California Man Found Guilty of Killing Family of 4 in Case That Baffled Investigators

June 10, 2019 Updated: June 10, 2019

A Southern California man was convicted June 10 in the killings of a family of four before burying them in the desert.

The case had puzzled authorities for years after the family—Joseph McStay, McStay’s wife, Summer, and their 3- and 4-year-old sons—vanished in 2010.

Charles “Chase” Merritt was found guilty in a San Bernardino courtroom for the murders of the family, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Prosecutors said that he was motivated by greed and his own self-interest after owing McStay $42,845. After the family disappeared, he forged checks to himself via McStay’s QuickBooks account, the Times reported.

His attorneys argued that he was wrongfully accused of the crime, and they said prosecutors had no direct evidence he committed the murders.

“If they admit they made a mistake and arrested the wrong guy how’s that gonna look?” his attorney James McGee told jurors. “How do you go back to that family now and say we might’ve messed up?”

But, “It was blow, after blow, after blow,” prosecutor Britt Imes said of the killings, according to The Associated Press.

The family went missing nine years, about four months after they moved into the San Diego suburb of Fallbrook, People magazine noted. Their two dogs were left behind, and $100,000 was left untouched in Joseph McStay’s bank account. Later, their car was found near the Mexican border.

In 2013, the family’s remains were found in the Mojave Desert near Victorville. The murder weapon, a sledgehammer, was found at the site.

In 2014, charges were filed against Merritt, who was described as Joseph McStay’s business partner. He was arrested after DNA belonging to him was found on the family’s vehicle. Meanwhile, his phone was traced to the area around the burial site after they disappeared.

People place crosses near the graves where the McStay family was found in Victorville, Calif. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune/AP)

The San Bernardino Sun reported that Merritt was a gambling addict and committed the murders to obtain McStay’s money to fuel his addiction. After the murders, he went to Indian casinos and spent thousands of dollars.

Prosecutors also said that financial records indicated that Merritt tried to take money from McStay’s business bank accounts before and after the family went missing, AP reported.

Charles "Chase" Merritt
Charles “Chase” Merritt in a 2018 photo. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune/AP)

Officials also said that McStay wanted to cut him out of the business in February 2010, and they met on Feb. 4 at Merritt’s Rancho Cucamonga home. Records showed that McStay called Merritt seven times after the meeting, which defense lawyers claimed was evidence that he didn’t fire him.