At trial DAs presented their many varied and ever changing narratives first claiming the McStays were killed the evening of the 4th, then speculating that instead it was the morning of the 5th, and finally suggesting that Joseph was murdered the afternoon of the 4th near his storage unit, the rest of the family killed later-who-knows-when? The defense brought forward theirs, which primarily focused on soon-to-be ex-business partner Dan Kavanaugh. The defense also hired accredited labs to extract and analyze DNA found on items in the graves. From this three CODIS-ready DNA profiles were developed. None of which matched the victims or Chase Merritt.
However, all but forgotten in the sound and fury of this very complex trial was The Killer’s Narrative. And the killers did leave in two shallow graves a narrative that tells a story, but also keeps contradicting itself, and befuddling all the narratives that follow.
As a reminder (or new information for those just learning about this case) there were items missing from the McStay home, that were also not located in the graves:
- A laptop, probably a child’s small computer (referred to at trial as the Joseppe laptop-Joseppe being a nickname given to Joseph by Summer)
- Summer’s house keys, or any other keys that may have been hers
- Keys to the Dodge Ram
- Wallets or Purse
- Current ID for Summer and Joseph
- Credit cards
- 2 brand new Google Smart Phones
- If the McStays were wearing warm clothing for outdoor travel, these items were missing: shoes, hats, jackets, etc. (Except that there was a pair of socks discovered under Joseph Sr.’s body.)
This next is not a complete list of items found in the graves, but it will give an idea of what the killers chose to leave behind (in addition to their victims). This in graves that those responsible for these killings, had to have known would be discovered eventually:
- Set of keys on two key rings with chain, found in the back, left pocket of Joseph Sr.’s pants (the keys were for the front door of the home; the back gate; the Trooper; 1 Chateau key used for padlocks)
- A single Chateau key in Joseph Sr.’s front or back right pocket (there is no indication that the two Chateau keys were ever analyzed to see if they went to the same padlock, or two different locks.)
- T-shirt & loose fitting pants (looked almost like sweat pants) worn by Joseph Sr. wore & socks (plural) beneath him
- Blanket wrapped around Joseph Sr., held in place by cut ratchet ties and cut electric cord
- Sweats and panties sized for Summer, and bundled up and above Summer’s head in her grave
- A black bra cut in half, as if by a knife or similar sharp tool. Cut between the cups and also detached at the back; The cup found in grave had paint on it; the other cup was located 20 ft away from Summer’s grave, stuck in brush
- One phone glove case consistent with cases used by the McStays for their Google phones
- Two children’s diapers, one in each grave-it is unclear whether the children were wearing these or if they diapers were found near by
- Shorts sized for a small child-again it is unclear if this was worn by the child or found near to the child in the grave
- Back-pack with “dinosaur excavation kit”-daytime/outdoor activity primarily for the older McStay child
- Child’s hoodie-lion-bath-towel
- Torn towels cut in small squares
- Ratchet ties cut into shorter lengths
- 1 balled up towel or other material with what might appears to be blue painter’s tape within it
- 3 lb Stanley Sledge Hammer
- Two sets of tire tracks, each of different width (76 inches & 73 inches), and each leading to a different grave.
What is also absent from the items in the graves are stains that would appear to have been made from blood. The towels look dirty, but they don’t look stained. And the sledge hammer did not test positive for blood. And are there other items missing? Just because additional clothing wasn’t found in the graves, doesn’t mean that the family left their home without shoes, coats and hats. Everything found in the graves could have come from the McStay residence or another residence. There were no items that didn’t serve ordinary purposes when not used in the commission of a crime. The hammer, though possibly used to bludgeon is an ordinary household tool. There were no knives, or rope, no zip ties, etc. It’s as if the killers were prepared to use only what was available in the home to kill, or made certain not to leave any evidence of premeditation behind. (No inventory of the home ever seems to have been done. So we have no real way of knowing if certain items of clothing are missing.)
In a case like this, where the killers had time to choose what they left for investigators, the killer’s choices seem important. And the graves in this case, did not actually get that thorough a going over.
