Deadly New Accusations: A Murder Mystery?

June 27, 2013

Two mysterious deaths within days of each other, and questions loom about both, pitting two families against each other: First, 6-year-old Max Schacknai fell over a second-story banister, leaving him on life support, and tragically, he died three days later. Two days after his fall, his father's girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau — who was caring for the boy at the time of the accident — was found hanging, naked and bound. Authorities ruled Max's death an accident and Rebecca's a suicide, but both families aren’t convinced of the determinations and want the investigations reopened. Max's mother, Dina, says she has evidence that proves her son might have been the victim of a homicide. Forensic pathologists Judy Melinek and Cyril Wecht weigh in. Could Rebecca have contributed to Max's death? Rebecca's sister, Mary, and brother-in-law, Doug, say there's no way Rebecca would ever hurt Max or take her own life. Hear why they believe the two deaths are related.







Nearly 49 million Americans, including 16 million children, struggle with hunger every day. Join Dr. Phil in his call to action to raise enough money for 10 million meals and beat hunger in America. Donate today!


Max ShacknaiRebecca ZahauDina, Max's MotherMary, Rebecca's SisterDoug, Mary's HusbandAnne Bremner, Zahau Family AttorneyDr. Judy MelinekCyril Wecht, M.D., J.D.Accident Scene

A Shocking Twist to a Bizarre Mystery

Dina Shacknai, Max's mother, says she had trust issues with Rebecca Zahau from the time she met her. "She neglected to share very important information with me, such as her legal name. She left out she was married and the fact that she had a shoplifting arrest," Dina says. "I began to think Rebecca had issues with impulse control.”

Because of her uneasy feeling about Rebecca, Dina says that she asked Max's father, Jonah, to put some precautions in place when Max was in his care: Rebecca would not take Max across state lines by herself, she would not attend Max's school events, and neither she nor a member of her family would be alone with Max. When Dina learned of Rebecca's suicide, she says, "I started to wonder, What is it that she knew? Did she know something that I didn’t know?" 

Dina says that she wasn't convinced that her son's death was an accident. "Things didn’t add up. I believed there was more to it,” she shares. "I decided to pursue a different route, to find the truth wherever that would lead. The findings presented to me from these experts, after nine months of methodical work, was the worst outcome that I could have imagined; that there was an assault scenario, and it was a homicide, which means death at the hands of another, which means the last face [Max] saw was the person who assaulted him," Dina reveals. "Based on evidence, Rebecca had direct involvement in Max’s death.”


Why does Dina believe that it was Rebecca who played a part in Max’s death?


Dr. Judy Melinek, a Harvard-educated forensic pathologist hired by Dina to examine the case, concludes that someone may have helped Max go over the railing. “The marks on Max’s body don’t support the theory that he accidentally fell off the banister.”


Dr. Melinek adds that she believes the scene of the accident wasn’t properly investigated. “When Max fell, it was initially assumed to be an accident. It was only when he came to the hospital did the doctors at the hospital say, ‘This is too much injury. It doesn’t match up.’ The doctors at the hospital blew the whistle and said, ‘We’re going to call Child Protective Services.’ I wasn’t the first one to raise concerns; they were,” she explains.

Seeking Justice

Rebecca's sister, Mary, and her husband, Doug, say Rebecca would have never committed suicide and that her death wasn't given a fair investigation. They also say there's no way Rebecca would have hurt Max.

“To hear Dina get on TV and say things about my sister infuriates us," says Mary. "We all know what she’s saying is not true. It’s like her taking a dagger and stabbing it in our hearts, as she stands there and talks about my sister, who cannot defend herself. She was brutally murdered for what happened to Max.”

“Becky treated Max like he was her own son,” says Doug. “Becky did not assault Max. For Dina to say that, it makes no sense. If there was an assault scenario, she should have some type of injury on her hands.”

Doug also believes that Dina knows more about Rebecca's death than she's admitting. "She may not know directly, but there’s something in Dina that would benefit us, to find out who killed Becky,” he says.


Mary, joined by Doug and their attorney, Anne Bremner, shares her theory on how Rebecca died.

Cyril Wecht, world-renowned forensic pathologist and author of From Crime Scene to Courtroom, reviewed Max's autopsy and Dr. Melinek's notes. Does he agree with her findings?


“All I know is that my sister would be alive if Max didn’t get hurt.”
















Latest Information

Dina responds to Mary and Doug's claims, and she reveals new information about Max's death investigation.


Does Dina know anything about Rebecca’s death that she hasn’t shared?