Warning: This post may be disturbing to some viewers. 

It contains graphic autopsy details and pictures from trial.

In theory it would seem simple enough to explain HOW the McStay family was murdered:

  • Cause of death: Multiple blunt force trauma;
  • Manner of death: Homicide.

But given the uncertainty as to the when and where of these murders, the HOW, though self-evident in part, may not be as straightforward as it has been presented by the prosecution.

For example, were the McStays killed in their home?  Or were they killed at the graves?  Or were they killed somewhere unknown to law enforcement? Were they killed together, or separately?

How many killers were involved in these murders?

And was there more than one method used?  Was the 3lb sledge-hammer in the grave the actual weapon, or a red-herring?  Given the fact that the sledge-hammer in the grave and the McStay residence revealed no sign of blood when tested years later, are either of these components in the crime?

As there is no physical evidence, circumstantial or direct, that supports these murders occurring in the McStay residence, then is it time to explore other possibilities that are supported by the evidence?

Is the answer to be found, at least in part, in something as mundane as cups of coffee?

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When the McStay home was first entered into by law enforcement, the very first pictures that were taken prior to any cleaning done by Joseph’s loving mother, a single cup of coffee was captured on the “dining-room” table.  Seems odd.  There are two adults in this home, both of whom appear to like coffee very much. They owned at least two coffee making devices: a regular coffee maker; and a cappuccino machine.  So why only one cup of coffee?

But then discovered in the Isuzu Trooper was a travel coffee mug (with coffee in it? unsure about this) and a glass bottle of water. Both these items have only Joseph McStay’s DNA on them.

Habit is one way to attempt to learn what a person did in the last moments of their lives, as they are no longer here to explain this to us.  If both the McStays were coffee drinkers, does the fact that there was one cup of coffee in the home, and one cup in the vehicle known to be used primarily by Joseph McStay, tell a story about the “when” of these murders?

And though there is some discrepancy as to which vehicle was primarily driven by Summer and Joseph, it would seem once they moved to Fallbrook, that the Dodge Ram Truck was Summer’s primary, and the Trooper was Joseph’s. DNA testing performed on the Isuzu seems to support this.  Joseph was the major contributor in the mixed sample.

Does the positioning of the coffee when added to what else was and wasn’t found in the McStay vehicles fill in the blanks about how and when they were inexplicably snatched from their lives?


There are a few aspects of the evidence that never get much discussion at trial. One, that seemed important to me (and later was apparently significant to DDA Britt Imes, because he uses this in his closing) is that car seats for the children, that one would have expected to find in the McStay Dodge Ram truck (this was the vehicle, that at the time of the murders, was known to be the vehicle most often driven by Summer McStay), these car seats were instead found in the Isuzu Trooper, when it was retrieved from the San Ysidro border into Mexico.


Summer with Child Seats


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It seems possible that the coffee and the placement of the carseats when found post-disappearance, relate a very different version of events than those put forward by the prosecution at trial.

Could it be that the morning of the 5th Joseph and Summer, knowing that the weekend would be one of major painting in preparation for the floor work that would likely have occurred the following week (it had been delayed on the 4th due to possibility of rain) had decided that Friday the 5th would be a family day.  Joseph Jr.’s birthday had been on the 30th of January. And from all the testimony this birthday had not yet been celebrated.  Could phones have been left off in the morning to allow some family time?

And though we don’t know Summer’s phone habits, Joseph Sr. clearly did turn his phone off at times.  A cursory look at three months of his log show that his phone was consistently off during what most would consider the “dinner-hour”-he did this consistently, usually at some point between five and eight at night.

On that Friday morning of the 5th did Joseph put his coffee in a travel mug, refill his glass bottle of water, move the carseats from the Dodge Ram to the Trooper (rain was expected for that day, so the Trooper with its enclosed cargo space would have been the more logical vehicle to use on that day), and take either Gianni or Gianni and Joseph Jr. to the Pod storage to retrieve birthday gifts?

No one is certain when the toys discovered in the the back of the Trooper got there.  And the Chateau key that is in Joseph’s front pocket was never checked (as far as I know) to see if it went to the same padlock as the key on Joseph’s key ring.  It seems possible that Joseph kept the key to the padlock for his shared storage on his key ring, and the Chateau key in his front pocket was kept in the drawer in the kitchen, where other keys are later found, and this key went to the padlock for the Pod storage that had not been unpacked yet by the family.

There are lots of indicators that something like this could have occurred.  And if the Trooper was absent from the drive that morning it would have left a space for another vehicle to move into that space.

This next is purely speculative, but if Joseph ran that errand in the morning with one, or both of the children.  Retrieved presents from the Pod unit, and while he was away someone came to the home, it may be that Joseph walked into a situation that was already in progress.

Indicators of this are that he had keys in his back pocket.  Usually if someone is situated at home, keys are put away.  It isn’t comfortable to sit on keys, and Joseph was found with loose fitting pants, almost of the material of sweats.  But if he were attacked at the front door as he entered, then his keys may have remained his pocket, through the attack, and after he was packaged and buried.

The backpack that is found with the dinosaur excavation kit, appears to be something Gianni would have with him regularly.  Only a few months before their purchase of the Avocado Vista Lane home, the McStays had looked at a property in Temecula (see video below), in that video you can see Gianni collecting rocks, and looking them up in a book on dinosaurs:


Family Outing

Gianni and momGianni and the bookGianni and DGianni and the book 2

And so in terms of the “how”.  Is it possible that this this crime began with an assault on Summer, or Summer and Joseph Jr. and that Joseph Sr. and Gianni walked in on it?

Did this crime start as one thing and become something else?

If Summer was attacked first, it might explain why there was paint on her, and on no other victim.  The paint on her bra almost appears as if it was placed there while her hands are tied behind her back and she is lying on her side.  If Joseph and Gianni walked in on a crime in progress, this might explain keys in Joseph’s pockets where they might not normally be.  And why Gianni had a backpack with him, that would have been more of an outdoor “toy” than one for indoors.

Perhaps Joseph, on returning, does have the opportunity to fight back.  He may have been injured enough to where the perps then realized they might have to kill the entire family.  But did not want the crime linked to the McStay residence for some reason.

Was the family gagged and tied (as torn towels and cut ratchet ties found in the graves might suggest) and then packed into the a vehicle parked in the drive, and taken somewhere else. Held for a period of time, and once the killers knew they had no choice but to eradicate all witnesses, took them to the gravesite and completed the job there?

There is no way to know for certain, and the above scenario is likely as flawed as any put forward by the prosecution.  However, it does illustrate that the evidence observed in an objective light, can point to scenarios divergent from those put forward at trial.

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To be continued…