“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
― Oscar Wilde


Evidence presented at trial absolutely tells a different story than the narrative investigators and the DAs told the jury at trial.


So, what transpired in those final days of the McStay’s lives?  Sunday January 31 thru Friday February 5?  According to witnesses at trial, the following is an accurate depiction of what occurred:

Day 6

January 31, 2010 (Sunday): 

Chase Merritt is at the Mcstay residence fixing an appliance. Pizza is ordered. Chase and Summer argue over his eating his pizza with his hands. Summer wants her children to eat with cutlery.  At some point McCarger McGyver arrives to help with the painting of the interior of the home (the hired painter left for Las Vegas and didn’t return; workers are scheduled to be at the home on Thursday to put in the new flooring.  There is an urgency for Summer to get the painting done before the 4th.) Chase leaves. McGyver, finding it difficult to paint with toddlers underfoot, suggests that the family go to the park. The McStay family takes his suggestion. McGyver paints the entryway at the front of the house. When the McStays return they are in better spirits.  Joseph McStay mentions a nearby micro-brewery he’d like to go to with McGyver, but it is too late that Sunday to do this then. Joseph and Chase speak in the afternoon, apparently after Chase has left and before the family goes to the park.

Day 5

February 1, 2010 (Monday): 

Chase Merritt pings towers consistent with his being at home.  McGyver does not return to the McStay residence this day-he originally was going to help paint, but had forgotten that the mother of his unborn child was going in for an ultrasound that day.  This Monday Joseph McStay sends an email to Chase Merritt updating him on finances. Joseph lists payments Chase will receive on two major on-going projects. Also mentioned in this email are money Chase owes Joseph projects that EIP sued in order to receive payment from the clients. Chase had apparently been paid for his work before EIP received payment. And if the lawsuits were to fail, it appears Joseph expected Chase to pay monies paid to him. Both these projects were from years before, one dating back as far as 2007.  And it is never clarified at trial where the lawsuits around these projects stood.  This Monday Joseph McStay’s Intuit Quickbooks account is accessed.  A check that is never printed or cashed is written to Chase Merritt on an account not previously used for check payment before. It should be noted though that in December 2009 and January 2010 Joseph was making a number of adjustments to his Quickbooks.  One of which was to, for the very first time, make payments unrelated to Chase by way of this program. Prior to December 2009 Joseph had handwritten checks, entering those amounts manually to the program. Other than these two events Monday the 1st appears to have been uneventful.  Chase and Joseph do speak on the phone all day, off and on, until almost 11PM.

The Email

Day 4

February 2, 2010 (Tuesday): 

Chase Merritt is at the McStay residence in the morning and departs at around 10 AM.

2 2 morning 8 43 Merritt heaind to Fallbrook

2 2 at joseph's home Merritt

McGyver has also shown up early to paint. Summer runs errands while Joseph and McGyver paint, but as it turns out they have used the wrong paint.  Chase Merritt returns home near to 11:30 AM.  He accesses the Joseph McStay’s Quickbooks “Custom” account (it should be noted there were two sides to McStay’s Quickbooks: 1 for Joseph’s personal finances and EIP in general/ 2 strictly for monitoring the custom work Joseph did primarily with Chase “Custom”) Chase writes a check for payment due on a project. This amount is in keeping with what he was owed. It is clear that just as Joseph had only recently begun writing computer generated checks for his personal accounts, checks written to Chase would also now be computer generated.  Why Joseph wanted Chase to generate his own checks is not clear. Some speculate it was because Joseph had found that his Quickbooks was being hacked into by his ex-business partner Dan Kavanaugh and that Joseph was trying to find ways for his payments to Chase to be confidential (payments to vendors were on percentage); I’ve speculated that Joseph instructed Chase to draft his own checks, on an as-needed basis so that Chase and Joseph, anticipating a busy year, wouldn’t have to make so many trips back and forth, solely for payment to be made.  That week Chase had already been to the McStay residence at least twice-Joseph once.  It was an hour each way in good traffic. As the work increased, this travel may have been time prohibitive. And Chase was paid only after the client’s fees were received, so payments were made based on the client’s schedule of payment. Chase also has a handwritten check he received from Joseph that day.  The computer generated check is cashed. The handwritten check for $200 is used to open a new account at Bank of America.  We can’t know for certain why Joseph would have handled his accounts this way, but in looking at final bank statements there appears to be a pattern. Checks appear to have been allocated by serial number. I’m guessing this made reconciling different accounts easier, as Joseph did not appear to do reconcile daily, but may have waited for at least a week.  Joseph vanishes before the weekend of that first week in February. There is no record of him reconciling his books before his death, so very likely this was a once a week or once every two week endeavor. Maybe he did this only once a month… It is also evident that he divvied up payments. It was not unusual to see two checks written to the same vendor on the same day, in different amounts.  Again, if the checks were for different projects, using checks with different serial numbers would make for visual accounting. It would make it easier to see on the bank statement what each payment had been for.

Joseph Checking account statement


…to be continued…




In conclusion:


The McStay family mystery is one that has been ongoing for ten years now. I know that some believe the mystery is solved, however, I’m quite certain the fat lady is nowhere near to completing her last chorus on this saga.  This mystery isn’t even close to being solved.

Is Chase Merritt Innocent?

It is basically impossible that Charles “Chase” Merritt killed this family.

No motive. No real opportunity. And not one piece of reliable evidence that ties Merritt to any element of this multi-pronged crime.