Towel origin was never really determined. The blanket around Joseph, though originally thought to be a missing futon cover, is likely just a blanket. It has never been tied to ownership by the victims or identified as to make or origin. It does not appear that the Chateau keys were examined to see if they went to the same padlock or two different padlocks. Even the car-keys weren’t checked to ascertain which vehicle they went to, until a week or so into trial. Was the sledgehammer found in the graves the weapon used, or is it a red herring? (Of which there are many on this case.)
Then there are three DNA profiles extracted from Summer’s bra, the electric cord and ratchet ties, none of which match the victims or Chase Merritt. My understanding from trial is that the profiles are CODIS ready, and yet as of conviction these profiles have not been entered into the state or national databases for comparison.
The graves seem the clearest narrative offered by the killers. Why limit the items in the graves to such a cursory look? Because again, even if one is certain the right man is going to death row for these murders, there are lots of reasons to be concerned that he had help. This crime screams involvement of more than one person.
Shouting most loudly are the two separate tracks, each leading to a grave, each of different tire width. That alone seems to warrant a complete investigation into potential accomplices.
Whoever did this scares me. Look what they were capable of. I don’t want anyone getting away with what was done to this family. They deserve better.
For review of testimony re: graves, check links below:
Socks In The Graves
Joseph McStay was found in his grave with socks beneath his body. And for those new to this case, the absence of shoes & warm clothing led investigators to the conclusion that the family was killed in their home, even though there were literally zero signs that any act of violence had ever occurred in the McStay residence. Ever. No blood. No obvious signs of a clean-up. Nada. Nunca. Never.
It is important to note, as well, that Joseph Sr. was treated differently than the other three victims. He was the only victim contained, and with clothing still on his body when disinterred. His slight, but muscular frame was found wrapped within a woven blanket. Ratchet ties and an ordinary household electric cord, with female end cut off, secured the blanket to him. All this as if to either transport Joseph, hide him somewhere, or to contain the aftermath of his injuries, or all the above.
Summer and the two children were free of any restraints when discovered. (There are items near to and in the graves that might have been restraints. Ratchet ties were cut into smaller lengths, and small frayed towel pieces present, seem as if they would serve no purpose other than a gag. No way to know for certain but maybe Summer and the kids were bound and gagged prior to reaching the grave sites.)
Could the socks in the grave indicate that shoes may have been worn? Does this then suggest a narrative that neither the prosecution or the defense explored during trial? That the family did, as San Diego suggested early on, leave their home of their own accord?
Why would anyone sit on keys?
One other note regarding what was found in the graves. Joseph Sr. was found with lots of keys in his back left pocket. Here’s the issue with that if DA theory no. 1 is to be believed When?:
Joseph is documented by way of his phone pings to have arrived home close to 4 PM on February 4. Computer forensic records have him opening Google SketchUp on his desktop computer (this is a program used to design homes, and it is thought Joseph used this when working out the dimensions for large water features he and Chase were building.)
Right after opening up this program, Joseph phones Chase. If Joseph is home, presumably seated at his computer, why wouldn’t he take his keys out of his back pocket and place them in the kitchen drawer where other keys are found by investigators when searching the home after the disappearance? Joseph had four keys on the chain, as well as two rings and key chain with a heart charm. Who sits on keys while they work at the computer?
If, as DAs theorize, Chase arrives at the McStays at around 6:47, Joseph would have been home for about three hours. Wouldn’t Joseph have put his keys away by then? Because in this theory (the original presented to the judge at prelim) Joseph is wrapped in the futon cover right after being killed, and then taken from the home.
If that’s the case, then the keys had to have been in his pocket when he was attacked. Why would Chase or any killer, go to where the keys were put away, grab them, placed them in the back of Joseph’s pants, and then wrap him up for transport?
Makes no sense.
But perhaps the prosecution realized this, explaining why alternative theories were presented during closing statements.
This case, has always been consistent in its inconsistency. You can have three pieces of evidence that point to one conclusion, and then you’ll bump into another three pieces of evidence that contradict the previous conclusion. “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”