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Parents of Joseph McStay open up about his family’s disappearance and murder

The parents of a man who disappeared with his wife and two young children have detailed how they searched for the family for years before it was discovered that their son’s business partner brutally murdered them with a sledgehammer. 

Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their sons Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, vanished from their home in Fallbrook, California, on February 4, 2010. For years, police speculated they went to Mexica, but the McStays bodies were later found buried in the Mojave Desert in November 2013.

The father’s parents, Patrick McStay and Susan Blake, have opened up about the murders on the second season of the Oxygen true-crime series Killer Motive, which premieres on January 23. 

Mystery: Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their sons Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, vanished from their home in Fallbrook, California, on February 4, 2010

Tragedy: Joseph's parents, Patrick McStay and Susan Blake, have opened up about the murders on the second season of the Oxygen true-crime series Killer Motive

Tragedy: Joseph's parents, Patrick McStay and Susan Blake, have opened up about the murders on the second season of the Oxygen true-crime series Killer Motive

Tragedy: Joseph’s parents, Patrick McStay and Susan Blake, have opened up about the murders on the second season of the Oxygen true-crime series Killer Motive

In a preview clip from the episode about the McStay family, Patrick recalled speaking to his son in the morning on the day they disappeared. 

‘He told me he was in a hurry because he had a lunch meeting,’ the dad told Killer Motive host Troy Roberts.

Susan explained that her son and daughter-in-law would often go on ‘little mini-trips’ with their kids in California, so they weren’t alarmed at first.   

‘And then as the days went by, you start thinking, “Okay, something’s not right here.” You start calling his cellphones, her cellphones,’ she said. 

Susan had her son Mike stop by the family’s San Diego County home on February 13, 2010, nine days after her son was last heard from. Upon his arrival, he noticed that Joseph’s 1996 Isuzu Trooper was missing, but their dogs were in the backyard.  

Patrick noted that it was ‘highly unusual for [the dogs] to be left out alone like that.’

Getting worried: Susan had her son Mike stop by the family's San Diego County home on February 13, 2010, nine days after her son was last heard from

Getting worried: Susan had her son Mike stop by the family’s San Diego County home on February 13, 2010, nine days after her son was last heard from

Confusing: Upon Mike's arrival, he noticed that Joseph's 1996 Isuzu Trooper was missing, but their dogs were in the backyard

Confusing: Upon Mike’s arrival, he noticed that Joseph’s 1996 Isuzu Trooper was missing, but their dogs were in the backyard 

Abandoned: When Mike crawled through a window of the San Diego County home, he discovered food rotting in the kitchen

Abandoned: When Mike crawled through a window of the San Diego County home, he discovered food rotting in the kitchen

Mike crawled through a window and discovered food rotting in the kitchen, and Summer’s prescription sunglasses were also left on the table. 

‘It’s like they went poof,’ Susan recalled. 

There were no signs of forced entry or any foul play, which baffled investigators and suggested the family left on their own accord. 

The family’s computer had recent internet searches for: ‘What documents do children need for traveling to Mexico?’ Summer had also ordered a Spanish-language education program a few months prior to their disappearance.   

DNA samples were collected from the McSays’ family, friends, and associates, but investigators couldn’t get a search warrant to access their financial records because there was no evidence of a crime at the time. 

Vanished: Mike also discovered Summer's prescription sunglasses on the kitchen counter

Vanished: Mike also discovered Summer’s prescription sunglasses on the kitchen counter 

Looking back: Summer is pictured wearing her prescription sunglasses prior to the family's disappearance

Looking back: Summer is pictured wearing her prescription sunglasses prior to the family’s disappearance 

Case to crack: There were no signs of forced entry or any foul play, which baffled investigators and suggested the family left on their own accord

Case to crack: There were no signs of forced entry or any foul play, which baffled investigators and suggested the family left on their own accord

First clue: Their neighbor's surveillance camera had captured what appeared to be the family's Isuzu trooper leaving the cul de sac at 7:47 p.m. on the night they went missing

First clue: Their neighbor’s surveillance camera had captured what appeared to be the family’s Isuzu trooper leaving the cul de sac at 7:47 p.m. on the night they went missing 

They got their first clue when they learned a neighbor’s surveillance camera had captured what appeared to be the family’s Isuzu trooper leaving the cul de sac at 7:47 p.m. on the night they went missing. 

A license plate search for the vehicle led to the discovery that the McStay’s SUV had been towed from a parking lot near San Ysidro, California, right near the U.S.-Mexico border, on February 8, 2010, four days after they went missing. 

As a precaution, investigators took DNA samples from the car, but there was still no evidence of foul play. 

On February 23, 2010, detectives notified Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, to be on the lookout for the family heading to Mexico. 

The next week, deputies released a video of a group of people similar to the McStay family entering Mexico hand in hand through the pedestrian gate around 7 p.m. on February 8, 2010, the same day their vehicle was towed. 

