McStay Family Murdered: Will Desert Graves Yield Their Killers?

Deserted in the Desert

Gianni Family Photo





Gianni Martelli McStay had rock star hair at only 4years old.  His little brother Joseph, affectionately nicknamed Chubba- did as well.  They both rocked a beanie like no other little dudes.

Chubba Family Photo

Gianni and Chubba were as inseparable in life as they were in death when they were recovered in a shallow grave in the Mojave Desert on November 11.

Their parents, Joseph, 40 and Summer McStay, 43, were located in a separate grave nearby.

A 3rd gravesite was found-but empty.  A protected source not authorized to speak to the media has confirmed that at least one of the parent’s remains was bound by an electrical cord.

While formal DNA comparisons and autopsy protocols are pending, the manner of death in all four victims have been declared homicides.

Just about 50 yards off the intersection of Route 15 and Quarry Rd the family that San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDCSD) believed was “likely” voluntarily missing on their own and living in Mexico, was recovered in a 30 hour excavation process.   An off road motorcycle enthusiast called the San Bernardino County Sheriff when he came across what he suspected was human remains.

Last April SDCSD forwarded the McStay case to the FBI based on their conclusions that the McStay’s had McGone to Mexico, following a lengthy complaint of their handling of the case by Patrick McStay, Joseph’s Father.   Troy Dugal, previous lead investigator of the McStay case, appeared on several news and cable television programs over the last three years explaining there was “overwhelming” circumstantial evidence the family of four that was pictured crossing the border into Tijuana, Mexico the evening of February 8th, 2010 was in fact, the McStays.

Following the recovery, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office will maintain jurisdiction of the investigation.

Frenemies..  Frenethieves.. Friends.. Family or Cartel?

Who brutally murders innocent children and dumps them in a hole they dug in the desert?

Logically- someone who is very familiar with the area.  Of course it is just as shocking and horrific to murder anyone,  but it takes a specific brand of evil to murder a baby.  Make that two.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that either Joseph or Summer McStay had any ties to drugs, associates with ties to drugs or cartel, at any time.   None.

Contrary to a top selling book on the case, “No Goodbyes” by Rick Baker, there has never been any evidence whatsoever that Summer McStay was some sort of closeted psychotic and homicidal type.  The book goes on to malign members of both Joseph and Summer’s families and in some cases outright accuses same of extortion or stealing.   Baker’s subsequent public theory is that Summer murdered Joseph and everyone should be looking for her and the boys in Mexico.

Not surprisingly , Baker has requested Amazon pull his book from available stock and has offered refunds to prior purchases.   Popular online sleuth sites previously promoting “No Goodbye’s” have since either deleted it’s hundreds of posts endorsing Baker, or moved them to a member’s only private viewing area.

Albeit obtusely, Baker does touch on a troubling and serious abuse allegation concerning Joseph McStay’s oldest son from his first marriage, Jonah, and his step-father, Michael McFadden.  He writes summer filed a complaint with Child Protective Services after she and Joseph recorded a conversation with Jonah and placed a copy of same with a private party for safekeeping. has been able to independently verify that is accurate, but that the investigation was not known to be completed until shortly after the McStay’s disappearance.  Under California probate law, Jonah would be an heir to the McStay estate or as otherwise provisioned in the instance of an existing will.

Interviewed by Laura Ling for E! Investigation, Joseph McStay’s web administrator Dan Kavanaugh claims he was the first to become concerned.  In Baker’s book, he refers to him as a suspect and details how he alleges he was funneling cash from McStay’s business account before he or anyone else knew the family was missing.  Kavanaugh has an unrelated open criminal matter in San Diego County according to court records.

Chase Merritt- Joseph McStay’s business partner in his water fountain design and installation business was the last number ever dialed from his phone at 8:28PM on February 4th.  Merritt joined McStay in a lunch meeting earlier that afternoon where they discussed a proposal for a very large car wash chain to feature custom fountains in each facility.   According to family friend MacCargar McGyver, McStay was very excited about the opportunity.  Merritt claims he passed a voluntary lie detector test, and that he was adamant that Joseph McStay would never have taken his family to Mexico and has always believed they met with foul play.

