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Missing Persons, News

The end of the road for the McStay Family: a sad discovery answers some questions and raises others. [UPDATED]

Update: this article was originally posted on November 15, 2013. On November 8, 2014, authorities arrested and charged a man, Charles “Chase” Merritt, with the murders of the McStay family. That story is here. The text that follows is how this article originally read upon its initial posting. This is the last word I will have on the McStay case, as they are no longer missing persons. Thanks to everyone for reading.

Last night media outlets began reporting that skeletal remains had been found in the desert near Victorville, California that authorities believed might be the missing McStay family, about whom I wrote a lengthy article in August. Today, November 15, that suspicion has been made official: the bones are the McStays, at least the husband and wife, Joseph and Summer, with another set of skeletal remains believed to be their children, Gianni and Joseph Jr. Evidently they were found by motorcyclists off-roading in a remote area. The L.A. Times online has a story on the grim discovery here.

The McStays vanished mysteriously from their Fallbrook, California home in February 2010, and until yesterday were well on their way to becoming possibly the most famous missing persons case of the 21st century so far. A video taken at a border crossing into Mexico was thought to show the McStays–and their car was found on the U.S. side of the border not far away–but now it appears they may not have gone to Mexico at all, although no one knows for sure. What was a missing persons investigation is now a murder case.

My condolences and prayers go out to the relatives and friends of the McStays. It’s just horrifying to contemplate what happened to them, and, while I’m glad there is at least some limited closure for the family, efforts must now turn toward bringing their murderers to justice.


  1. sakara

    the bodies were found ten miles away from adelanto jail; maybe all the craziness that happened before doesnt mean anything, and the family simply made the mistake of picking up some hitch hiking ex-con.

  2. John

    Victorville is pretty far from Fallbrook. It is on the way to Vegas on the I-15.

    Seems odd for the family to leave at 7:47pm in a Thursday night to go to Victorville and pickup a hitch hiker.

    • B

      The bodies were found in Victorville desert….however, the vehicle used by the family was abandoned in Alta Vista… hour from their home in San Diego County, Ca. Their vehicle was parked in a parking lot by a small strip mall four days after their disappearance. It was towed away after abandonment.
      The bodies were dumped in the desert….which is the usual place to find bodies in Southern California, the desert or the forest in the mountains.

      • bbabe

        The car was found in San Ysidro not Alta Vista and to be specific their home was in Fallbrook, north of San Diego.

  3. Tea

    Adelanto prison is just a few miles from the site where the bodies were found. What about a scenario where the perp is coming up from Fallbrook in order to pick up a buddy who is getting released from Adelanto jail? Perp then decides he needs a car and decides to carjack the McStay’s car since they just happen to be handy and nearby. Perhaps they were at Nessy’s, the local hamburger stand in Fallbrook or maybe at the Red Box video rental up in old Fallbrook or over near the South Vine Street gang hangout or at the video rental on south Mission. Could be that they just went to a grocery store to get stuff to make cookies since the eggs were left out. Lots of cookie recipes say to have the eggs at room temperature when adding them to the butter and sugar. So anyway, the perp jumps into the family’s car with a gun and makes Joey and Summer drive while perp sits in the back with the two small boys. Once they get close to Adelanto, the perp directs them to exit into the desert where he shoots all family members and buries their bodies. The perp then goes to pick up his buddy at the prison. The two then drop off the McStay’s car at the border to either enter Mexico on foot (thinking that the authorities might already be looking for the vehicle) or to turn and head north back into their own stomping grounds. Jerry L at says “The phone call from Joey to his friend one hour later could certainly have been a desperate attempt by Joey to dial for help. (Joey had spoken to Chase earlier in the day so Chase’s number may have been the only chance he had when reaching for the phone under duress).”

  4. Tea

    Is it really true that Joey filed a complaint with San Diego CPS against his eldest son’s stepfather, that the stepfather was abusing the child? One old website has a comment that on the day before the family’s disappearance that Joey had received a letter from San Diego CPS stating that they had investigated and that they found that there was no basis for Joey’s complaint?
    One old post states “Another dynamic is that Joseph had a 10 year old son (previous wife) and Joseph and Summer had been filing a CPS case against the kid’s stepfather who has a long rap sheet! Supposedly he was furious with the lies Summer was telling Child Protective Services and he was out for blood.”
    Didn’t Joey make a complaint to CPS that his eldest son was abused by the boy’s step-father. Another old website states that Joey received a letter the day before he disappeared that CPS had investigated and found no basis for the complaint even though: Defendant was Michael James McFadden: per Orange County Superior Court website shows felony convictions for: 245(a)(1) PC 7/16/1998 Pled Guilty 1/18/2000 and also a 422 PC 7/16/1999 Pled Guilty on 1/18/2000 PC 245.

