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The Strange Story Of The McStay Family Who Was Found Buried In Desert

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The story of the McStay family is one that has baffled San Diego investigators for years. The family of four seemed to completely vanish one February day nearly four years ago without much of a trace.

This week the body of Joseph McStay and his wife Summer were discovered buried in the desert just off the 15 freeway outside of Victorville. Authorities have not yet confirmed it, but they suspect the two other skeletons found buried alongside the couple are the McStay's boys Gianni, 4, and Joseph, 3.

How they ended up in the desert is still a mystery. Investigators at a press conference today swatted down questions from reporters asking whether the McStays were connected to the Mexican cartel. San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told reporters, "We’ll go where the investigation leads. There is no indication of it now." An autopsy on the bodies of the McStay's family is expected later today, but there hasn't been much evidence about what happened since they disappeared February 4, 2010.

There was no indication from family or friends that anything was awry with them. The couple had been social and kept in regular contact with their family. The previous year the McStays had moved into their home in Fallbrook, a small city in San Diego County and the avocado capital of the world. 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, according to a 2011 story in the Los Angeles Times.

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The family didn't give off any clues that they were planning on leaving. They had made plans for the upcoming weekend. And it looks like they left in a hurry: there was popped popcorn in front of the TV, food left rotting on the counter and the dogs were left to fend for themselves. There were no signs of a struggle. Everyone—family, neighbors and friends—thought it was strange. Joseph made one call to a business partner and talked about business shortly after they left, but after that there was nothing but radio silence. They didn't answer their cell phones or make any calls. There weren't any unusual deposits or withdrawals from the family's savings accounts.

There were very few clues about what had happened to the family immediately after they left. The family car was abandoned near the Mexican border four days after they disappeared. Surveillance video from that night showed a family that looked like theirs crossing the border on foot. Authorities noticed that the pair had looked up what kind of documents children need to cross into Mexico on their computer. Joseph had a passport and Summer didn't. Neither couple knew Spanish, but Summer had bought a Spanish language program a few months earlier. Joseph's father Patrick had the passwords for the couple's e-mail accounts, but he couldn't find any hint about what had happened.

Family members of the McStays reported the entire family missing on February 15, about 10 days after their disappearance. By February 22, authorities said they were scratching their heads. "Quite frankly, I've never seen a case like this before," said San Diego County Sheriff's Lt. Dennis Brugos told NBC San Diego then.

There were a handful of sightings over the years—a waiter in Rosario, Mexico said he saw the family and recognized the little one's birthmark not long after their disappearance. Tips would pour in whenever the family's story made the news or when they were featured on America's Most Wanted. A North County radio host wrote a book on the case, and he has his own theories about what happened. But none of the supposed sightings or the work done by the FBI and local agencies led them to crack open the case for nearly four years.

Now the family, especially the brother Michael McStay who has been searching relentlessly since their disappearance, says he's hoping to find more clues about how they ended up in a shallow desert grave: "We're gonna find this individual or individuals and being them to justice."

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Related:
Skeletal Remains In Remote Desert Grave Belong To Family That Went Missing In 2010
Mass Grave Being Excavated In The Middle Of The Desert Right Now