What Happened to the McStay Family?

The McStay family went missing from their home in Falbrook, CA, in February of 2010. Joseph McStay, 40, and his wife Summer, 43, apparently left home in their Isuzu Trooper on the night of February 4 with their two children–Gianni, 4, and Joseph, Jr., 3. Aside from a call Joseph made to one of his co-workers that night, the family has never been heard from again.

There was no sign of forced entry or struggle at the home, which the family had only recently moved into. On February 8, the Trooper was towed from a strip mall parking lot within walking distance of a pedestrian crossing into Mexico. The police scoured video footage from the crossing that night, and concluded that one group of people walking across the border–a man holding the hand of a small boy, followed by a woman holding the hand of another small boy–could very well have been the McStay family. The woman is wearing boots and jackets similar to ones owned by Summer, but family members say the man is too tall and thin to be Jospeh McStay.

While detectives believe the family may have willingly traveled to Mexico–based in part upon an internet search conducted at the home about children visiting Mexico–the fact that they did not return seems to indicate foul play. The family left $40,000 in their personal checking and savings accounts, money which has not been accessed since their disappearance. Joseph also had $65,000 in a business account, and the small withdrawals that have been made from that account are business expense withdrawals conducted by employees. The McStays maintained close relationships with Joseph’s parents, his brother, and Summer’s sister, and Joseph was also very close to his 14-year-old son by a previous marriage. Family members insist they would never abandon their loved ones intentionally. They also left behind two dogs, beloved family pets.

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Joseph’s brother Mike maintains a website with information and updates. Anyone with information about the case is being urged to call deputies at 858-974-2321 or 858-565-5200 after-hours. Tips can also be called in anonymously to CrimeStoppers at 888-580-TIPS(8477).

Their story was featured in May on Vanished with Beth Holloway. View the episode here. Joseph’s youtube channel, last updated in January of 2010, includes cute family videos of the kids experimenting in the kitchen while the parents look on encouragingly, among other ordinary family happenings. The impression one gets in the videos is of a loving, ordinary family–certainly not parents who plan to abandon their lives, bank accounts, and home for a new start South-of-the border.

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Read about Michaela Joy Garecht, missing for 25 years, last seen in Hayward, California. 

Visit the McStay family website here.

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Sans Serif is the blog of author Michelle Richmond.

40 thoughts on “What Happened to the McStay Family?

  1. Is it possible for some experts possibly FBI to age the photos of the family so we can have a
    Better understanding of how they may look like 2yrs later

  2. My theories….

    A. The parents were caught in some shady offer to help identify some criminals (or else be charged with a crime) who were laundering money(connections obtained through their career(s)), but, in doing so, ended up getting screwed over by the very people who promised to keep their identity quiet. Hence, why they didn’t withdraw money or contact their family before suddenly disappearing.

    B. The parents were involved in some shady deals and the people they invited into their homes ended up being some very bad hombres who bumped the parents off but abducted the children to live with a new family.

    C. Either one or both of the parents felt completely alienated by living in the U.S. and, rather than explain themselves and hurt the feelings of their relatives, just disappeared to live out their version of how life should be lived. Not touching the cash left in the bank account? Just in case they changed their minds.

    These are some pretty damn good theories….

  3. I know this has probably already been done or thought of but have you not considered getting a psychic or spiritualist involved in the investigation I know that the FBI have used them before

  4. I blogged somewhat extensively on this family and articulated several theories as to what happened. I do believe they are all alive (happy to say that). The version you apparently encountered–and this is the one I encountered at first–is of an average middle class American family “mysteriously” disappearing. It’s not really the case.

    A few facts of which you might not be aware: The McStays owned land in South America. They were making computer queries for passport requirements into Mexico on their computer (despite S.M.’s pronouncement she would never go there). Joseph McStay’s father, Patrick McStay, with whom both J.M. and S.M. shared a business, was extradited on federal charges from the state of Texas to Louisiana.

    J.M.’s business partner alleges he could have been carrying at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash on him. And they left when the economy was seriously tanking. If nothing else, these facts gave me a much different take on what really happened to the McStays, who I am convinced left willingly. I do believe that’s J.M. on the videotape. He had shaved his head so his profile looked different. People can appear “thinner” or “taller” on cheap, grainy surveillance video because of distortions.

    Those boots she was wearing are not that common. Even with the ridiculous number of people who cross that border. And the kids’ distinctive headgear.

    One last mote to trouble the mind: the reward for finding the McStays has stayed at a ridiculously low figure for years. Despite the fact that the family has undoubtedly received millions of dollars at this point and continues to collect money. I’ve never heard of a “reward” that low. For a family of four. Totally suspicious or totally embarrassing. Take your pick.

  5. And what about the wife? Her name isn’t “Summer”–she was born Lisa Aronda and has used several aliases since. I think she is the key to the mystery and I wouln’t be surprised if she were some kind of grifter. why else would you keep changing your name and moving? Either they left because she needed to run again or the two of them stole big bucks and had to leave.

    They’ve been spotted several times in Mexico. They could have been robbed/killed by federalis. While it is normal for American expats to retire there, a family of four should really stand out. I agree increasing the reward money would probably flush them out, esp in a poor country.