Huh? A license plate search for the vehicle led to the discovery that the McStay's SUV had been towed from a parking lot near San Ysidro, California, right near the U.S.-Mexico border

Huh? A license plate search for the vehicle led to the discovery that the McStay’s SUV had been towed from a parking lot near San Ysidro, California, right near the U.S.-Mexico border

Gone: The family was considered missing, and detectives notified Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, to be on the lookout for headin to Mexico

Gone: The family was considered missing, and detectives notified Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, to be on the lookout for headin to Mexico

Can't tell: Deputies released a video of a group of people similar to the McStay family entering Mexico hand in hand through the pedestrian gate around 7 p.m. on February 8, 2010

Can’t tell: Deputies released a video of a group of people similar to the McStay family entering Mexico hand in hand through the pedestrian gate around 7 p.m. on February 8, 2010

Devastating: Joseph's parents headed to Mexico to hang flyers and search for them but never found anything

Devastating: Joseph’s parents headed to Mexico to hang flyers and search for them but never found anything

‘They actually thought that was really them going over the border on the video,’ said Susan, who was skeptical but still headed to Mexico to search for her family. 

‘As a mother, you’re going to do absolutely anything and everything you can to find them,’ she explained. ‘We went all the way down to Cabo because at first they said there were sightings, and then we just took the car and went north.

‘Some rough places, but you have had somebody stab me, it doesn’t matter,’ she noted. ‘I’m gonna get out the information and try to find them.’

Susan said they would stop in little towns that had just a gas station and a grocery store to post flyers. 

Patrick also searched for their son in Mexico and thought he had a lead when a family claimed to have seen the McStays at Walmart, but security footage confirmed it wasn’t them. 

Inconclusive: After three years of searching, the San Diego Sheriff's Department investigators concluded in April 2013 that the McStay family had gone to Mexico voluntarily

Inconclusive: After three years of searching, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department investigators concluded in April 2013 that the McStay family had gone to Mexico voluntarily

Frustrating: The McStays friends and family insisted they would never go to Mexico with their children, but there was no other explanation

Frustrating: The McStays friends and family insisted they would never go to Mexico with their children, but there was no other explanation

Frustrating: The McStays friends and family insisted they would never go to Mexico with their children, but there was no other explanation 

Heartbreaking: On November 11, 2013, an off-road motorcyclist came across the family's human remains in San Bernardino County's Mojave Desert

 Heartbreaking: On November 11, 2013, an off-road motorcyclist came across the family’s human remains in San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert

After three years of searching, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department investigators concluded in April 2013 that the McStay family had gone to Mexico voluntarily.  

Seven months later, on November 11, 2013, an off-road motorcyclist came across human remains in San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert. The bodies were identified as Joseph, Summer, Joseph Mateo, and Gianani McStay. 

The McStays’ skeletal remains were unearthed along with a three-pound rusted sledgehammer — believed to be the murder weapon — a bra and a child’s pants and diaper.

A year later, Charles ‘Chase’ Merritt, who was a partner in Joseph’s water-fountain business, was arrested for bludgeoning the married couple and their children to death inside their home in Fallbrook because he owed them $30,000.

Patrick had the chance to directly address Merritt in court, calling him a ‘ruthless mass murderer’ and telling him, ‘I hope you burn in hell.’

Gruesome: The McStays' skeletal remains were unearthed along with a three-pound rusted sledgehammer — believed to be the murder weapon

Gruesome: The McStays’ skeletal remains were unearthed along with a three-pound rusted sledgehammer — believed to be the murder weapon

Crime: Charles 'Chase' Merritt, who was a partner in Joseph's water-fountain business, was arrested for the murders in 2014 and found guilty in 2019 (pictured)

Crime: Charles ‘Chase’ Merritt, who was a partner in Joseph’s water-fountain business, was arrested for the murders in 2014 and found guilty in 2019 (pictured) 

Criminal: In January 2020, Merritt was sentenced to death for bludgeoning the couple and their children to death inside their home because he owed them $30,000

Criminal: In January 2020, Merritt was sentenced to death for bludgeoning the couple and their children to death inside their home because he owed them $30,000

Susan made an equally emotional statement ahead of the sentencing being handed down, telling the court how the killings had scarred their lives.

‘This despicable, evil monster. How could you beat two precious little babies? How scared were they, Chase? Crying for mommy and daddy?’ she said. ‘You had a choice. Chase, you are a low-life coward and a baby killer. Just a monster.’

Merritt showed no emotion as she said she felt like she’d been hit by a boulder when she was told the bodies were found: ‘It’s just a nightmare.’ 

A decade after the family went missing, their killer was sentenced to death in January 202. Merritt was transferred to San Quentin State Prison until an execution date is scheduled. 

California has not executed anyone on death row since 2006 as current Gov. Gavin Newsom has placed a moratorium on executions while he’s in office.


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