WARNING: I try not to be graphic but this topic is nearly impossible to discuss without some detail of the horror of what happened to this family. If this is upsetting to you, please do not read.

It was speculated at trial that the McStay family did not, as previously thought, disappear the night of February 4th, but were alive and well all the way into the morning hours of Friday, February 5th, 2010. This was a theory not only floated out by the defense, but was one given weight by the prosecution, both during trial and in the prosecution’s closing statements.

What if this family was alive until Friday morning, and not only that, what if their disappearance was not a single continuous act, but instead was a staggered event, comprised of a number of acts? What if this crime began with no intention by the perps of killing anyone?

For the record both Joseph and Summer McStay were often off their digital devices. The absence of a digital footprint for the morning of February 5, in no way cancels out the possibility that the McStays were very much alive at that time. Also, the neighbor’s surveillance camera failed to record any events between Friday Feb. 5 all the way to Feb. 15. Though we don’t have access to Summer’s phone records, we have had access to Joseph’s. It was not that unusual for Joseph not to be on his phone until late morning. Sometimes as late as 11. This family was also known to go completely off the grid from time to time, communicating with no one–which is the reason why friends and family were not immediately alarmed, when after a week went by and no one had heard from them. And which also explains why the first persons to report the family missing were co-workers of Joseph’s. They knew better than family that Joseph had events that couldn’t be missed.

Friday Morning Signs of Life:

The scene at the McStay home when first entered into after their vanishing was more in keeping with morning activity than evening. There were plates, remainders of half-eaten food left out. Coffee freshly made, eggs on the counter. The dogs were outside. And the kitchen area showed all indications of a paint project freshly started for that day. However, there was only one coffee cup on the table. Both McStay parents drank coffee. They owned both a coffee maker and espresso machine. So where was the second cup? Perhaps in the Trooper?

There was a travel mug and a glass bottle of water in the drink holders of the Trooper-only Joseph McStay’s DNA was on those containers. Which is unusual for the DNA results on this case. Most of the DNA found was a mix, with more than one family member in that mix. Could the travel mug and glass bottle have been just cleaned, Joseph touching these items after a morning shower and prior to a great deal of physical contact with his sons?

And though the McStay home was in the kind of disarray one would expect during major renovations, the family was hygienic. Shoes were not worn inside. It would seem unlikely that Joseph would leave his beverage containers overnight in his vehicle. This is another indicator that the family was alive until morning. Joseph would likely have brought his beverage containers inside at the end of the day for cleaning. The placement of the two different coffee containers alone seems to point to the family alive the morning of the 5th, with one parent staying at home, while the other ran morning errands.

And maybe that is exactly what occurred that Friday morning. Joseph took the toddlers with him to run errands. The toddler car seats had recently been moved from the Dodge to the Trooper. Items that may have been in the Trooper and in the way of the child seats, appear to have been hastily thrown into the backseat of the Dodge.

Rain was expected that Friday. It would make sense if there were items that needed protecting, say, toys retrieved from a storage unit, that the Trooper would be preferable to the Dodge which had no cover over the bed of the truck.

Items found in the grave and missing from the home support an outing with children that morning as well.

Missing from the home were children’s caps and jackets with dinosaur prints, perfect for protection from the rain-unlike the knit hats left behind. Also missing was a portable child’s computer. (There is a photo of Joseph Jr. playing with a small child’s computer in a carseat in the back of the Dodge truck, taken not long before the murders. There is nothing in any search warrant inventory for a child’s computer.)

Found in the graves was “dinosaur excavation” kit that Gianni was known to play with. There are pictures of him playing with this, and pursuing his excavation finds even has his parents house shopped.

Found in the Trooper was a check book. What purpose would this serve unless Joseph McStay were planning on writing a check that morning? What would the check have been for? Well, found in the Trooper, in the back was an abundance of new toys, hidden beneath a white cloth. Probably cloaked to keep these delights from the prying eyes of a birthday boy and his brother. Joseph Jr.s’ 3rd birthday had been the week before, however no party had yet occurred–there’d been plans, but deadlines for work to be done on the house appear to have delayed this event. Another reason to surmise that the toys were retrieved that Friday morning is that no one recalls seeing those toys in the Trooper earlier that week. And Joseph not only drove that Trooper to meetings, he also drove it to get paint supplies with a friend who was assisting the family in getting the inside of the house painted.

It seems very possible that the errand that needed to be run that Friday morning was to the storage unit that had housed two moving pods, there since the family’s move from their cramped two bedroom quarters in San Clemente, a few months before. That week marked the beginning of the month, perhaps Joseph, late on a storage payment, was also set to write a check for that month’s storage rent. He could do this in person as he’d be there to get the toys. Though no check was presented at trial showing payment made to the Pod storage company on that day, it is possible the was dated for a different day. There is one check not accounted for from that book when compared to bank statements presented at trial.