McGYver spent several days leading up to February 4th at the McStay home due to a painter Summer hired not returning to complete the job.  McGyver introduced Summer and Joseph and by all accounts was a close confidant of the couple.

Patrick McStay, Joseph’s Father living in Texas has had some harsh words for the investigation into the disappearance of his son, daughter in law and grandsons.

“…most botched, inept investigation I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

He also believes very strongly that the list of suspects with motive to kill his family members is very short.  Three, to be exact.

He said the department didn’t even bother to contact him to tell him his son’s remains had been found.

“I got a message from someone [on Thursday] on Facebook telling me to go and read an article,” McStay said. “The minute I read the article, I knew it was him.”

“I have exhausted and have so much information on three possible persons of interest. All have a motive.”

The three individuals are not connected to each other, but all of them seem like likely candidates. Patrick says one of them seems to be a particularly likely suspect: he’s a wealthy man with a long rap sheet that includes charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and burglary. McStay says he, too, has a motive for killing his son.

Although Mr. McStay did not reference him by name, he may be referring to Michael James McFadden, who was arrested in July 1998 and charged with attempted murder and a litany of other felonies including great bodily harm to a child:

459/460(a) PC – Burglary 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
422 PC – Assault 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
273.5(a) PC – Domestic Violence 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
12022.7(d) PC – Infliction of great bodily injury on a child under the age of five … 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
422 PC – Assault 07/16/1999 02/25/2000 Dismissed
240 PC – Attempt to inflict violent force on another person. 07/16/1999 02/25/2000 Dismissed
245(a)(1) PC – Assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm 07/16/1998 01/18/2000 Pled Guilty
12022.7(d) PC – Infliction of great bodily injury on a child under the age of five… 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed
422 PC – Criminal Terrorist Threat 07/16/1999 01/18/2000 Pled Guilty
664-187 PC – Attempted Murder 07/16/1998 02/25/2000 Dismissed

You will note some of the charges are from 1998, others 1999 on the anniversary date, McFadden successfully negotiated a plea agreement and only pled to criminal terroristic threats and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm.  Both felonies.

In the complaint he lodged against the detectives in SDCSD, Patrick McStay specifically references failure to interview key suspects he provided to LE directly.

Given the location of the bodies, it would seem that whoever is responsible would at least want investigators to think McFadden was involved.  As a self-proclaimed mountain bike “racer”, McFadden has participated in several bike events in various locations all along the Route 15 Mojave corridor.  SBCSO says they will be re-interviewing everyone in the case and have no suspects.

There have been no named suspects to date and the investigation is ongoing.  Memorial or Funeral arrangements for the McStay’s have not yet been announced .  LATE EDIT: The family and friends of the McStay family will gather at the grave site in Victorville,  on Joseph’s McStay’s birthday.

To be continued in Part 2:  Analysis of the last day of their lives points to involvement by someone they knew.



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  1. Alli says:

    Blink thank you for your thoughts on the trial and verdict. If I were a juror, I would not have been able to convict. The prosecution’s theory was wrong as evidenced by the evidence the defense and their witnesses presented. The prosecution changing their story in closing argument is more proof their theory was wrong. Too many questions were left unanswered related to holes in their case.

    Somebody in the McStay family needs to file charges against Dan Kavanaugh for theft. Problem is Susan and Mike were working along with him. Patrick needs to seriously give this a thought. From the beginning he was suspicous of Dan stealing from the PayPal account. I don’t believe this verdict would change his mind about that. Each and every person involved with the murders and associated crimes should be held accountable. What did Dan know? As early as Feb. 6 he had his hands on the PayPal account. Both Chase and Dan had to know something bad happened. Could these killings have been a warning to the others? If so, what and who was behind it? Who might Chase be protecting? I have more questions now than before the trial. Justice was not served.

