The announcement Tuesday that Montreal pharma firm Valeant is buying Arizona medical cosmetics company Medicis has brought back into the spotlight a tragic, strange and -- some would say -- suspicious story surrounding Medicis’ founder Jonah Shacknai's dead girlfriend and son.
A statement issued by the two companies Tuesday described the $2.6-billion acquisition as “a significant next step” in Valeant’s quest to become a global leader in dermatology. It makes no mention of the tragic family drama that unfolded in Shacknai's life little more than a year earlier.
The ill-fated stars in this story are Shacknai, his six-year-old son Max, and Jonah’s girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau.
On July 11, 2011, Max Shacknai, Jonah’s son by a marriage that ended in 2008, was hospitalized after evidently taking a tumble off a balcony railing in his Coronado, California, home. He would die of his injuries four days later. Two days after Max’s fall, 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau was found dead in the same house. She was found naked and with her wrists and ankles bound.
“Investigators concluded that Rebecca Zahau tied rope to bedposts and around her wrists and ankles, she loosely bound her wrists, took one arm out and put both arms behind her back before tightening the noose,” NBC San Diego reported.
Jonah Shacknai had not been home at the time, though some other relatives of Zahau’s were. Investigators ruled Zahau’s death a suicide, but members of her family were unconvinced.
“It just doesn’t add up,” sister Mary Zahau-Loehner told the Associated Press. “Nothing adds up.”
Zahau-Loehner said investigators told her they found no suicide note. They did share text messages on her phone from months earlier about "issues" between her and Shacknai's children.
Zahau-Loehner said she spoke with her sister the night before her body was found and she gave no hint that she planned to take her life. She said she planned to bring Jonah Shacknai breakfast and a change of clothes the next morning to the hospital where his son was being treated.
Though Jonah Shacknai himself said his girlfriend’s death was “undeniably strange,” authorities didn’t seem suspicious of the events.
"Suicides can appear odd," San Diego County Sheriff's Sgt. Roy Frank said. "It's not unusual to have a suicide that appears to be something else."
All the same, Shacknai requested a second autopsy of his girlfriend, in an effort to dispel suspicions. After the exhumation, the doctor hired to examine Zahau, Dr. Cyril Wecht, went on Dr. Phil and told the audience he believed Zahau’s death may have been a homicide.
That speculative conclusion drew condemnation from some corners. Defense attorney Roy Black harshly criticized Wecht in a blog column, accusing the show of pulling a ratings stunt. Black noted that many members of Zahau’s family themselves said they believed -- without forensic evidence -- that her death was a murder. Black accused Wecht of pre-judging the case.
But perhaps the most unsettling element of the case came last month, when a team of forensic pathologists, hired by Max Shacknai’s mother, Dina Shacknai, concluded that the six-year-old boy’s death could not have been accident, given the cuts and abrasions found on his body. Dr. Judy Melinek, one of the doctors working for Dina Shacknai, said she believed the death was a homicide.
Dina Shacknai is now asking California authorities to reopen the investigation into her son’s death.
"Real science doesn't lie,” she told CBS 5 in Arizona.