“There is no footprint too small that it cannot leave an imprint on the world.”
The youngest of the McStay family of four, second born-Joseph Jr.,”Chubba” was just shy his third birthday in February of 2010 when he, along with his father, mother and older brother vanished from their home in Fallbrook, California. The family had only just moved into the home two months prior.
They slept on inflatable beds upstairs, children’s toys and castle structures adjacent to the shared sleeping quarters. Downstairs a futon-couch, tables and chairs sparsely furnished a home undergoing renovations. These were the only items, beside a desk in the den, that had been pulled from temporary storage pods, housing most of the McStay’s belongings. The family lived out of suitcases while they prepared their dream home for habitation.
Investigators, responding to a missing person’s report, arrived at the McStay residence on Avocado Vista Lane, February 17th. What they entered was a home eerily absent its inhabitants. Half-eaten food had spoiled, abandoned on plates strewn haphazardly on the counter of a kitchen island. Freshly painted cabinet shelves dried on top sheets of newspaper laid carefully on the floor below. A paint can sat open. Coffee grounds, eggs and fruit all shared space on the counter by the sink. On the futon-couch, absent its cover, were two small, bowls of popcorn, escaped kernels fallen to the side.
It was something reminiscent of an episode of Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone. A family engaged in a whirl of ordinary activities, vanished suddenly, as if they had been beamed up into another world.
The bottom 18″ of a truck (thought then to be the McStay white Isuzu Trooper) was captured on a neighbor’s surveillance on February 4. That truck departed the McStay drive at 7:47 PM.
As it turns out, a vehicle search conducted by investigators on February 17th, revealed that the family’s Trooper had been towed from a strip mall parking lot at the San Ysidro border, February 8. A grainy border video captured what appeared to be a family of four crossing into Mexico that same night.
There were a few last known activities by Joseph and Summer McStay, and a last call from Joseph McStay’s cellular phone at 8:28 PM to his business associate Chase Merritt also on the night of February 4th. But no one knew for certain the exact moment the family left their home or what occurred after that point.
Speculation as to why this family of four disappeared ranged from theories involving an entry into the witness protection program, an abduction by sex traffickers, murder by some cartel, to an unplanned trip across the border to escape some aspect of their life they suddenly decided was no longer tenable.
In short, no one had a clue where this family went or why. No one, it would seem, but their killers.
Though it would take three long years, the smallest of the McStay family victims would lead investigators to them, his bone fragments, bleached white from exposure to the sun, emerged among the greasewood and brush of the California desert in Victorville. On November 11, 2013, a tiny skull caught the eye of a passing off-road motorcyclist.
And from this, the McStay family’s fate became known. It was Joseph Jr. who would accomplish for his family what no one else had-not police, not wild internet-speculators, not even the FBI.
This tiniest of victims would make justice possible.
Now there is a trial. Whether justice will be realized or remain out of reach has yet to be determined. Business associate Charles Ray Merritt, better known as Chase, stands accused of this crime. The defense contends that another business partner of Joseph McStay, Dan Kavanaugh, is the actual killer.
The state’s narrative relates that the end for McStay family of four had its origin in just one, seemingly innocuous, computer transaction that took place three days before they were murdered.
What do you think?