  2. Gold Prosector says:

    Gene Rossi


    In 110 federal trials as prosecutor, I never fell asleep during closings. I took pride in paying true attention to defense closings—out of utmost respect. The conduct of the state prosecutors in this case makes me cringe. I always tried to show some Class. I predict a reversal.

    Who fell asleep? I absolutely agree as to the conduct and I also agree it will be part of the reason for a reversal. Most specifically of import- Imes withholding Dr. Rudin discovery and permitted to hire Liscio in his place as well as Liscio’s presentation.

    I am told all 3 prosecutors are inviting offers for private sector criminal defense work. ADA Rodriguez has her sister drafting FB posts asking WI firms to contact her. My point- it looks like all 3 plan to be out of dodge when the feces hits the circular device.

  3. Gold Prosector says:

    Well with the problems with this case you listed above, what others like Mr Rossi and Linda Kenny Baden have said the problems they saw, one on Law and Crime said he was watching prosecutor malfeasance.

    Chase may actually see the light of day again, he will probably be using a walker and developed dementia by then and the prosecutors long retired but hey it could happen

    His age and medical condition will be a factor to expedite, but I also know his attorneys were already in contact with what I will call “very skilled in front of the 9th” counsel and have started that planning process. I would keep a watchful eye on the docu and further DNA analysis.

  4. Rose says:

    Well, Wow. Brutalizing infants makes a jury want blood. Will he appeal on ineffective Counsel, or will he sing like a birdie on co-conspirators?

    He needs a proffer meeting with the FBI. Are his Attorneys going to be permitted to facilitate that? Dunno.

  5. Rose says:

    if the perpetrators were making the
    Statement to Merritt, they succeeded wildly.

  6. Rose says:

    You mean Dan K committed a felony & grand larceny to the amount of $205k and not one family member has filed a civil suit against him & has ignored the impending S of L deadline since the bodies were found? $205k is a powerful motivator unless Dan had agreed to split it w/one of them, or payoff someone. Split between all the heirs what each would get after Court costs, if anything, is negligable. So I want to know family members’ motive for not filing that suit. Mikey’s not that dumb.

    Astonishing, wouldn’t you say? No estates created and no probate.

  7. Gold Prospctor says:

    You are giving hope and it is needed right now. Thank You

    The only REAL hope this case has is if Merritt decides to talk.

  8. Gold Prospector says:

    Sean D fell asleep

  9. Gold Prospector says:

    A post on Facebook of Brother. some jurist. and the Prosecution team all at the desert gravesite dismantling the crosses..

    What say you ?

    I say… it rubs me the wrong way when people say… what say you? Lol- I saw it, along with posts soliciting private sector jobs in criminal defense in WI from ADA Rodriguez sister. Oye. FYI it’s for a news show. According to Patrick McStay, Daugherty asked him not to testify in the penalty phase as scheduled.

  10. Gold Prospector says:

    I agree with you Alli

  11. Gold Prospector says:

    OMG ok noted.. Don’t ever ask what say you ? LOL

  12. Alli says:

    Why did Daugherty not want Patrick to testify? Looks like they kept Patrick at a distance. Mike’s still in control.

    It’s very interesting who the prosecution didn’t call to testify.

    Patrick was subpoenaed and reported to testify as scheduled. On a FB group I belong to it was stated (on his behalf) that Daugherty asked Patrick if he would mind NOT testifying due to a perceived need to adjourn early that day. He was never subpoenaed to testify during the trial by the Prosecution, only the defense, and was quickly told they would not be calling him anyway. The subpoena to testify during the penalty phase also requires the people to fly him out there and arrange accomodations, etc. To date, although he said he would be posting “the justifiable reasons he did not testify” in his own words, he has not. I was incensed by this to nth, as I have worked closely with many victims advocate offices in criminal cases and I have never heard such an outrageous claim. I called the SB county OVS- I will not be publishing what I was told- I feel it is Patrick’s obligation to address.

