McStay Murder Mystery: Was The Motive Money?

Below is an overview of the McStay Murder Case, including New Clues from Inside the Home, Exclusive Information about a possible Motive and a detailed Timeline. Also, Chase Merritt’s criminal history, copies of the Search Warrants, and links to the full Exclusive Video I shot Inside the McStay Family Home shortly after they were murdered.

This Wednesday, February 4th, marks the fifth-year anniversary of the disappearance of Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two sons, Gianni, 4, and Joey, 3. The entire family vanished from their Fallbrook, California, home on February 4, 2010.

As prosecutors prepare for the murder trial of Chase Merritt, Joseph’s former business partner who is now charged with killing the McStay family, Merritt has just announced he will act as his own attorney at trial – which should make things very interesting. The state has still not announced if they will seek the death penalty.

Also, four search warrants (see below) have been released from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSD), which may hold clues about what happened inside the McStay home the day they were killed.

Warrant #104-10: Details the items removed from McStay’s house, garage and the Isuzu Trooper at crime lab.

Warrant #113-10: Issued to T-Mobile, allowing detectives to search voicemails, ingoing and outgoing calls, and text messages for Summer and Joseph’s cell phones.

Warrant #114-10: Issued to Time Warner Cable, allowing detectives to search the home computers and landline phone records.

Warrant #115-10: Issued to Sprint (business fax to email), allowing detectives to search fax to email files linked to this account. 

I was allowed exclusive access inside the McStay home on March 18th 2010, just six weeks after the family was murdered. I captured the crime scene on video, and I have posted the footage below. Comb through the video and carefully compare it with what we have now learned from: 1) the search warrants, and 2) the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, which believes Merritt murdered the entire family alone inside the McStay family home. Post your observations below.

“I believe that some or all of the McStay family has been kidnapped or killed.”  San Diego Police Officer Troy DuGal, Feb. 19th, 2010. Source: 2010 Search Warrant #104-10.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department treated the disappearance of the McStay family as a missing persons case, which drastically affects the way evidence is gathered at a crime scene. I consulted with former NYPD Homicide Supervisor Kevin Gannon and he said this: “Missing person’s cases are not handled with the same intensity and diligence as a homicide scene would be, but they should be.”

While reviewing the house video, specifically look at when I was inside Summer’s closet. Tim Miller, from Texas Equusearch, asks the same question I was thinking, “Where are all the clothes?” Were the clothes taken by Merritt to make it look like the family left willingly? Or perhaps Summer and/or Joseph were murdered inside the huge walk-in closet that leads to the bathroom?  If so, the clothes would have absorbed the blood spatter and had to be removed. If you compare this to the search warrants, the SDSD indicate that there were suitcases with folded clothes inside and a pile of clothes on the floor. Clearly law enforcement removed the clothes for testing, since they are no longer present in the video. Do these articles of clothes hold key blood spatter evidence?

Gannon: “Blood collection technology is so advanced now detectives could still retrieve blood residue from the McStay home, weeks, months even years later, and even after the home had been bleached, cleaned out, and repainted.”

“It is my opinion the McStay family is the victim of foul play.” San Diego Police Officer Troy DuGal.           Source: Feb. 19th 2010 Search Warrant #104-10  

If lead investigator Troy Duval suspected foul play, why was this not handled as a murder case from the get go?

Gannon: “The McStay case is a perfect example as to why all missing person’s cases should be initially handled with the same integrity as a homicide…”

McGyver McCargar is a family friend of both Summer and Joseph. He was helping with the renovations of the McStay family home and was in the house painting on February 3rd 2010, the day before the family was murdered. Then on Wednesday Feb. 17th Susan, Joseph’s mom, calls McGyver and tells him she’s going to the house and asks him to meet her.  She was already there when he arrived and she was cleaning up the house when he entered. He claims Susan said to look through the house for financial papers. He sees clothes everywhere. McGyver notices the futon in the living room no longer has a cover on it.  On the 3rd, he sat on the futon and it had a cover on it. Who removed the futon cover after the 3rd and before the 17th, within the 11 day time period no one noted the family was gone and before police began to remove items from the home for evidence?

