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McStay Family May Have Been Killed With Sledgehammer, Detective Says

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It's been over a year and a half since the skeletal remains of the McStay family were discovered in shallow graves in a desert just outside of Victorville. This morning, some grisly details about their deaths were revealed in a San Bernardino County courtroom, where a detective said that said he thinks some of the family members were bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer.

The preliminary hearing involving murder suspect, 58-year-old Charles "Chase" Merritt, started today, the Sun reports. Merritt is accused of brutally murdering his business partner Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer McStay, 43, and their sons, Gianni McStay, 4, and Joseph McStay Jr., 3.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Det. Edward Bachman, who was the lead detective in the murder case, said in court that Joseph, Summer and Gianni were beaten in the head, possibly with a sledgehammer, the L.A. Times reports. It was difficult to tell if Joseph Jr. was also attacked with a sledgehammer because so little of his remains were found, Bachman said. The 3-pound sledgehammer, along with a child's blue pants and diapers were discovered in the graves.

Bachman described the horrific injuries the family sustained. According to U-T San Diego, he said Joseph suffered from a broken leg and rib, as well as several blows to his head. Summer was hit in the face and head, and Gianni was also hit in the head at least seven times. Prosecutors said in court today that Joseph's body was found with an extension cord strung around his neck and a blanket wrapped around his body, NBC San Diego reports.

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The McStay family's disappearance over five years ago baffled detectives for years. They went missing in February 2010 from their Fallbrook home in San Diego County as if they left in a hurry. The family's dogs were left behind, there was uneaten popcorn left in bowls and rotten eggs left on the counter. There weren't any signs of a break-in or struggle in the McStay house. Bachman said Merritt had even called Joseph's father to let them know about the McStays' disappearance, the Times reports.

The family's Isuzu trooper was discovered near the Mexican border, so people speculated that they had fled to Mexico for some reason. The family seemed financially sound, so it didn't seem like they were having money issues. Bachman said that Merritt's DNA matched the DNA found in the McStays' car that was ditched at the border.

The McStays' remains were discovered in November 2013 in Victorville, and Merritt was arrested a year later. His preliminary trial is expected to be a short one, and the judge will then decide if Merritt will face trial for the quadruple murders. He could be facing the death penalty.