  13. Alli says:

    Wow Blink. It sounds like there is a lot more to Patrick’s story. Wondering why he hasn’t yet posted his “justifiable reasons he did not testify.”

    Even though there was a verdict, I’m left with more questions than answers. The prosecution did not prove their case by a long shot. Jury = confirmation bias and/or what they didn’t understand they ignored. Not one question by the jury to the judge during deliberations. Very disturbing.

    Oh, and the prosecution and some jury members getting together to dismantle the grave memorial is proposterous. The jury chose not to give interviews after their questionable verdict. Crickets. But yet they had no problem going public and taking pictures at the graves with Mike, the orchestrator, and the prosecution team. That in itself speaks volumes of them.

    Thank goodness there is a documentary being made about this trial.

  14. Alli says:

    Blink, do you think the defense team did Chase well? Third party culpability was a huge issue in the case and the judge refused to have it. It’s obvious this was a tunnel vision investigation with the focus being on the easiest target, the felon, Chase Merritt. Hard for the defense to present their case when there is evidence of 3rd party culpability. Three profiles of untested dna found in the graves is the perfect example of this.

    I am not sure how to answer that because I think the defense did the best they could with what they had- but the pros (imo) either withheld or purposely did not subpoena specific info that the defense then had to subpoena through the court – meaning, the prosecution was never acting to expose the truth wherever it led, it was strategic to implicate only CM. To your point on the DNA however, I would add that I am still completely flummoxed as to why the DNA profile that EXCLUDED CM that was submitted to CODIS was not even mentioned by the defense OR, to my knowledge, compared to the three male profiles found from the graves. That is a straightforward procedural issue. Did the defense lay low on that to preserve the issue to fast track an appeal? I can tell you also if any of the three profiles found from the graves are run through CODIS and have a hit- this would likely result in appropriate hearings within days.

    The jurors cannot receive payment or in kind remuneration for 60 days under CA law, so it will be very interesting to see who grants interviews in time for Fall sweeps.

  15. Rose says:

    “No estates created and no probate.” Ifthat’s the case, primary heirs knew they already bled a potential estate dry & only debts were left, as they ran the other direction.

    A few years ago when I reviewed the case, I actually found a few accounts that were unknown to (at least) family. I can only say that I also located several thousand dollars in unclaimed funds- including refunds issued that led me to yet another storage unit that was never searched. I will say what I can tell you are getting at, lol.
    A probate/estate action could certainly expose folks that were in receipt of funds that perhaps they were not entitled to, and possibly provide remedy for a party that was entitled to those funds, which once again is the fodder for more head scratching here because Summers accounts and/or jointly held accounts were never presented at trial- so.. where are those funds today? It was certainly relevant in a criminal matter where the alleged motive was theft via online access.

  16. Rose says:

    Idk what point Defense originally sought Patrick’s testimony for, but if he coukd fulfill that testimony, the reason not to call was either he was on interview deemed not credible or impeachable—either on character grounds, or the Defense deemed him so garrulous, he’d open the door to other matters by prosecution. Since Defense fluffed him off with a red herring reason, imo Defense sized him up as a problem.

  17. Rose says:

    Pretty clear the memorial installation was a showboat for trial (jury visit) & to me it just looks like Brother wanted to point to someone other than himself. Prosecutors of this unprofessional ilk—it’s expectable. Jurors? It’s astonishing their lack of boundaries w/Prosecutors & family, & I hope grounds for reversal & retrial.

  18. Alli says:

    It’s a crime in itself others connected to the victims were not investigated. I want to know why? If Chase killed a family due to theft, then what about the others? Others received a lot more money than Chase from Joey’s PayPal account, an estate sale, the selling of EIP, and the taking of the unclaimed funds ( tens of thousands of dollars.) Who is protecting these people and why?

