Charles Merritt, a business associate of Joseph McStay, was arrested Wednesday in connection with the murders of McStay and his family, whose remains were discovered in graves in the California desert last year. (Nov. 7) AP
The former business associate of a slain Southern California man has been arrested in connection with the man’s murder as well as those of his wife and two toddler-aged sons.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon announced Friday that deputies arrested Charles “Chase” Merritt for the murders of Joseph, 40, and Summer McStay, 43, and their two sons, Giannni, 4, and Joseph Mateo, 3. During an afternoon court appearance in Victorville, his arraignment was postponed until Wednesday.
The skeletal remains of the family were discovered last year in shallow graves in the California desert 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles after the family went missing for more than three years. Wednesday’s arrest of Merritt caps a four-year-long mystery that largely stumped investigators and family members.
Remains in Calif. desert grave are missing couple
Over the past 12 months, investigators served 60 search warrants, conducted more than 200 interviews and ran down about 250 tips from sources such as Crime Stoppers and America’s Most Wanted, according to a statement by the sheriff’s office.
“Our job is to look at everyone and eliminate who we could and see where this was going to take us and it led us to [Merritt],” San Bernardino sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Fisher said.
Merritt, 57, was arrested Wednesday and transported to the West Valley Detention Center, where he was booked for murder and is being held without bail. The District Attorney’s Office filed four counts of murder against him, the statement said.
The cause of death for all four was determined to be blunt force trauma. Investigators believe the murders took place at the family home in Fallbrook, about 50 miles north of San Diego. They wouldn’t disclose any motives for the killings.
The McStays were last heard from on Feb. 4, 2010. Relatives said they were happy and had recently moved into a five-bedroom home. Their bank accounts contained tens of thousands of dollars.
Days later, police found no signs of forced entry at their Fallbrook home. Rotting food was found in the kitchen, and their dogs were in the backyard without food or water. Their SUV was found parked two blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, raising suspicions that they may have fled there.
Merritt and Joseph McStay ran a fountain-making business that appeared to be doing well. Merritt’s name surfaced early in the investigation when it was reported that Joseph McStay’s last cellphone conversation was with his business partner. Merritt denied knowing the family’s whereabouts.
After the family’s remains were discovered in the desert, Merritt sat down for an extensive interview with CNN. He described talking several times with Joseph McStay the day he vanished and receiving a missed call from his business partner.
“I was tired,” Merritt said, explaining why he didn’t pick up the call.
Asked if he regretted not answering, he said: “Hindsight’s 20/20.”
Contributing: Associated Press
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