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Authorities Say Fallbrook Murder Suspect Owed Victim Money

Clockwise from top left, Joseph McStay, Summer McStay, Joseph Mateo McStay and Gianni McStay.
Photos via mcstayfamily.org
Clockwise from top left, Joseph McStay, Summer McStay, Joseph Mateo McStay and Gianni McStay.

This booking photo released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department shows Charles "Chase" Merritt, 57. Merritt was arrested Nov. 5, 2014.
Associated Press
This booking photo released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department shows Charles "Chase" Merritt, 57. Merritt was arrested Nov. 5, 2014.

A Fallbrook man charged with murder in the killing of his business partner and the partner's family owed $30,000 to the victim, who planned to fire him, authorities said in court records released Wednesday.

The newly unsealed documents show San Bernardino County Sheriff's investigators learned that victim Joseph McStay lent defendant Charles "Chase" Merritt money to cover a gambling debt before McStay and his family disappeared in February 2010.

A third business associate, Daniel Kavanaugh, also told investigators that McStay, who owned a water features business, was planning to fire Merritt, authorities said in 305 pages of search warrants and affidavits filed in the case.

Investigators also found 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.

The records show how San Bernardino County investigators honed in on Merritt as a suspect after the family's remains were found in 2013 in shallow desert graves about 100 miles from their San Diego County home.

Merritt has pleaded not guilty to the murders of McStay; McStay's wife, Summer, 43; 4-year-old son Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr. He was arrested last year.

The case initially puzzled investigators and for months it was considered a missing persons investigation. Authorities noted there were no signs of forced entry at the McStay home.

Authorities found the victims' remains along with a rusty 3-pound sledgehammer and a child's pants and diaper in San Bernardino County. Authorities said all four suffered blunt force trauma to the head, with Gianni receiving at least seven blows.

Detectives questioned Merritt two days after a missing persons report was filed, and noticed he referred to McStay in the past tense.