So Many Unanswered Questions…

Anything of great importance for the state’s case wouldn’t be released to the public before trial, which is why they agreed to release the four SDSD warrants to appease the media requests. But there’s not much there as far as evidence. The 60 San Bernardino SD warrants are the ones we want to get our hands on. Unfortunately, we will all have to wait for the trial to see what evidence they have to convict Chase Merritt of four horrific murders.

So what solid evidence do prosecutors have for a conviction? Who will be the key witnesses at trial, and what was Chase Merritt’s motive to murder the McStay family, including two innocent children? What made Chase Merritt decide to represent himself? Did counsel suggest he plead guilty? Is someone close to Chase now talking to police?  Have deals been made? Was the motive for murder money?

Sources close to the case have told me that Chase owed Joseph almost $90,000. Was there a confrontation that day over lunch about money owed? If true, prosecutors would have to consider money a motive for murder. Also Joseph was growing frustrated with Merritt’s work antics. Although Merritt was a talent welder, Joey was unhappy with the poor quality of Merritt’s work as of late. Did a lunchtime confrontation push Chase Merritt over the edge? And it was no secret that Summer was not a fan of Chase Merritt.

In a press conference on Friday, November 7, 2014, San Bernardino County Sheriff, John McMahon seemed very decisive about how the McStay family had been murdered. He said the cause of death was blunt force trauma, but did not reveal what they believed to be the murder weapon. McMahon said that the entire family was killed inside the home. Then gave this carefully worded statement: “There is no information to suggest there were any other suspects involved in this crime.” But with a botched investigation by the SDPD, and a time span of almost four years since the crime was committed, how can he be so sure? McMahon noted at the press conference that there was also evidence found at the grave-sites linking Merritt to the murders. We won’t know until trial what that key evidence is.

Most of the information police got after the McStays disappeared came directly from the man responsible for the disappearance – Merritt himself. Knowing that, it’s imperative and very interesting to go back and look at the time line  (see below).  Look at the last moments of Joseph’s life – the lunch meeting, the flurry of phone calls. Did Joseph even make it back to the house?  According to investigators, yes, because they claim that’s where the family was murdered. But I’m still not convinced Joseph was killed inside that house.

Who Is Cathy Jarvis?

Cathy Jarvis was Chase Merritt’s girlfriend at the time of the murders. Little is known about her and no one has been able to get her to talk – no one except investigators and the States Attorney’s Office. People close to the investigation believe Jarvis may have crucial information about Merritt’s whereabouts the day of the murders and the 11 days following when no one reported the McStay’s missing. He had access to the house and plenty of time to bury the bodies in the desert 100 miles north of the McStay’s home, and then dump the car 80 miles south of the McStay home, at the Mexican border. He also had ample time -several days in fact- to clean up the crime scene, and possibly stage it to look like the McStay’s left willingly. Did one man do all this alone? Jarvis along with Officer DuGal will be key witnesses for the state, which is why she hasn’t spoken to the media.  It will be interesting to see her former lover, Chase Merritt, cross-examine her at trial.

More Money

Another key witness will be Dan Kavanaugh, aka  “The Hacker.”  Kavanaugh created and managed Joseph’s business website. He was also nailed for siphoning money out of Joseph’s account just days after the McStay family was murdered. On February 6, 2010, two days after the family was murdered, Dan Kavanaugh changed the state tax license for Joseph’s company, Earth Inspired Products, EIP, to his name and withdrew $2,000. Then on Tuesday Feb 15th Kavanaugh again removes $2,000 and $3,000 from Joseph’s account for a total of $7,000. Incredibly bad timing for a thief. . . Or did he already know Joseph was dead and figured he would get away with it? Either way it’s highly suspicious behavior that he will be forced to account for on the stand.

A good defense attorney could use this incident with Cavanaugh to convince a jury that Chase Merritt didn’t commit this crime, create reasonable doubt among jurors and seek an acquittal, but then again Merritt is representing himself so he doesn’t have one.

Along with representing himself, Merritt has requested a speedy trial. He has allegedly been diagnosed with congestive heart disease and doctors give him less than a year to live. My guess is the state won’t pursue the death penalty – sounds like someone higher up already took care of that detail. Let us pray we get a trial to finally learn the truth of what happened inside the McStay’s home that dreadful night four years ago. The families deserve answers and justice.


