On February 4, 2010, the McStay Family, a set of parents and their 2 children, disappeared from their Fallbrook, California home. Their bodies weren't found for nearly 4 years, in the desert near Victorville, California.
Charles "Chase" Merritt, the father's business partner, was arrested on November 5, 2014. His trial began on January 7, 2019. He was found guilty of murdering the family, and sentenced to death on January 21, 2020.
BACKGROUND AND DISAPPEARANCE
Joseph McStay, 40, and his 43-year-old wife Summer lived in Fallbrook, California. Joseph owned an operated a company that built decorative fountains called Earth Inspired Products, and Summer worked as a real estate agent. They had 2 sons together, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr.
Though they were hit hard by the great recession in 2008, they had made a substantial bounce back. The decorative fountain business was flourishing, and they had just bought their house that they intended to renovate, flip, and sell, with a massive "cash cushion" to get through the renovation.
On February 4, 2010 at 7:47 pm, a neighbor's surveillance system captured the very bottom portion of an unknown vehicle, though it was initially suspected to be the family's 1996 Isuzu Trooper. About an hour later, a call was placed from Joseph's phone to his business partner, Chase Merritt, but it went to voicemail. Merritt said he had been watching a movie and thus ignored the phone call.
While investigating, police learned that, by mostly all accounts, the McStays were a happy, thriving household who were well-liked by neighbors and loved by family and friends. But the one person who didn't agree with that? Chase Merritt, the last phone call Joseph's phone ever made.
According to him, Summer was a bitch. According to him, Joseph was "pussy-whipped" by her. He said that summer had likely killed Joseph and ran away with their children to start a new life. To a national audience, and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, he spread negative information about the McStay family after they vanished from their home.
But, after enough spouting your mouth off, you're bound to eventually make a mistake. And in an interview with CNN's Randi Kaye, Kaye asked "But you were the last person he [Joseph] saw?" to which Merritt responded, "I'm definitely the last person he saw."
But for some reason, the police were listening to the man spitting vitriol against the missing family. And they continued investigating in all of the wrong directions. Apparently, he was very good at persuading others, including the police, to buy into the universe he was living in. Where he was a helpful guy trying to get to the truth. The man who should have been their main suspect became their main witness, who was deliberately misleading them every step of the way.
And it was partially easy to believe he wasn't involved, because Merritt was just getting lucky break after lucky break. When the family's car was found, no one swabbed the car. If they would, they would have found male DNA that wasn't Joseph's. In 2013, when a grainy video of 2 adults and 2 children crossing the border in Mexico that maybe could have been the family, the police came to the conclusion that they had voluntarily escaped to Mexico.
On November 11, 2013, one John Bluth was enjoying his 3 day weekend and the nice November weather by doing some off-road motorcycling. While he was riding in the desert in Victorville, California, something caught his eye. He drove over to it and parked his bike to investigate. What he found was a bone.
He became concerned that he had found part of a human skull, and he called 911 for them to come investigate. 4 days later, the San Bernadino County Sheriff-Coroner's officials announced what they had found: the bones belonged to Joseph and Summer McStay, and their 2 young sons. The bodies were 104 miles north of where they lived.
The deaths were ruled a homicide. Even though it had been nearly 4 years since the family disappeared in early 2010, the coroner believed the deaths were a result of blunt force trauma from inside their home, and not in the dump location.
Even with this information, by all accounts a massive break in the case, it would be almost exactly another year until any arrest was made in the quadruple homicide of the McStay family.
Somehow, it was the location of the dump that finally made the police realize that their star witness who had called Summer a bitch multiple times was the criminal. The graves were dug 104 miles away from the McStay home, but only 18 miles away from where Merritt went to high school, so it was an area he was familiar with. Suddenly, all roads pointed to him.
Earlier in the year, Merritt said he wanted to write a book about the McStay family, and discuss Summer's anger issues and Joseph's "mysterious ailment" he had been sick with, which Merritt said was because of his wife. While Joseph's family did admit that he had been sick, and that Summer was a bit possessive of her husband, they said it was entirely unfounded that she was in any way responsible for his illness.
On November 5, 2014, 6 years ago today, Merritt was arrested after his DNA was found in their car, which they had in evidence for years. His arrest was announced 2 days later. He was charged with 4 counts of murder, and DA seeking the death penalty.
Investigators believed that, not only did all 4 victims die of blunt force trauma, that they had been hit over the head with a 3lb sledgehammer, and were possibly tortured before they died. The prosecutors argued that Merritt had a gambling problem and killed the family for financial reasons. In fact, he had written checks totaling more than $21,000 in the days before the murders, and then went on a gambling spree and lost most of it.
Merritt repeatedly fired his attorneys so he could represent himself.
The case went to trial on January 7, 2019. On June 10, the jury found Merritt guilty of murdering the McStay family. He was sentenced to death for the crime on January 21, 2020.
While greed and financial gain was certainly a motive, some believe that he really killed them because of how much he hated Summer McStay. Realizing he could get money and kill someone he hated could have been the real motivator. People close to the McStay's said that Joseph was likely to continue giving Merritt endless chances, while Summer realized he was a criminal and thief and could see him for the fraud he was.
It is so unfortunate that this case took as long as it did to solve. Haven't these people watched Criminal Minds? The more someone inserts themself into the investigation, typically, the more suspicious they are. Continuing to provide information that was repeatedly incorrect should have been a red flag, if the terrible things he was saying about a murdered family weren't enough. This person was capable of not just killing a woman he hated and his business partner, but also their 3 and 4 year old children. He had to have given something up that outed him as someone who should be looked at more closely. If so, instead of having no closure for nearly 4 years, at least the McStay's loved ones could have had some answers.
Chase Merritt was just sentenced to die at the top of this year, so he will probably be on death row for the foreseeable future. I have no problem seeing a world without a man who can murder 2 young, innocent children in the name of money or rage.
Rest in peace to Joseph, Summer, Gianni and Joseph Jr.