Charles “Chase” Merritt has been named as the suspect in the 2010 murders of the McStay family in Southern California. Merritt, 57, was arrested on November 5 and is charged with four counts of murder. Police believe he acted alone. You can watch footage of his arrest above.
Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two young children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph M., 3, mysteriously vanished from their home in Fallbrook, California, in February 2010. Their remains were found buried in shallow graves in the desert outside of Los Angeles in November 2013.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Merritt Said Joseph McStay Was His ‘Best Friend’
Merritt was a former business associate of the McStay family patriarch, Joseph McStay. The arrest was announced by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office on November 7 at a press conference. The Los Angeles Times reports that the two had a water features business together. In a 2013 interview with the Daily Mail, McStay said, “He was my best friend, we told each other everything.”
The two had just bought decorative waterfalls from Mexico together prior to the McStays’ disappearance. CNN reports that the last call made by Joseph’s phone was to Chase Merritt around 8:30 p.m. on the night of February 4, 2010. My Fox LA reports that on the day that the McStays vanished, Chase Merritt and Joseph McStay had met up at a restaurant about a new business deal.
According to SB Sun reporter Joe Nelson, Merritt lives in Homeland, California.
2. Chase Merritt Has a Criminal History
CBS 8 reported in 2010 that Merritt has convictions for burglary in 1978 and for receiving stolen property in 1987. A friend of Merritt’s told the station back then, “I think police should look at him and anyone associated with him.” CBS 8 referred to Merritt as a “metal worker and welder.” The suspect spoke about his criminal past to the Daily Mail in 2013, saying:
Nine out of 10 people on this planet have got some kind of criminal background. Mine is 25 and 30 years old now. I am 56, I am an old man. I got into trouble here and there when I was a kid, but I do not have some long criminal history, which is what people have tried to imply.
Multiple consumer reports posted to RipoffReport.com cite a man named Charles “Chase” Merritt who runs a waterfall installation business. The reviews are scathing, accusing Merritt of poor behavior, shady practices and outright fraud. Here’s the most detailed example:
3. Merritt Previously Claimed Summer McStay Was Trying to Poison Her Husband
Early in 2014, Merritt told the Daily Mail that he was writing a book called Afraid of the Light. In the memoir, he wrote that Summer McStay had been slowly poisoning her husband and that in the last days before he disappeared, Joseph McStay was so weak he couldn’t get out of bed. Doctors hadn’t diagnosed the mysterious condition, which supposedly led Merritt to believe that Summer was responsible.
In another interview with the Daily Mail, Merritt said that McStay had called him on the night he disappeared, but Merritt says he didn’t answer the call because he was watching a movie. He went on to say that he didn’t believe Joseph McStay would move to Mexico or that he would do a deal with drug cartels, referring to one of the rumors about his disappearance. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office believed that the above video showed the McStay family crossing the border into Mexico. The video was uploaded in March 2010.
Merritt went on to talk about Summer’s bad temper, but he didn’t think it was so bad that she would could have killed her family.
4. Merritt Is Eligible for the Death Penalty
The cause of death of the McStay family was “blunt force trauma,” according to the San Bernardino Sheriff’s office. The Los Angeles Times reports that Merritt is eligible for the death penalty. District Attorney Mike Ramos told the media:
I don’t need to tell you this is a cold and callous murder on an entire family.
Merritt’s brother, Bennett, told Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Serna, “My brother’s not guilty.”
Hours after Merrit’s arrest was announced, he was arraigned at a court in Victorville.
5. The McStays’ Disappearance Had Baffled Investigators
CBS Los Angeles reports that the circumstances of the disappearance were baffling to detectives. There was no sign of a struggle at their home, their dogs were left behind and there was popcorn that had just been made when police got there. In addition, police discovered $100,000 in the McStays’ bank account.
On November 6, 2013, the bodies of the McStay family were found buried in the high desert, north of Los Angeles. CBS Los Angeles reported at the time that the remains of the family were discovered in shallow graves. The bodies were decomposed, and DNA testing had to be done to positively identify the McStays. Police have determined that the McStays were killed inside of their home.