Murder mystery at mansion as two die in two days


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The Independent Online

Police are attempting to get to the bottom of two "bizarre" deaths which occurred within 48 hours of each other at the historic seaside home of one of the wealthiest men in San Diego.

Jonah Shacknai, the founder and CEO of a pharmaceuticals corporation called Medicis, announced on Sunday that his six-year-old son, Max, had died from injuries suffered during a fall down the "grand staircase" of Spreckels Mansion, his 27-room house in the upmarket suburb of Coronado.

Two days after the child had been taken to hospital, the body of Shacknai's girlfriend, Rebecca Nalepa, was found hanging from a balcony in the main courtyard of the property. She was naked, with a rope around her neck; investigators told the media that her hands and feet had been bound.

Mr Shacknai, 54, was apparently not at home during either incident, which occurred last Monday and Wednesday. Police said they have yet to establish a link between the two deaths and are still working to determine whether Ms Nalepa died as the result of a homicide or suicide.

No suspects have yet been named in either case, but Tim Curran, of the Sheriff's department, stoked public interest in the case by telling NBC News that the possible events which saw 32-year-old Ms Nalepa meet her end are being regarded as "very suspicious" and "violent".

"[The] circumstances are bizarre," he said. "It appears to be some type of a violent death and I'm not going to compromise the integrity of the investigation by giving anything more than that at this time."

Mr Shacknai, who was twice divorced, made his fortune selling cosmetic products, such as the acne treatment Solodyn and Dysport, a wrinkle cream regarded as a competitor to Botox. His firm made $700m last year and, although its share price has fallen around five per cent since news of the deaths broke, it retains a market capitalisation of more than $2bn.

Spreckels Mansion is a well-known local landmark, built in 1908 by one of the city's first tycoons, John D Spreckels. Mr Shacknai bought the property three years ago. Ms Nalepa, who had a previous conviction for shoplifting, moved in during 2009 and was apparently looking after Max at the time of his fatal fall.