McStay Timeline

Exclusive Video Inside The McStay Home Part 1

Exclusive Video Inside The McStay Home Part 2


7 thoughts on “McStay Murder Mystery: Was The Motive Money?

  1. This is the first time I’ve heard that Mr. Merritt may have owed Joey McStay so much money. if you recall, another former business partner of Chase, Les Cohen, said that he had set up a business account for Chase to draw on for materials, but Chase kept taking the money and not making the product. Les said he had to reimburse the customers from his own pocket, and Chase didn’t have the least care or concern about it when Mr. Cohen confronted him. He said Chase was completely cold and remorseless about it.

    Can you imagine the shock when Mr. Cohen was suddenly confronted with a side of Chase Merritt he had never seen before? I suspect, if Chase is the killer of the McStay family, Joey and his family were completely blind-sided when this other Chase Merritt came out.

    1. As a steel worker/artist Merritt is as strong as an ox. Have you seen his hands and wrists. He had no trouble subduing this family. Money and lack of it has always been this man’s weakness. Is it true as he said he went to Saudi Arabia/ME? and finished the job on his own dime? I very much doubt it,

      1. Plus he hated Summer. I think Chase is the type of guy that would have a plan like this “just in case”. I’m incredibly curious if he arrived home on February 4th, 2010 with any fresh wounds. I know he did have a wound when he spoke with investigators, but I’m curious when he got it. Ms. Jarvis might know…

  2. Chase will not represent himself. He is doing an ‘Arias’. You the Pro Se time to have access to aspects of the crime that a defendant normally doesn’t have to either manage the facts or manipulate i some way. He will as she did say he is in over his head and request a lawyer when he has finished whatever he wanted to gain access to.

  3. I believe that Chase is going “pro per” and reping himself as an “attorney” only because it allows inmates access to ALL the evidence which will be used against them in trials. Many inmates go “pro per” at first only to have knowledge of what they’re up against. Then they revert to using a public defender just before trial. Therein, they will try to “out wit” the system w/the help of an equally informed defense counsellor. I agree, that using Kavanaugh’s embezzlement of funds once the McStay’s went missing during trial would definitely cast reasonable doubt on Merritt’s case. However, at the time the McStay bodies were located, one police official definitely stated that there was enough evidence at the grave sites to “close this case”. They did NOT say, “To help us locate the killer(s)”. I think Merritt probably buried the weapons w/fingerprints on it at the grave sites along w/the bodies assuming they’d never be found. Thus, sealing his own fate.

    All we have to go on about the McStay’s last day is what Merritt told the public/police about his final meeting w/Joseph for lunch. Who knows what really happened between them on the day of that alleged “business lunch”? I believe he killed Joseph up near the Victorville area on “luncheon day” and buried him in one of those pre-dug graves then drove down to the McStay home and killed the remaining family members there. I do NOT believe Joseph drove all the way up to Rancho Cucamonga for lunch w/Merritt then returned home while Merritt secretly followed behind Joseph in his own car only to “surprise” and overpower the FOUR family members and kill them together in their own home. That makes no sense. Merritt was well known by Summer; if he killed Joseph on the day of their “luncheon” he had no choice but to drive to the McStay family home, thereafter, and do away with those who knew of Joseph’s whereabouts and were, henceforth, were alibis to his meeting w/Merritt.

    For Merritt to offer up his girlfriend as an alibi means, at worst, she worked in collusion w/him in the commission of these murders and, at best, simply showed that she agreed to cover for him after the fact. Neither of those scenarios bode well for her and show her to be complicit in one way or another. She should’ve been charged at the very least, as accessory to that crime before or after the fact.

    1. Great post! I agree with you that Joey never made it back home from his lunch meeting. In looking at Joey’s phone logs for that fateful day, the two hours his phone was shut off was most likely when Chase over powered Joey. After that there are no outgoing calls to anyone but Chase.

  4. My biggest question is if they say the murders occurred in the house , then wouldn’t there be footage showing Merritt’s vehicle was near the residence that night? Or did merritt drive the white Isuzu from lunch to the house and maybe went unnoticed? The neighbors security video showed only half of Mcstays car leaving at 747 but a cell phone call was made at 830 pm later that night. How did the person driving this white Isuzu manage to evade all of the security tapes including the parking lot mall in San Diego ? Please help

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