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Business Partner Arrested In Murder Of The McStay Family Found Buried In Desert

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It looks like there's finally been a break in the mysterious case of the McStay family, who vanished without a trace in 2010 only to be discovered buried in the desert on the edge of Victorville last year.

Charles "Chase" Merritt, the 57-year-old business partner of Joseph McStay, 40, has been arrested on suspicion of murdering McStay, his wife Summer, 43, and their two boys Gianni, 4, and Joseph, 3, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. The department released a video of Merritt:

Investigators told the Los Angeles Times that they believe that the killings took place at the family's home in Fallbrook in San Diego County.

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The cause of death for the family was blunt trauma. Investigators didn't release a motive for the case, but San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos said that Merritt will be eligible for the death penalty. "I don't need to tell you this is a cold and callous murder on an entire family," Ramos said at a press conference this morning.

The McStay case had baffled investigators for years. The family disappeared one evening suddenly and without a trace in 2010. Their car was later found near the Mexican border, and there was speculation that they had fled to Mexico suddenly. But it appeared they left in a big hurry. The family's dogs were left behind, there was uneaten popcorn left in bowls and rotten eggs left on the counter. The family seemed to be financially sound. Summer was a stay-at-home mom, and Joseph ran a company that installed water fountains. The family was working on renovating their new home, and they had just gotten a new puppy. They had plenty of money in the bank. At the time, investigators said there were no signs of a break-in or struggle, though it appears that now they do believe that the killings took place at their home.

Only when the family's bodies were discovered in a shallow grave last November did it become clear that they had not escaped to a new life on the other side of the border. The case drew a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories about what had happened to the family. Some of this speculation focused on Joseph's business partner Merritt.

Merritt was the last person to see him alive, and Joseph had made a call to him before he and his family disappeared. Public records turned up that Merritt had a lengthy rap sheet that included burglary, criminal trespassing and receiving stolen property. Most of the convictions were in the 70s and 80s, but Merritt did serve time for a burglary grand theft conviction in 2001.

Merritt gave a lengthy interview to The Daily Mail defending himself. Merrit is a welder who says he made pricey bespoke water fountains that McStay sold, and so when McStay went missing, his business dried up. He said the pair were best friends and spoke several times a day on the phone. He said that not picking up the last phone call that McStay made haunts him: "When you talk to Joseph it takes about half an hour, so I thought I’d catch up with him in the morning. ‘I didn’t answer that call and I regret it to this day."

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He didn't report the McStays missing to police until seven days later, even though he admitted it was odd to not hear from his business partner. Merritt said in the interview that he had no clue what could have happened to his friend:

'I know for a fact he had nothing at all to do with anything illegal, he was honest as the day is long. I knew him as well as anybody, and Joseph had no enemies and no problems financially.
‘We were in the middle of some of the best deals we had ever had. Financially we were doing very well. We had just started a huge project in Saudi Arabia worth $82,000 and right in the middle of that, Joseph disappeared. There was no reason for it.'

Related:
The Strange Story Of The McStay Family Who Was Found Buried In Desert
Skeletal Remains In Remote Desert Grave Belong To Family That Went Missing In 2010