Mystery of McStay money: Family found dead could barely afford rent despite $100k in bank
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The McStay family - whose bodies were found in a shallow grave in the Californian desert almost four years after they mysteriously vanished - could barely afford to pay $210 a week on rent just months before they disappeared with $100,000 in the bank, it was claimed today.
Joseph and Summer McStay were also apparently being chased by debt collection agents, the IRS and lawyers representing business clients they owed money to.
Despite their apparent financial difficulties, they managed to find the cash to buy a $320,000 house around two months before they vanished on February 4 2010. They also had $100,000 in the bank when they vanished which remained untouched.
Rent: The McStay family could barely afford to pay $210 a week on rent at a modest two bedroom apartment, pictured, in San Clemente, California, before they disappeared
The reason for their sudden, unexplained disappearance has gripped America for almost four years, leaving law enforcement and amateur sleuths alike completely baffled.
Even the discovery of the bodies of parents Joseph and Summer and their two children Gianni and Joey Jr near a highway in Victorville, California last week has not stopped the wild speculation.
Some have suggested the family of four were killed by a Mexican cartel because of a business deal that went bad. For years it was believed they had fled to the Central American country after CCTV footage was discovered apparently showing them crossing the border on foot, four days after they went missing.
Now MailOnline has been given new information suggesting Joseph and Summer were barely able to keep up with payments for a modest rent on a small two bedroom apartment in San Clemente, California.
They lived in the property for around five years until just three or four months before their disappearance. Their landlord was apparently desperate to throw them out because they were constantly behind with the payments.
Bodies: The McStay family bodies were found in a hole, pictured, in the Mojave desert in Victorville
Neighbor: Dave White, pictured, knew the McStay family and currently lives in the same building that the McStays used to reside at in San Clemente, California. Years ago, the McStay children were naturally birthed in an inflatable pool in White's current living room
But despite that, when they left the apartment, they bought a $320,000 house in nearby Fallbrook and had $100,000 in the bank. Joseph's fountain making company Earth Inspired Products was their main source of income.
The man who took over the rent at their old place is former US marine Dave White. He lived on the same street before moving into their old place and knew the family.
Mr White, 54, who now drives school buses said: 'I knew the landlord on the place before I moved in as I used to be handyman and I did some odd jobs around the place for him. I lived around ten houses up the street, so I knew the McStay’s to say hello to.
'From what I understand, before they moved out they were on the verge of being evicted, because they were behind on their rent. That was three years ago.
'The rent they were paying was only about $850 a month and the landlord, a guy called Bill, who has passed away now, was one of the nicest men you could meet.
'He was extremely easy to deal with and I had no problems at all with him, but he was in the process of evicting them. It was such a small amount and he was so easy going, I don’t understand how anyone could fall out with him.
Saddened: Michael McStay, brother of Joseph McStay, breaks down at a press conference Friday after his sibling's remains were confirmed as being found in the Mojave desert
Problems: Mr and Mrs McStay were on the verge of being evicted from their San Clemente apartment, it has been claimed
'After I moved in I got a lot of their mail, which they obviously hadn’t redirected. I kept getting letters from attorney's representing a doctor's surgery outside of California.
'Apparently they had paid Mr McStay $14,000 up front to build a fountain and ship it out to them. But they obviously didn’t get anything. After the family went missing they weren’t going to get their fountain, but I think the letters started when they were still around.
'I also got letters from the IRS and debt collectors chasing them as well, but the majority of those came after they had vanished. I guess a lot of these people didn't realize they'd gone missing.
'It's hard to say how many of these debts came because they went missing and how many were owed before, but I really can’t explain how they went from not being able to pay $850 a month to buying a house and having $100,000 in the bank.'
And it seems the McStay's apparent inability to pay their rent was not the first time they had run into financial difficulty. In 1992 Joseph had a small claims judgement of just over $5,000 against him from an associate who took him court.
Then in 1999 Joseph, his older brother Michael and sister Heather had a legal dispute with a company In San Francisco.
At the time they were running a company called Dana Point Fountains and a firm called Zen Again Productions took them to the District Court.
The former home of Joseph McStay and his family in Fallbrook, California. They disappeared from home in February 2010, leaving unfinished popcorn and their family pets behind
The McStay family home was found with food on the counter and the pet dogs abandoned when police went to investigate in 2010
Joseph McStay went missing with his wife Summer and their children Gianni (left) and Joseph Jr (right) in February 2010
Are they alive? When they vanished along with their parents, Gianni was four (left) and Joseph Jr was three
In 2004 Joseph seemed to run into more trouble, filing for bankruptcy with California Central Court in Santa Ana. The bankruptcy was discharged around three months later.