Joseph did have a key to a padlock for a storage unit with him that day, separate from the keys on his key chain, and loose in his front pocket.

Could this loose key have been to his new storage unit, a unit he would only have until enough of the renovations were completed to move the furniture into their new home? We’ll never know. Investigators never checked to see if the keys were for the same padlock or two different padlocks. They could still do this.

The Initial Attack

If Joseph McStay bundled his toddlers into the Trooper to retrieve toys from storage in anticipation of a celebration of Joseph Jr.’s’ birthday later that weekend, then Summer would have been home alone that morning. And there is a lot to indicate that Summer was attacked at home, separately from the other victims. How she was attacked is unknown. But she may very well have opened the door to whoever did this.

Summer is the only victim with paint on her. And the paint that dripped over her bra from the left side of her bosom to the right in an uninterrupted flow, was consistent with the paint used for the kitchen cabinets. Summer is also the only victim with paint on her clothing. But her sweat pants have other staining that seems consistent with urination and those stains are also consistent with physical position at some point that morning being on her side in the same position she would have needed to be in for the paint on her bra to have flowed from the left to the right.

Basically, if Summer lay with her hands tied behind her back, on her right side, the flow of the paint and the stains on sweatpants support this position. It is as if she was restrained for a period of time. The paint on her bra could not have dripped the way it did if she’d been prone, or sitting up. And it seems unlikely that it would have dripped this way if she was already dead. Her arms would likely have fallen forward if that were the case. It seems the most logical position is one with her on her right side, hands tied behind her back.

Front of Sweats
Back of Sweats
Back of sweats

The Second Attack

Supporting the theory that Joseph McStay entered into the home after Summer was restrained is what he still had in his pockets, especially in his back pocket. Keys!

Joseph, like his wife, was wearing sweat pants. It would be very unusual for a person to settle in at home for any length of time with keys remaining in the back pocket of their sweats. This is more in keeping with Joseph either on his way out to his vehicle or returning from it. We don’t know if those involved expected Joseph to return then, or if his return was part of the plan, but it seems clear that he was taken into control rapidly–little or no sign of an altercation in the home. And what also seems certain is that the family was removed from the home alive.

There were items in the grave that could have served no other purpose but as bindings and gags. And these were items that could have been found in the McStay residence. The ratchet ties found in the graves were of the same type still in the McStay home when it was searched. It’s hard to know if the towels were those of the McStays, but they could well have been. What possible use would torn pieces of towel and small cut portions of ratchet ties have, but to bind and gag? And why would anyone bind and gag deceased people?

The cut towels were likely stuffed into the mouths of the victims. The blue painter’s tape may have been used to hold the towel pieces in place. The ratchet ties made for strong bindings around the wrists and possibly the ankles.

Those who attacked this family must have had their own vehicle, but likely used the Trooper as well, as it would make for easier transport of the children. There may have been a parent in each vehicle-and who knows the configuration of the attackers. One would speculate there were at at least two individuals involved. Though a gun was never used to kill the McStays, we don’t know if there was a gun used to control them.

Whether the plan had always been to kill the entire family, but do so away from the home to make the case more difficult to solve, or if the family was taken so that the attackers could plan their next move, perhaps not wanting to kill anyone, who knows? So many narratives for this case were dismissed without any real investigation. None of the laborers working on renovations were thoroughly investigated. We have no idea who lived in that housing development, or if there were construction workers working nearby who may have had involvement. Alternative suspects, involving other business dealings for both Summer and Joseph were glossed over. Big assumptions as to what had happened to his family were made early on, and so much evidence was lost because of this.

The Murders

This is an interesting case, in that, you have four victims, all seemingly abducted at the same time from the same place, and yet three of them are discovered separate from their clothing in their graves, one, Joseph Sr., is found fully clothed, wrapped in a blanket, saying on top of a pair of socks.

I can only speculate, but it would seem that Joseph Sr. died first and there was a need to contain any blood, etc, also to make transport of his body easier. It really seems as if Summer and her children were alive until they were brought to the graves. Why they are absent clothing is too horrifying to even discuss. But it may say something about those involved in this murder. Summer’s bra was cut in front. Not sure why someone does this.

The location of the burial doesn’t seem as if whoever did this actually cared if the bodies were found. Which also may indicate something about the killers. These people may have only needed to hide the act for long enough to relocate. Or perhaps they’d always just been passing through. The location does not seem consistent with someone who had strong ties to the area. Anyone who knew that area would have known much better places to bury bodies-and would also have known how well traveled that location was–a location also prone to erosion from regular flooding.

Most likely these killers didn’t stick around and fled immediately to another jurisdiction. This case might look very different it the investigation into it had been more thorough.

What do you think?