Arrest in slayings of California family

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Police Identify, Arrest Suspect In Murder Of McStay Family

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) - A business associate was arrested in the murders of a family of four, including two young boys, whose disappearance from their San Diego County home in 2010 was a mystery until their remains were discovered in graves in the California desert last year, officials said Friday.

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon identified the suspect as Charles Merritt, 57, who was due in court later in the day to face four counts of murder.

The lengthy investigation revealed that Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their sons, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph, were killed in their home in Fallbrook and all were victims of blunt-force trauma, the sheriff said.

Authorities refused to discuss a motive or any details of how the family was killed or evidence found at the home or the shallow desert gravesite.

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McStay family murder suspect arrested Merritt
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Arrest in slayings of California family
FILE - This undated file image provided by the San Diego Police Department shows members of the McStay family whose abandoned SUV was found near the Mexico border near San Diego. Authorities say they will release new information Friday, Nov. 7, 2014 in the murder investigation of the family of four whose bodies were found in shallow graves late last year. (AP Photo/San Diego Police Department, File)
FILE - This photo provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department shows shows Gianni McStay. Officials have confirmed that bones found at a Southern California desert gravesite are those of two boys whose parents also were buried there. San Bernardino County coroner's officials report Friday that the state DNA lab confirmed the identities of Gianni McStay and Joseph McStay. (AP Photo/San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, file)
FILE - This photo provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department shows Joseph Mateo McStay. Officials have confirmed that bones found at a Southern California desert gravesite are those of two boys whose parents also were buried there. San Bernardino County coroner's officials report Friday that the state DNA lab confirmed the identities of Gianni McStay and Joseph McStay. (AP Photo/San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, File)
The former home of Joseph McStay and his family is seen Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in Fallbrook, Calif. Human remains found this week in the Southern California desert are believed to be that of McStay, his wife, and two children, who disappeared more than three years ago, and their deaths appear to be homicides, authorities said Friday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Two shallow graves are seen at the site on the outskirts of Victorville that contained the skeletal remains of members of missing McStay family on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in San Bernardino, Calif. San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon confirmed Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife, Summer, were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert this week. The couple and their two sons disappeared in February 2010. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
This photo display at a press conference at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department headquarters in San Bernadino, Calif., shows Joseph and Summer McStay, and their children Gianni and Joseph Mateo who went missing in 2010 from their San Diego home. The San Bernardino County Sheriff said Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, that the family's skeletal remains were found buried in the desert about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles earlier this week. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
The workers fill the two shallow graves at the site on the outskirts of Victorville that contained the skeletal remains of members of missing McStay family on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in San Bernardino, Calif. San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon confirmed Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife, Summer, were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert this week. The couple and their two sons disappeared in February 2010. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Michael McStay speaks in a news conference at San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Head Quarter on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in San Bernardino, Calif. San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon confirmed Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife, Summer, were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert this week. The couple and their two sons disappeared in February 2010. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Rick Sforza, photographer of Desert Sun, takes pictures at the site on the outskirts of Victorville that contained the skeletal remains of members of missing McStay family on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in San Bernardino, Calif. San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon confirmed Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife, Summer, were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert this week. The couple and their two sons disappeared in February 2010. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department Custody Specialist Ray Lovell keep watches as the workers fill the two shallow graves at the site on the outskirts of Victorville that contained the skeletal remains of members of missing McStay family on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in San Bernardino, Calif. San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon confirmed Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife, Summer, were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert this week. The couple and their two sons disappeared in February 2010. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon, left, looks on as Michael McStay, brother of Joseph McStay, speaks in news conference at San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Headquarters on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in San Bernadino, Calif. McMahon confirmed that Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife, Summer, were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert this week. The couple and their two sons disappeared in February 2010. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Susan McStay, mother of Joseph McStay, left, and friend of victims' family, Emily, whose last name was not given, listen during a news conference at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Headquarters on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in San Bernardino, Calif. San Bernardino County Sheriff Edward J. McMahon confirmed Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife, Summer, were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert this week. The couple and their two sons disappeared in February 2010.(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
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"Our job is to look at everyone and eliminate who we could and see where this was going to take us and it led us to him," San Bernardino sheriff's Sgt. Chris Fisher said of Merritt.

Joseph McStay had a business designing and installing home water features. Investigators said he had asked Merritt to design some special waterfalls and the two met at a restaurant on the day the family is believed to have been killed.

Merritt's name surfaced previously in the investigation. In 2011 it was reported that Joseph McStay's last cellphone conversation was with Merritt.

The couple and their boys vanished in February 2010 from Fallbrook.

A year ago, their skeletons were found in the desert outside Victorville. The site was not far from heavily traveled Interstate 15, which connects San Diego and Las Vegas.

Investigators said there were no signs of forced entry at the family's home or in their SUV, which was found parked near the U.S.-Mexico border. Nothing was missing from the home, and the couple's credit cards and tens of thousands of dollars in bank accounts never were touched.

Investigators in San Diego County, who had the case until the bodies were found in San Bernardino County, previously said it appeared the family fled the home at a moment's notice, with eggs on the counter and bowls of popcorn in the home.

Fisher said detectives now believe the family was killed in the home.

A grainy surveillance video that investigators thought might have shown the McStays walking across the border into Mexico is not the family and is not related to the case, he said.

Investigators in San Bernardino County found evidence with the bodies that helped them solve the case but stressed there was no smoking gun. Merritt was one of the associates that San Diego investigators had looked at and his name was passed along to San Bernardino County investigators when they took over the case, Fisher said.

Over the course of the investigation they interviewed Merritt several times and tracked him as he moved to different locations around Southern California, but the case was primarily built by reviewing the San Diego County investigation and re-interviewing hundreds of people.

McMahon said his team reviewed 4,500 pages of material from San Diego County, served 60 warrants, got 250 tips and did 200 interviews.

Merritt was arrested Wednesday in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles.

Fisher said Merritt has previous felony convictions and has served time in state prison.

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