LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California man charged with killing his business associate, the man’s wife and two small children owed $30,000 to the victim and had other debts, authorities said in records released Wednesday.
Victim Joseph McStay lent defendant Charles “Chase” Merritt money to cover a gambling debt before McStay, his wife and his 3- and 4-year-old sons disappeared in February 2010, according to newly unsealed court documents filed by San Bernardino County sheriff’s investigators.
Merritt also owed more than $20,000 in back taxes.
A third business associate, Daniel Kavanaugh, also told investigators that McStay, who owned a decorative water fountain business, planned to fire Merritt.
The men partnered in the business, which was started by McStay, and Merritt was hired to design the fountains, authorities said in the 305 pages of search warrants and affidavits filed in the case.
Investigators also found notes on the McStay homicide investigation and quotes “to do with remorse, forgiveness and murder” while serving a search warrant at Merritt’s home in October 2014, the documents show. The papers don’t detail what the quotes were.
Merritt has pleaded not guilty to murder charges involving McStay, 40; McStay’s wife, Summer, 43; 4-year-old son Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr. He was arrested last year.
A defense attorney, David Askander, did not immediately return a call.
Authorities in San Diego County, where the family lived, initially treated it as a missing persons investigation and were puzzled from the start.
They noted there were no signs of forced entry at the McStays’ home in Fallbrook and no evidence of a struggle.
The family’s Isuzu Trooper was found abandoned near the U.S.-Mexico border four days after they were last seen.
The investigation shifted after the family’s remains were found in 2013 in shallow desert graves in San Bernardino County, about 100 miles from their home.
The bodies had been buried with a rusty 3-pound sledgehammer and a child’s pants and diaper, authorities said.
Authorities said all four suffered blunt force trauma to the head, with Gianni receiving at least seven blows.
San Bernardino County investigators quickly honed in on Merritt as a suspect and executed more than 30 search warrants for taps on personal and business phones, surveillance and searches of his home, his ex-girlfriend’s home and a truck he’d once used.
Investigators also conducted an analysis of the McStays’ credit card accounts and seized several of Merritt’s electronic devices, including an old computer that his ex-girlfriend’s mother shipped to investigators from Arizona, where it had been in storage.
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