The McStay Family Murders
On February 4, 2010, Joseph and Summer McStay and their two little boys Gianni and Joseph Jr. disappeared from their home near San Diego, CA. It appeared the family of four had suddenly left their house. Four days after they disappeared, the family's Isuzu Trooper was found parked in a parking lot near the Mexican border. A search of their home computer showed that someone did a search on obtaining passports to Mexico. The authorities also found a surveillance video showing a family of four that resembled the McStay family crossing on foot into Mexico on February 8, 2010. This led some people to believe the McStay family was living somewhere in Mexico. Relatives of the McStays said Joseph and Summer would not take their kids to Mexico and that they would not sever ties with their extended family. Over three years went by and no one heard from Joseph or Summer McStay.
In November 2013, an off-roading motorcyclist in the Mojave Desert found a human skull. When the authorities investigated the area they found four shallow graves. Dental records confirmed the four bodies belonged to the McStay family. Their gravesite was 100 miles north of their home and over 150 miles from the Mexican border.
Almost a year after their bodies were discovered, Charles "Chase" Merritt was arrested and charged with murdering the McStay family. Merritt was a business partner of Joseph McStay.
In January 2014, prior to his arrest, CNN's Randi Kaye interviewed Chase Merritt. Portions of her interview with Merritt aired in November 2014 in the CNN special "Buried Secrets: Who Murdered the McStay Family?" I have not found a complete transcript of the January 2014 interview. Here is a portion of what aired in the CNN special and what has appeared on CNN's website.
Kaye: "You took a polygraph test what did it show?"
Merritt: "I don't know."
Kaye: "You passed the polygraph?"
Merritt: "Apparently, I mean I haven't, after I took the polygraph test um, law enforcement has not contacted me at all since. So, I kind of simply assumed well apparently that, that resolved any issues that they may be looking at with me."
Merritt has an unfinished sentence; "I mean I haven't, after I took the polygraph test." It appears he was going to say, "I mean I haven't talked to law enforcement since taking the polygraph test. He then pauses using the interjection "um." He may have been thinking how he wanted to phrase his statement. He then goes on to say that law enforcement has not contacted him since he took the polygraph test. The problem is he added the words "at all" which are not needed. The shortest sentence is the best sentence. Saying, "Law enforcement has not contacted me" is a good statement. Adding the words "at all" means he is overemphasizing the idea law enforcement has not contacted him. This is an indication the police have contacted him since he took the polygraph test.
The phrase, "I kind of" means he is not committed to the idea the polygraph test resolved any issues the police may have had with him.
Kaye: "Did detectives ask if you killed Joseph McStay and his family?"
Merritt: "I don't recall them asking me that."
Kaye: "Nothing that direct?"
Kaye: "Nothing directly?"
Merritt: "No. I don't recall them being that direct."
Most people would probably remember if the police asked them if they had killed someone. That is not a question you hear every day. Merritt states he does not recall if they asked him that question.
Merritt then answers the question, "Nothing that direct?" with a question, "Hum?" Answering a question with a question means the person was asked a sensitive question . It is used as a stall tactic to give the subject time to think about how he is going to answer the question. The exception is if the subject did not hear the question. After the question is asked a second time, Merritt again states he does not recall them asking him if he killed Joseph McStay.
Kaye: "Were you surprised that the remains were found in this desert in Victorville?"
Merritt: "Yeah, , because I live in this area. Um -"
Kaye: "Near by."
Merritt: "Yeah. Probably um 20 miles or so."
Kaye: "So I mean, is this ever, I mean would you ever expect that this is how it would end in the desert like that?"
Merritt: "In the desert? I had no clue."
Kaye: "I mean in your gut, what did you think happened?"
Merritt: "I have absolutely no clue. I think that um, if I were to guess just like anyone else, I would think um, it was probably random ah because I honestly don't believe that family had anything to do with it."
As I had mentioned the shortest sentence is the best sentence; "Yeah, because I live in this area." The word "actually" is not needed for us the listener. The word "actually" is a unique word. It adds emphasis to what the person is saying but it also indicates the person is comparing two thoughts. For example, "Did you buy a new car?" "Actually, I bought a new truck." The subject is comparing buying a car with buying a truck. What is Merritt comparing? The opposite of being surprised is not being surprised. Merritt's language indicates he was not surprised their bodies were found in Victorville. If he knows the McStay's were buried in Victorville in a shallow grave, then he may not be surprised if their bodies were found years later. That may be what he is thinking. However, he wants to say that it did surprise him. Since he is making the comparison in his mind, it causes him to unknowingly use the word "actually."
Merritt answers a question with a question; "In the desert?" As I previously stated this indicates he is stalling for time to think about his answer. Notice he did not wait for the interviewer Randi Kaye to answer his question. Clearly he was using this technique as a stall tactic. Why does he have to think about how he is going to answer the question?
Merritt then goes on to give an answer in the past tense, "I had no clue." Does he presently have a clue? It is very rare when a person can honestly say, "I have no clue" or "I have no idea." Most people have an idea on just about everything.
When pressed for what he thought happened Merritt says, "I have absolutely no clue." This time he changed his language to the present tense and he added the word "absolutely." He is strongly emphasizing that he has no clue what happened to the McStays. The problem is in the next sentence he states, "I think." It turns out he did have a clue; that their murders were probably random. As I said, rarely can a person honestly say, "I have no clue" or "I have no idea."
Three times Merritt used the interjections "um" and "ah." These indicate a pause in his statement perhaps to think about how he should answer the question.
In one portion of the interview, Merritt said he was watching television the night Joseph McStay disappeared when he received a phone call. He looked at the phone and saw it was McStay calling him. Merritt was tired so he didn't answer the phone. In retrospect, he wished he had taken the call saying, "Of course I regret not picking up the phone."
When people use the phrase "of course" they want you to take for granted what they are saying is the truth. However, we take nothing for granted. A better statement is to not use the phrase "of course." Merritt's language indicates he may not have regretted not answering the phone.
Kaye: "As far as you know, you were the last person or at least one of the last people to see him right?"
Merritt: "Yeah. Um. When he left Rancho Cucamonga nobody else, although I think somebody, there was another person or two that he talked to, I'm not sure"
Kaye: "But you were the last person he saw?"
Merritt: "I'm definitely the last person he saw."
Merritt states he was the last person Joseph McStay saw. What about the person who killed Joseph? Wouldn't he be the last person to see Joseph alive? As a general rule, when analyzing a statement you should believe what people tell you. We can believe that Merritt was the last person to see Joseph McStay.
When we look at his answers we see Chase Merritt displays several signs of being deceptive. He does not recall if the police asked him if he killed Joseph McStay. Twice he used the deceptive phrase, "I have no clue." He stalls for time to think about his answers by using interjections and by answering questions with a question. His use of the unique word "actually" indicates he may not have been surprised when their bodies were found close to his home. Most telling is his statement that he was "definitely the last person" to see Joseph McStay.