Joseph's business dealings have come under scrutiny in the past in relation to his disappearance.
Back in 2010 CBS News claimed detectives were looking into his association with an ex con called Chase Merritt.
The former metal worker and welder was Joseph's business partner and he was one of the first people to notice the family were missing
Department of Corrections records show Merritt served time in prison for a burglary conviction in 1978. He was then sent back to prison in 1987 for receiving stolen property, according to State records.
An acquaintance who knew Merritt in the 1980s told CBS News 8 he has a checkered past.
'I think police should look at him and anyone associated with him,' the female acquaintance said. She asked not to be identified.
Joseph's financial history certainly raises questions, but fails to provide any real answers as to why they disappeared without trace almost four years ago.
On Thursday February 4, 2010 Mr McStay – who was then 40 - had a meeting in Rancho Cucamonga about a fountain Earth Inspired Products was building.
Summer, 43, was at home with Gianni, 4; Joey Jr., 3, known as Chubba; and the two dogs, Bear and Digger.
Graves: An inmate work crew from the Adelanto Detention Center fills in the graves following a 30 hour excavation that yielded skeletal remains
Crime scene: A San Bernardino County Sheriff deputy puts up crime scene tape on Quarry Road in the desert north of Victorville after the family's remains were found
Tears: Susan McStay, mother of Joseph McStay, left, and a friend of the victims' family, Emily, sobbed throughout a Friday press conference as police revealed details of the gruesome find
Officials: San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon reveal details of the investigation on Friday as the victims' families looked on
Call off the search: Mr and Mrs McStay's remains were confirmed today after being found in shallow graves off a Californian interstate. The remains of two children were found with them but have not yet been identified
Strangely Summer had several different aliases including Summer Martelli, Summer McStay and Lisa Aranda Martelli. She was actually christened Lisa Virginia Aranda.
The couple had only bought their new five-bedroom home in Fallbrook about two months earlier, leaving their apartment in San Clemente. They were both licensed real-estate agents and purchased it out of foreclosure for about $320,000.
Apparently they planned to renovate the property, sell it for a profit and move back to the coast.
Later on the Thursday they disappeared Summer made plans to meet her sister Tracy. Interestingly she then used the home computer to search for homeopathic anger management medication.
At 7:47 p.m., a neighbor's surveillance camera captured the bottom 18-inches of what appears to be the family's white Isuzu Trooper going by. About 40 minutes later, on his cellphone, Joseph called a co-worker.
That is the last known contact between the family and the outside world.
On February 10, Sheriff's deputies went to the house for the first time after Chase Merritt called to report that Mr McStay was not responding to phone calls or emails. The deputy knocked on the door, but left after seeing nothing suspicious.
Three days later Mr McStay's brother Mike came over and climbed through an unlocked window. The family's beloved dogs were still there, which baffled Mike, but he tried not to assume the worst.
Investigators search the scrubland in the remote California desert for more clues about who the remains belong to
Couple: Joseph McStay and wife Summer went missing along with his wife and two children in 2010 from their San Diego County home. Bones found today were confirmed as belonging to the couple
After two days, with still no word he called the sheriff. Detective DuGal, who works in homicide, went to investigate. On entry to the property he found a carton of eggs and a rotten banana on the kitchen counter, child-size bowls of popcorn in the living room near the TV, Summer's prescription sunglasses.
There were no signs of a struggle and every indication was that they had left in a hurry, but there was no clue as to why.
Their car was then discovered in a shopping center parking lot in San Ysidro, just north of the Mexican border. It had apparently been there since around 6pm on February 8.
After trawling through hours of security footage authorities found grainy images of a family of four resembling the McStays walking towards the Mexican border turnstiles at about 7pm on February 8.
Officers have said there is about a 75 per cent chance the footage is actually the McStays, but several family members have disputed the fact, saying certain characteristics in appearance and movement don't correspond.
Detectives soon found other evidence suggesting the family had gone across the border voluntarily.
On January 27, eight days before they disappeared, someone used the family computer to email the 'About.com' website about passport requirements for children traveling in Mexico. The month before that, Summer was looking into purchasing Spanish-language software.
The theory that they left voluntarily has always been dismissed by Joseph and Summer's parents, who have said they were too safety conscious to take their children across the border on foot.
'My son didn't walk away,' Joseph's father, Patrick McStay, said. 'They didn't walk into Mexico. They would never do that.'
