahau's voice was silenced one year ago Friday; after nearly seven weeks of investigation, detectives determined that she died by her own hand, despite being found nude and bound on the grounds of the Spreckels mansion. The brother of her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, said he found her hanging from a balcony over the home's courtyard.
“Just the fact of knowing that it's the first anniversary now, of losing someone so special, it's just indescribable,” Horwath said, in a phone interview from her home in Hamburg, Germany.
The probe's conclusion angered Horwath, her sister Mary Zahau-Loehner and the rest of their family, which has been pushing since September for a new investigation. They publicly criticized the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, which oversaw the case, and became frequent visitors to cable news shows, along with their attorney, Anne Bremner.
The Sheriffs department denied their call to re-open the case, as did District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. State Attorney General Kamala Harris's office continues to review the family's request, according to Bremner.
“I cannot believe her or her department would let it pass and not do anything,” Horwath said. “I cannot imagine that.”
The Coronado police investigated another incident at the mansion, two days before Zahau's demise, that led to the death of Shacknai's son, Max, 6. Chief Louis Scanlon disagrees with the Zahau family's criticism, but he says he sympathizes with their position.
“It was a terrible tragedy, particularly for the families involved, but it was determined not to be criminal in its nature,” he said. “To date, we have no evidence to indicate it's anything other than a tragedy, but I think that it's understandable there are people who can't accept that.”
Neither Horwath nor Zahau-Loehner has pointed fingers at the two people known to have been at the mansion July 13, 2011, but they have not wavered in their contention that their sister was killed.
Horwath said she is prepared to keep up the fight for a new investigation for several years, even a decade.
“It doesn't matter how long it takes, as long as the truth is revealed, as long as justice is served,” she said. “It doesn't matter if it takes many years, our fight for justice will still be the same. Of course, as sisters, we pray it doesn't take that long, but if it takes that long, it has to.”
She must do this for Rebecca, Horwath said, because “only then will I think, OK, I have done everything for you, then I won't be too sad anymore.”