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Murder of McStay family by Chase Merritt examined on Two Shallow Graves on ID

Mugshot of Charles Merritt
Charles “Chase” Merritt was found guilty of murdering the McStay family. Pic credit: San Diego County Police

Two Shallow Graves on ID is examining the tragic murders of the McStay family, who were butchered by business associate Charles “Chase” Merritt, and buried in the desert near Victorville, California, in 2010.

Around about February 4, 2010, the McStay family, Joseph, 40; his wife, Summer, 43; and their two sons, Gianni, 4, and Joey Jr., 3, disappeared from their home in Fallbrook, Ca. Their house didn’t show any signs of a struggle, but it was clear they had left in a hurry; there was food left out on the counter, and their beloved pet dogs were left behind.

Their car was located a few days later, near San Diego, close to the Mexican border. This led to speculation that the family may have willingly fled the country. However, friends and family claimed this would be out of character, and the couple still had a large amount of money in a bank account that remained untouched.

Part of the mystery was solved in November 2013 when a motorcyclist stumbled upon two shallow graves in the desert near Victorville and unearthed human remains. These bodies were soon confirmed as the McStay family.

The family had been savagely beaten to death. The four-year-old Gianni had suffered a shocking seven blows to the head. Lying beside the family was a sledgehammer.

Police suspected Chase Merritt was the killer

Suspicion had long fallen on Joseph McStay’s business partner, Chase Merritt, as he had been the last person to have contact with the family, and he also had a criminal record, albeit for small-time offenses.

Merritt constantly denied he had anything to do with the crime. He tried to deflect the cops by claiming that Summer suffered from anger issues and that Joseph had failing health.

However, a breakthrough in the case came in November 2014 when the cops found Merritt’s DNA on the steering wheel of McStay’s car. The cops also learned that his cellphone had been pinged in the area where the family was buried.

The police concluded that Merritt killed the family for financial gain; the killer had a severe gambling problem, and after the murders, he managed to gain some control of Joseph’s business accounts.

In 2020, Merritt was sentenced to death following a conviction on four murder counts. He continued to plead his innocence, and at his sentencing, he told the judge, “I don’t deserve this. I did not do this.”

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more violent crimes profiled on ID.

Jaroslav “Jerry” Hanel had tormented the Diamond Head neighborhood of Honolulu, HI, for years, but one day, he completely snapped and murdered landlord, Lois Cain, shot two responding police officers, and set fire to the neighborhood.

Huong Lee and Long Nyugen were an elderly Vietnamese couple from Arlington, Texas, who wound up owing so-called spiritual healer Dephne Wright nearly $300,000. Wright decided to hire Bobby and Willie Guillory to kill the couple in an attempt to claim their life insurance.

Two Shallow Graves airs Sunday from 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

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