    Not just that (but excellent points) but where were Summers bank records, cell records, and online activity? How in the world can anyone rule out that investigative track without it?

  19. Alli says:

    You’re 100% correct about Summer’s records, Blink. Why were none produced at trial? Was it because LE had such a tunnel vision investigation they only focused on Chase Merritt? All the investigation and evidence surrounds Chase. Was anybody associated with Summer even investigated? Third party culpability was huge in this case yet the prosecution fought and the judge agreed to disallow it with the exception of a few minor areas surrounding Kavanaugh.

    We know LE didn’t thoroughly investigate Kavanaugh in several areas. The detective admitted on the stand they never had his PayPal records. The theft of PayPal was a huge part of this case. Kavanaugh stole much more from Joey and under Mike’s and Susan’s authority using the guise of running the company. None of them had any legal right to do such. Why didn’t the PT produce Kavanaugh? They used some bs about work product. Justice was not served in this case by a long shot. I’m not even certain Chase committed this crime. The trial did not prove he did, in my opinion.

    It should be noted that the goal of ANY prosecution is truth. I (in no way) feel any closer to the truth about what happened to this family. I fully believe that it is probable at the very least CM had knowledge or complicity of some kind, and as there were children involved I’m sorry to say but I don’t even care if he dies in prison for keeping his mouth shut if that’s the case. I should also say (sadly and admittedly not a popular stance) I also have not believed in “earthly justice” since very early in my casework. It’s an occupational hazard, but certainly this case is a prime example.
    The nuances of this crime are pure evil.

  20. Alli says:

    Blink, what happened to all the other SB warrants? Do you know? McMahon said 60 were served. Was this a way to streamline the investigation to only Chase?

    “The prosecutor and judge had said 33 search warrants would be released, but only 29 were. An attorney representing the media also asked last week for an explanation why authorities had referred to 60 search warrants after Merritt’s arrest. Neither discrepancy has been explained.”
    If it was FOIA they must provide the exclusionary basis- if it was not part of the case in chief it may not be discoverable. That said, as usual you are sharp as a tack, lol, I have a warrant that was never even referred to in the trial

  21. Alli says:

    Blink, what warrant do you have?

    I don’t have the warrant number with me, if you need me to look it up, I will, but will you know what I mean when I say it had to with the “belief” that the subject had Joey’s actual phone in his possession at a location with a cell carrier AND a client of EIP?

  22. Alli says:

    Blink, do you know why this warrant wasn’t unsealed? Could it be because it was only a “belief” a subject had the phone? According to McMahon there were 60 warrants issued. Why weren’t they all unsealed? Something stinks with this entire so called investigation.

    Who was the “subject” you refer to? Chase? Mike? Dan? McGyver? Guy?
    To my knowledge it was not sealed.

    It did not indicate a subject per se, but was looking for any in store CCTV video or cust service notes re the potential to unlock a passcode. When I read it I remembered thinking I can’t believe a Judge granted this AND during trial I was like- why isn’t the defense pointing out they had a client (dental) in the San Bernardino area?

    Here’s where I land on this Ali- I am surprised with the evidence presented that CM was convicted. I think there are plenty of issues for the 9th to chew on as long as CM is out of gen pop he will get another bite of the apple. That said, I have never believed him to be completely innocent and at the very least he knows exactly who/why this happened and in my view not coming forward with that means he chose to die in prison rather than rat so that’s on him. I’m telling you that from a behavioral perspective it takes a very specific profile to murder toddlers/a family and as long as I’m 100% confident it did not happen in that home but rather at two scenes, one has to believe there are others involved. The key to the answers here is a forensic accounting of BOTH Joey and Summers finances and holdings and probably the Jan trip to Mexico (Joey was with Chase)- and it ignited the argument with Summer she called McGyver about.

    Lastly- why weren’t the emails and texts between parties ever produced? Not just one or two emails re payments, etc, either.