In fact, if my theory is correct (much of it derived from defense attorney James McGee’s opening statement), Merritt is completely excluded as a direct participant in these murders.  Of course, like a myriad of other suspects on this case, he might have hired someone to kill his best friend and that friend’s family.  But absent any evidence that this occurred, this seems a far-fetched conclusion. Why would he do this?  Makes no sense.

Ex business partner to Joseph McStay, Dan Kavanaugh, was presented as a viable person of interest by the defense. Unfortunately Merritt’s defense counsel was not granted their third party culp motion at trial, so much of the evidence we might have seen around this theory was disallowed for consideration by both the jury and the public during the 2019 trial.

Video of Trial

What we were able to get a clear picture of at trial were timelines never before known to the general public.  And the timeline that interests me the most is the 6 days before the the McStay family of four vanished.

Granted I’m not a professional, I am merely a voyeur here, but I am certain that both investigative teams who pursued this case made an error on that timeline.  They became fixated on theories that appealed to them and failed to accept that early theories were deeply riddled with contradictions, even as the evidence they collected negated old theories.

Prone to Error

There are many items of evidence that might support the theory that this family was apart when the initial attack began.  Summer McStay is the only victim with paint on her clothing. The drip of the paint on her bra is consistent with her lying on her right side, hands tied behind her back, for some time. The same is true of the urine stains on her sweats. These stains are also consistent with Summer lying on her right side for a prolonged period of time.

Grave Evidence

Then you have items found in the grave that are consistent with living people being bound and gagged. The ratchet ties are the perfect length to tie someone’s wrists (what else could they be used for?). The small cut towel pieces could gag someone (who cuts towels into small squares to clean-as is suggested by investigators who saw no other purpose for the towels found?). There is every indication that the victims of this crime were taken somewhere alive before they were killed. The possibility of an additional crime scene is great.

And then there are items found in the graves that are consistent with a day trip for the kids. A backpack with a homemade dinosaur excavating kit was found in the graves. This was a “toy” that Gianni used frequently. It is mentioned both by his grandmother and captured in a video of the family on one of their house-hunting ventures. Apparently missing from the home and the graves is a small child’s computer that Joseph Jr. is pictured with, so perhaps this was taken on this day-trip, only not left in the graves.

A coffee mug and newly filled water bottle were in the front seat cup holders of the Trooper.  Joseph’s checkbook was in the Trooper as if he might have used it. There are four checks missing from that book.


And Joseph’s soccer outfit was also in the vehicle. (Friday night was Joseph’s regularly scheduled practice. Perhaps he was hoping the rain wouldn’t interfere with this rarely-missed activity.)

Found in Joseph’s sweat-pant’s pockets were keys. One set on a ring, in his back pocket. Another loose key in a pocket (it isn’t made clear if this was a front or back pocket). The loose key was to a padlock one usually uses for storage units or the kind of Pods the McStays stored their furniture in while they completed renovations to their new home. (A five-bedroom house, recently purchased out of foreclosure.)  Could Joseph have run by the Pod storage unit that Friday morning to pick up a few items-perhaps belated birthday gifts for Joseph Jr.?  There are children’s toys, newly purchased, hidden under cloth in the back of the Trooper.

back cargo of trooper

What all this might indicate is that on Friday morning, February 5, Summer McStay stayed home, did laundry, dove into her house painting, while her small brood was carted off to run errands with hubby Joseph McStay.  The burden of painting the interior of the home was largely Summer’s.  She organized much of the renovations, leaving Joseph free to run his on-line water feature business Earth Inspired Products (EIP).

That overcast Friday it was scheduled to rain later in the day.  Big rain, that would have prevented outdoor play by the afternoon-and that rain was predicted to go on well into the next day.  Which it did.  If the children were going to get to a park that weekend, Friday morning would be the only time possible.  It appears that child car seats that were usually kept in the family Dodge Ram had been hurriedly transferred to the Isuzu Trooper, which had an enclosed cargo space that would protect from rain (the Dodge bed was open).

Summer with Child Seats

The McStay home when first entered by San Diego Homicide was an organized chaos  (this before any cleaning and straightening-up was performed by surviving McStay family members the very next day-before the execution of a search warrant). Newspaper lay over the carpeting of the entry room.  A room identified by Detective Dugal as being the living room.  There were floorboards acclimating in the front of that room (originally workers were scheduled to lay that flooring Thursday Feb. 4, but the forecast of rain delayed this to the following week).

Towels were missing from racks, the futon cover from the small love-seat futon in the “grand” room adjacent to the open concept kitchen area.  Food was left out on counters. Two child-sized bowls of popcorn sat on the naked cushions of the futon love-seat.  There were piles of laundry, apparently cleaned in the upstairs master bedroom. And laundry in the works in the washer and dryer that also resided upstairs.

A paint tray rested, paint dried in it, near a kitchen island-disembowled, all drawers pulled out, the purpose clearly to paint the inside and outside of that island.

The dogs were in the backyard. Beds in the upstairs bedroom were unmade.  Dishes in the kitchen were not yet cleaned.  Coffee was in the pot. And one lone coffee cup sat on the counter.  That lone coffee cup perhaps telling the same story as all the other bits and pieces of evidence that day.  The McStays clearly loved their coffee. If both parents had been home, wouldn’t there have been two cups of coffee sitting around?  But instead there is one cup of coffee on a kitchen counter and a coffee travel-mug in the trooper. That travel mug and the bottle of water beside it had only Joseph McStay’s DNA on it.

The McStay home had the appearance of active renovations in progress just before life was interrupted. Were they all together outside the home when abducted? Or were they all at home together? Or was this a staggered event.  Summer being assaulted first. Bound and gagged.  Joseph and the children returning home from errands and play, to enter a nightmare?