SAN BERNARDINO – County Sheriff’s investigators made an arrest in a four-year-old murder case in which a family of four people, discovered in a California desert last year, had disappeared and later found in shallow graves.
Charles “Chase” Merritt, 57, who was a business associate of Joseph McStay, was expected to appear in court today. Merritt, who was arrested on Wednesday, will face charges on four counts of murder, which included McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, along with their two sons.
Police have been investigating since they were discovered missing from their San Diego County home in Fallbrook. Merritt was arrested on Wednesday and taken to San Bernardino County jail. The investigation, according to San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, revealed that the four McStay family members were killed in their Fallbrook home, victims of blunt-force trauma.
The couple, which included sons Gianni, 3, and Joseph, Jr., 4, disappeared in February. 2010. Investigators concluded there was no sign of forced entry in their home. Eventually, the McStays’ SUV was found parked near the United States-Mexico border. The couple’s credit cards and several thousand dollars in bank accounts weren’t touched, said investigators.
McStay, whose business includes designing and installing home water features, included Merritt, who was described as a skilled practitioner for designing special waterfalls. Investigators believe McStay and Merritt met at a restaurant on the day of their deaths. Investigator reports are that Merritt’s name surfaced when it was revealed he was the last man to talk with McStay on his cell phone.
Last November, hikers discovered the family’s skeletal remains in shallow graves in the desert just outside Victorville, not far from a heavily-trafficked Interstate 15. Authorities had long since searched the McStays’ home, discovering eggs that had rotted on the kitchen counter, along with other evidence that the family had not planned an extended leave. Nothing was missing from the home, according to reports.
No motive has yet been announced by investigators.Police reports that Merritt, who has reported questionable business dealings, does have a criminal history, which includes convictions for burglary and receiving stolen property several years earlier. Authorities say this will be a death penalty case.