Evidence: Investigators can be seen sifting through sand after skeletal remains were found on Monday
Bones were found in the desert and police are expected to make an announcement later today with further details about who they belong to
Human remains found in the San Bernardino County desert may belong to four members of a San Diego family that has been missing since 2010
Others have raised the question, why would they leave a property, pets, two vehicles, $100,000 in bank accounts without any explanation?
That led to another theory, championed by police, that they left voluntarily, but when they got across the border something happened to them.
'We have not discovered any evidence leading us to believe a crime has occurred thus far,' said Lt. Glenn Giannantonio. 'There has been no evidence to show us that the disappearance is anything other than a family being missing of their own free will.'
Other the years numerous sightings have been reported, all over the United States and Mexico. Even Mr White believes he may have seen Summer outside their old apartment. He said: 'One day, about six months after they went missing I came back from work and saw a lady sitting in her car across from my place.
'It looked just like Summer and when she saw me she drove off. I thought maybe she'd come back to try to get some important mail or something. I couldn't get the license plate and because I couldn't be 100 per cent sure it was her I did not report it.'
The case remained open, but nothing concrete was ever established and leads began to dry up.
That did not stop amateur sleuths trying their hand at cracking the case. The most prominent of these has been former radio show host Rick Baker, who lived in Fallbrook around the time of the disappearance.
Gone: Photographs of the McStay family at a news conference at a news conference on Friday where authorities announced the remains of Joseph McStay, his wife, Summer, and children Gianni and Joseph Mateo, were found
He has spent hundreds of hours looking into the case and wrote a book called 'No Goodbyes,' which was published earlier this year.
His primary theory was that Summer was somehow responsible for the disappearance. When the book came out MailOnline revealed several angry emails sent from Summer to Joseph that were obtained by Mr Baker.
He suggested the tone of the correspondence showed Summer to be a hot head and said they killed the idea the family happily walked off into the sunset.
In one email, sent in 2010 she told Joseph to 'mind your own ****** business' and if he didn't she said: 'I will not forgive you and I mean it.'
It's claimed that Summer also repeatedly threatened to leave Joseph in the years before they disappeared because she didn't want to look after a son he had from a previous marriage.
In response to one of her rants Joseph was so driven to despair he replied: 'I must say... this is one of the nastiest e-mails I ever gotten.... So Foul, I can’t believe it came from you.'
But any theory Summer was in some way responsible for the family's disappearance seemed to be completely blown out of the water when a shallow grave, containing the skeletal remains of four people was discovered on Monday in the Mojave desert.
A motorcyclist riding about 50 yards from a dirt road west of Interstate 15 found two graves, with some of the bones scattered around the site, seemingly by animals.
Detectives concluded all four were homicide victims and dental records confirmed the adult remains belonged to Joseph and Summer. Authorities expect to identify the juvenile remains in the coming days, but it seems almost certain they belong to Gianni and Joey Jr.
Possible lead: Police initially thought this family (circled) seen crossing the border into Mexico were the McStays
Odd: The family left their dogs behind in their home as well without food or water, which puzzled investigators
The sheriff, whose agency has taken charge of investigations, declined to disclose how the McStays might have been killed and said no suspects had been identified.
Law enforcement expert John Carman says the shallow graves the McStays were found in and their close proximity to a busy freeway tells him it was not a professional hit.
'If it was real important, they'd probably go deeper or do worse,' said Carman. 'They were in a hurry and once they're on 15, north or south they're out of there.'
On Friday San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon played down cartel involvement, saying 'It's too early to tell if it's cartel-related or any other suspects.'
That is a view supported by Rick Baker. 'Why would they stage their car at the border, cartels don’t do that,' he said. 'Someone killed all four and wanted them to think the family crossed the border.'
He went on to say: 'Did Joey have enemies? Maybe a couple. Were they the kind of enemy that would want to kill him? I didn't see that.'
And he is now claiming his law enforcement sources close to the McStay case are keeping the details of their deaths out of the public domain.
He said: 'One of the bodies, either Summer or Joseph, their hands had been bound.' That has yet to be officially confirmed or denied.
Since the discovery of the bodies, Joseph's father Patrick has gone on the offensive, branding the police operation into his family's disappearance, the most, 'botched, inept investigation I've ever seen in my entire life.'
He also called the San Diego Sheriff's Office, which spearheaded the operation, the, 'dumbest, most corrupt organization he has seen.'
Whatever the reality and whoever is to blame, the only true facts are that a family is dead.
'It's not really the outcome we were looking for,' brother Michael McStay told press conference cameras through his tears. 'But it gives us courage to know that they're together and they’re in a better place.'
'My family appreciates all the support and the love we’ve been shown,' he added. 'They are a loving family and I know that all of America loves the McStays.'