Warrants reveal details of McStay family murder investigation

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SAN DIEGO – A judge Friday unsealed some of the search warrants from the investigation into the deaths of Fallbrook residents Joseph and Summer McStay and their two young sons.

"I’m going to proceed because I do think there is a real interest in the public knowing what this is all about," said Judge Runston Maino.

The documents were made public at the request of Fox 5 News and several other media organizations.

"It’s important for the public to be able to have access to these search warrants," said Kelly Aviles, Open Government Attorney.  "It leads to the public’s understanding how search warrants are handled are issued, how police conduct their investigations."

Aviles represented the media outlets in filing the various motions on the search warrants.

The search warrants were issued between Feb. 19 and Feb. 23, 2010. They show that when investigators entered the McStay's home, they found signs that the family had left in a hurry. A carton of raw eggs was left on the kitchen counter and investigators found half-packed suitcases in the homes.

The documents reveal that Sheriff's Detective Troy Dugal believed from the very beginning that the family had either been kidnapped or killed.

Police who searched their home days after the family disappeared found eggs on the kitchen counter and bowls of popcorn in the living room, along with the family’s two dogs. There were no signs of a struggle.

Joseph and Summer McStay and their two children, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr., disappeared under mysterious circumstances from their Fallbrook, California, home in February 2010.

Despite finding the family’s SUV in San Ysidro, California — where it had been towed from the Mexican border — and video surveillance that showed a family matching the description of the McStays crossing the border, authorities had no clue what happened to them until the discovery of their bodies on November 11, 2013.

San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies arrested Charles “Chase” Merritt, 57, in Chatsworth on Nov. 5, 2014. Merritt, a former business associate of Joseph McStay, is the only suspect in the case, investigators said.

Investigators determined that all four of the victims were killed at their home in Fallbrook. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, authorities said. Investigators are not disclosing the motive for the murders.

Merritt has a criminal history and has served two prior state prison terms, investigators said.

Aviles said some 60 search warrants remained sealed and there are efforts to unseal them.

"Perhaps that will give us some idea of how this case was handled," said Aviles.


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  • Marnie

    Have been following this case since the day it hit the news. Now that we finally know the McStay family was murdered in their home, I cannot but help wonder if Merritt got Joseph isolated – say in the garage or another room, killed him. Then came in to the area where Summer was to say something has happened to Joseph. Concerned, she would go. Now he kills her – blow to the head from behind? Then the two kids. Easier prey. THEN he grabs suitcases and starts packing stuff – to make it look like the family itself was packing. Investigators need to look at what was packed….did what was IN the suitcases make sense to be in them? OR did it look like somebody just started grabbing stuff – anything with no thought to it – and tossing them into the suitcases? If it is the latter, then that gives me pause……a ruse? To me, that is like somebody who pulls drawers out & dumps items around to make it LOOK like a burglary took place when there is something else at play – a cover up. Even if sometbody is packing quickly, they will still have stuff like medications, toothbrush/paste, grooming items AND appropriate clothing for the climate they are going to. The person is not going to reach into the closet and grab the first armload of clothes they come to and dump them into a suitcase. DItto dresser drawers. Mostly socks & underwear but no clothes? These are things yet to be revealed. What WAS packed and did the items found in the suitcases even make sense or was it all staged/a ruse to make it LOOK like they were packing quickly?

    Then the computer searches…..had Chase been at their house since they moved in? Had he been there the week or so before they disappeared & asked to use Summer’s PC? Then did these ‘searches’ for Mexico and Spanish lessons and other things without her knowledge, to set the stage?

  • San Juanita ramirez

    You know, I wonder the same thing. How was this guy able to overpower both husband and wife,kill them and ultimately kill the two children, all by himself?

  • Sammy

    I don understand how they can say they beleve the family LEFT in a hurry and then indicate they were killed in the home. To me, that’s a total contradiction.

  • Caden

    Am confused. “they found signs that the family had left in a hurry. ” How does this translate into a family that was abducted/kidnapped??

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