When an entire group of people mysteriously vanishes into thin air, the situation becomes stranger and eerier in comparison to a single person. The strange disappearance of the McStay family of Fallbrook, California, which consisted of Joseph McStay, his wife Summer, and their two children, Gianni and Joseph Jr., garnered national attention and ended tragically. In the early hours of February 4, 2010, the family loaded into their SUV abruptly and strangely departed their house, never to return.
A search of the missing family’s residence revealed no indications of foul play or struggle, but it was evident they had left in a hurry, as evidenced by the carton of eggs left on the kitchen counter and the two child-sized bowls of freshly popped popcorn left on the sofa. The dogs were discovered to be healthy and roaming the backyard. This was just the beginning of a peculiar disappearance that has never been explained.
The investigation into the mysterious disappearance uncovered various peculiar clues. On the evening of February 4, Joseph McStay called his business associate Chase Merritt on his cell phone, but Joseph received no response because Merritt was busy watching a movie at the time. The cell phone’s last known use was a ping received by a tower near Fallbrook on the same day. All attempts to dial the cell phone were unsuccessful.
A scan of the family computer revealed some peculiar inquiries, including an extensive search for Spanish language classes and a search for “What paperwork do children need to travel to Mexico?” For unknown reasons, the McStay family had decided to flee to Mexico, and surveillance footage at the border appeared to show a family resembling the McStays crossing a pedestrian gate into Mexico. However, the video quality is so poor that it is unclear whether or not this was actually them.
Also odd was the fact that the McStays had not withdrawn any money from their bank account, which seemed odd given that they had planned a lengthy trip. In addition, no withdrawals were made even after the disappearance was reported. Furthermore, it was discovered that Summer’s passport had expired. On February 8, their SUV was found in a strip mall near the Mexican border in San Ysidro, California.
The vehicle was allegedly abandoned there at about 5:30 p.m. on that day and was towed at 11 p.m. with no signs of forced entry or missing items. There was no more information about the missing family. The odd case was prominently publicized in the news and on series such as America’s Most Wanted, Disappeared, Nancy Grace, and Unsolved Mysteries, but very little fresh information was forthcoming.
Numerous supposed sightings of the family were reported in Mexico and even as far away as Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but none of these sightings led anywhere. Numerous theories circulated, including that they had been murdered; that they had fled to Mexico to avoid an unidentified threat or to start a new life; that they had attempted to escape financial difficulties; or that they had gone on a journey only to become lost in the desert.
There was scant evidence to corroborate any of these hypotheses, and it appeared that the McStay family had simply vanished. The business partner of Joseph McStay, Chase Merritt, was viewed with considerable suspicion.
Not only was Merritt the last person to have been contacted by Joseph, but also one of the last to have seen them alive. Moreover, he was also the first to detect that they had vanished, but he also had felony records for burglary and theft. In addition, Merritt claimed that he had spent roughly an hour with the family before their disappearance.
Merritt denied any participation in their abduction throughout the investigation and even submitted to a polygraph test, which he passed. Patrick McStay, Joseph’s father, believed that Merritt had nothing to do with his son’s disappearance and alleged that Summer’s ex-boyfriend, Vick W. Johansen, who supposedly remained fascinated with her, drew some suspicion, but officials were unable to establish convincing evidence of their involvement.
The whereabouts and ultimate fate of the McStay family remained a baffling, profound, and much-discussed mystery for years until November 11, 2013, when a motorcyclist discovered two shallow graves in the badlands outside Victorville, California.
The tombs held the bones of four McStay family members, which were confirmed shortly thereafter. The analysis of the remains indicated that all four members of the family died from significant head trauma, most likely caused by a 3-pound sledge hammer that was discovered near the bodies.
Joseph’s skeletal remains were discovered with an extension cord wrapped around his neck and a white towel covering them. Chase Merritt has been arrested and accused of the murders following the discovery of the bodies and the presence of his DNA on the McStays’ vehicle.
Prosecutors in the case asserted that the reason for the murders was simple greed and that Merritt was a degenerate gambler who had deposited $21,000 into McStay’s business account in the days following the family’s disappearance.
Despite all of this, there is no conclusive evidence linking Merritt to the crime, and the case remains unanswered as the trial endures several delays. What transpired with these individuals and where did they go? We might never know for certain.
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