  23. Alli says:

    Blink, there were so many important pieces of evidence that were never addressed at trial. LE, the prosecution, and the judge really limited the scope and tied the hands of the defense team.

    I’m in agreement with you. The evidence presented at trial should never have convicted Chase. The jury obviously ignored the entire defense’s case. Maline was sure to point that out and get it on the record during the penalty phase. As you said, there’s a plethora of appeal issues with this case.

    I think not only Chase but also McStay family and friends know the who and why of what went down. Who are they all protecting? Their strange behavior after the disappearance was very odd to say the least. Waiting until the 15th to report the family missing and then cleaning a potential crime scene and removing evidence knowing a warrant was ordered was very telling. What did they not want LE to find? And Mike’s story of the family taking a 10 day vacay was an outright lie.

    The trip into Mexico in Jan. could very well have been the catalyst for the murders. SDSD still felt it was the family who crossed into Mexico in the border video after their remains were found. A Mexico connection could have been involved but that wouldn’t have worked with SB’s tale, so it was dismissed.

    I’m also in agreement about a forensic accounting of both Joey’s and Summer’s financials. Why didn’t this happen? Why weren’t ALL the emails and texts presented? Limited scope? Nothing important about Summer was presented.

    There was absolutely more than one person involved. McMahon knew it. Why was he removed and replaced by Det. Smith? What about the 3 unknown dna profiles found in the graves? Maybe they belong to the suspects. Running them through CODIS would have been a threat to the prosecutoon’s case, so it wasn’t done.

    FWIW, I believe anyone close to this case in a LE capacity is quite sure Merritt did not act alone at a minimum. There is a lot of political backstory going on in this case, true, but at the end of the day I think most just saw enough evidence that at the very least CM had knowledge, probably lured, probably an accessory btf or atf and expected him to talk for a deal and when he did not, simply wanted to get the guy they could. This case has the distinction of being the worst prosecution presentment of a quad familial homicide I have ever seen. That said, they were able to convince 12 people of guilt.

  24. Alli says:

    Sentencing is coming up. Will there be any surprises?
    Doubtful Ali-

  25. Alli says:

    Blink, are you aware of the motion filed to Withdraw as Attorney of Record? Declaration of Support filed under seal. Maline? McGee? Or both? Is this standard procedure?

    Also, Motion for Continuance filed.

    Prior to a sentencing hearing in a capital case? Def not “standard procedure”, no.
    Filing such motions under seal is, however. Not super surprised in this case considering the anomalies, however.


  26. Alli says:

    McGee is the attorney who filed to withdraw. Maline says “he does not plan to leave Mr. Merritt until justice is served, and that means until he is free.”

  27. Alli says:

    Blink, any idea why McGee withdrew? What could be the conflict of interest? Ineffective counsel? McGee contemplating a run for judge?

    It’s going to stay sealed apparently, but it wasn’t just him, it was also his associate so as I have been saying all along- it can’t be health or medical related to McGee.

    It’s my sense it is related to the docu and/or the approach that will be used for the appeal. I do think it’s possible McGee has intentions for running for public office, which I think may be a smart move for him. In other news, as Jimmy Mettias his former counsel was just disbarred for life in CA, I have wondered if any of that mess has any bearing. FWIW, I sent him a rather unkind email early on that his affiliation with that Jackhole Baker was going to get him in front of the disciplinary bar toot sweet, lol, little did I know. I believe Merritt new sentencing date is Jan 17.

  28. Alli says:

    I’d like to see McGee run for a judge’s position. He’s smart and he has good knowledge of the law. However, it’s disturbing he walked away from Merritt’s case. Pethaps Merritt is filing ineffective assistance of counsel which would explain it.

    Mettias’s disbarment had nothing to do with Baker. Merritt was smart to fire him. He was incompetent. Mettias was disbarred for misappropriating money he owed to clients ($110,710.84), for failure to perform with competence, for making misrepresentations to his married clients and for failing to promptly provide his clients their file.

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