  5. Tea

    So as to not post the court info outside of its context, here are Michael J. McFadden’s filed charges:

    Charge Charge Date Charge Dispo Date Charge Dispo Type
    459/460(a) PC – Burglary 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
    422 PC – Assault 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
    273.5(a) PC – Domestic Violence 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
    12022.7(d) PC – Infliction of great bodily injury on a child under the age of five … 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
    422 PC – Assault 07/16/1999 02/25/2000 Dismissed
    240 PC – Attempt to inflict violent force on another person. 07/16/1999 02/25/2000 Dismissed
    245(a)(1) PC – Assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm 07/16/1998 01/18/2000 Pled Guilty
    12022.7(d) PC – Infliction of great bodily injury on a child under the age of five… 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
    422 PC – Criminal Terrorist Threat 07/16/1999 01/18/2000 Pled Guilty
    664-187 PC – Attempted Murder 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed

  6. LiFooYung

    It looks like prosecutors have a hard time getting witnesses to testify against Michael McFadden doesn’t it? Lots of dismissals after some really serious charges were filed. I think they all lived in San Clemente before the McStay’s moved to Fallbrook. Also, the McStay’s car was not found in or around Adelanto, it was at the parking lot nearest to the pedestrian cross over to Tijuana, which tows any car after 4 hours and is the perfect way to get a car out of site for days if not weeks. It also was a ruse to fool the cops into thinking the family was still alive and with no proof because the video was so bad on one could be ID’d on it, the killers plan to fool the police for years worked perfectly. The vehicle was dumped there and another SUV or truck took the bodies out to their graves, it was a 3 person death squad. So now with the names from Cheaterville the cops have the names of all 3 murderers, let’s see if they can do the right thing and arrest child killers. Ask a

    • Tea

      Now it appears that a small excavator may have been used to dig the graves. Somebody had help apparently.

  7. Tea

    Check out Entry #20 at!/2013/06/no-goodbyes-mysterious-disappearance-of.html “We have come to know the stepfather as an ex-convict who spent time in prison for taking a knife to his then-girlfriend …”
    I think this author’s scenario is spot on up until the very last line where the author theorizes that the family escaped the wrath of their enemy.

  8. Seanmunger, nice of you to do a follow up on the McStay case. Now we know that this family was murdered. I believe the location of the bodies will tell part of the story. They were found in a town called Victorville. It seems that Chase Merritt may have owned property in this town at some point. I don’t think Chase had anything to do with the murders, but I do think the town was chosen because of his ties to it. The last call Joey made was to Chase that night, the unanswered call. Joey never spoke and there was just background noise. That call tied Chase to the probable time of the crime as well. He’s been living in fear that law enforcement will be knocking on his door. I’d say that was a good set up. There was an ad put on Craig’s list by some unknown saying that Joey’s vehicle was seen in this area, not naming Victorville specifically. If the bodies were found, it would be okay and Chase could be blamed. If the bodies were not ever found, that would be okay too. Same with the vehicle, maybe the killers crossed or maybe the McStays did. No one knew. This family deserves to have this case solved. Thanks Seanmunger.

  9. well, we know neither of the deceased McStays drove their SUV to San Ysidro. One could think well maybe it was one of the killers, or the one who buried them, that drove the SUV back to near the Mexican border and made a getaway. That would suggest someone had the McStays all packed in the SUV for the drive to Victorville. Or, the SUV wasn’t involved in any trips to Victorville, but left near the border as a ruse. The no signs of struggle at the McStay suggests they were drawn out by somebody familiar to them. An urgent phone call to come quickly? or, a panicked call from Joe to Summer at home to come quickly? If the perp was at their house holding Summer/kids at gunpoint, and Joe wasn’t home yet.. the perp could have been the fourth person in the SUV. Something read somewhere else there wasn’t a lot of extra room in the SUV with the kid seats and ‘stuff’ packed in there. and motive? lots of tidbits of info emerging here and there. McStays could barely afford rent, then move into a nice house? how could they afford that? money still in the bank after they disappeared… was that a sudden deposit made, again, as a ruse? who knows. hopefully authorities solve the mystery.

  10. yolanda

    After reading all these theories it drives me crazy to think with all the sleuths we have in the United States there should have been no reason for the crime to be solved so many years later. Anyhow. I am so glad the family of the McStays have closure. Those poor babies and what they must have had to endure is just inconceivable to think about. I am sure the parents went through the same emotions and scared as well. god has them all in his hands now and maybe the family can have a little closure and peace in their lives. I am sure it wont be much peace because they know they arent ever coming back but the agony of not knowing has been lifted and maybe they can mourn their loss and hopefully law enforcement may be able to learn a little more with every case they solve. RIP precious angels.

  11. You might want to add a further update about the recent murder charges against Joseph’s business partner. It’s sickening.

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