  6. Not to sound judgmental, but the family exuded a 1960s hippie like quality in terms of their appearance and lifestyle. (Of course, this being the 2010s decade, they nevertheless maintained the upper middle class lifestyle that was rejected by their counterparts nearly fifty years ago). With the car being abandoned near the Mexican border, I am suspecting some sort of shady drug related deal. I saw a program about this case, and they interviewed Joseph’s business partner. I read more about him, and it looked as if he was not leading the type of lavish lifestyle that Joseph had been leading. While their business was doing well enough, the stark differences in lifestyles between Joseph and his partner indicate to me that the McStays were earning extra money in some other manner. The program was also not especially flattering of Summer McStay, who was more or less depicted as an ambitious and class conscious Southern California wife who shut out Joseph’s family from his first marriage (including his son) and even his mother whom Summer dismissed as not being “one of the four”, that is, the McStays and their two sons. I hate to say this, but I think Summer persuaded her husband to engage in some murky dealings, and the family paid dearly in some way. Their bodies are probably somewhere in Mexico, where Americans are murdered almost every other week, and the authorities make no attempt to apprehend the criminals nor locate the victims.

  7. I watched the E Invistigation Special on the McStay Family and I truly believe something happened to the family, and I believe the kids are still alive but the parents are not. I really hope this isn’t true and that the family can be brought back safe and sound with their childrem.

  8. My Theory from seeing the show once & reading this website. Someone armed entered the house & forced the family to leave at gunpoint, later killing them in the U.S. & dumping their bodies which have yet to be found (they will be found!). Later the killer drove to the border & walked accross back to Mexico, never to be seen again! Probably the killer was able to get whatever cash they had in the house. Maybe even it was the wife with a male accomplice. the man seen crossing the border with her & the kids.

  9. I must say that my husband and I sometimes talk about the McStay Family. Every couple of months, I say to him, “hmmm so whatever really did happen to the McStay family” It really seems that they they left willingly, but why? Hopefully some day, we’ll all find out, but until then I truly hope that they’re all alive and happy.

  10. Ms. Aranda/Summer Mcstay had several minor arrests, including one for child neglect in Calif. Also, a female with her name, Lisa Aranda, had been involved in a suit while a patient at a midwestern psychiatric hospital. And the McStay family (father Patrick and others) have been involved in what appears to be mortgage fraud. Quite a lot of baggage there.


  12. I really do hope they are alive and well somewhere,But this has sure never looked good to me. If they did vanish on purpose,it must be heartbreaking for both sides:( also if the parents were involved in certain things, it’s sad the children pay for it also.

  13. yo pienso que la familia McStay salió a comprar algunas cosas en oferta para la remodelación de su casa y pudieron haber sido interceptados por alguien mas, razón por la cual dejaron su vehículo en la frontera

  14. Shame on some of you posting here. Saying vicious hurtful and mean things about a family gone missing. The families read these postings and websites praying for a lead or an answer. God help you that you never have to experience what they are and have been going through for over two years.

    Sharing a theory is fine but to attack the character of the victims is just wrong. Unless you have something that can be documented or proven as a fact keep it to yourself.

    I pray the family finds the answer to this soon and that all 4 are safe.

  15. My opinion it’s all about looking at facts. My theory is they were planning to adopt a Mexican child. This explains why they were researching taking children across the boarder and why summer looked into learning Spanish. They were instructed to wait for a signal which they got that day they left they left in a hurry with the intention of being back home very soon. There was some delay on the way there. The toys found in the area were bought for the new addition. The mcstays relatives did not know about the adoption as they wanted it to be a surprise.
    When all was clear they parked the car and crossed the boarder with the intention of only being a couple of hours however something went wrong once they got there. Could be it was all a scam, money, something g illegal who knows but that’s where it ended they knew too much or upset someone.
    It’s common sense that this family had good intentions but got caught in the middle of bad Mexicans.
    Why take the children? Maybe they had to they wanted to meet the whole family or maybe they wanted it to be happpy and all get the new addition together.
    I would look into the missing painter, any business employees or clients of Mexican decent.

  16. My question is why hasn’t the family paid for a private detective(skip tracer) to follow the leads to find their loved ones. Also, why are they not looking at the wife/mother… who is she, why is she changing her name and age… my theory is that she is running from someone, and they found her. The day they went missing, J.M met with someone at a Chick Fillet… Could that person be the one that his wife was running from? Follow her, where is her family, where is she from… is that where they are headed (Mexico, Costa Rica, or to South America) where they McFay family owns land?

  17. My first thought was the parents came across foul play somehow and whoever was involved staged entering mexico with the kids …..

  18. a private detective would be a great idea – maybe they have and we just don’t know about it – but they could dig around a lot more than the police and may hit fewer road blocks and be a bit more aggressive – I know the police have followed the leads and kept the case active – but still feel that they don’t dig far enough into the leads – there are too many questions that have not been asked like the car showing up at the mall four days after they left their home – hello – doesn’t look like a voluntary entrance into Mexico at this point – too many questions like who got out of the car at the mall at the border – what did they do after they got out of the car – did they get into another car that was already there for them somewhere else that may not have stood out to anyone? – did they go into the mall and if so where did they go and did they meet with anyone? the car didn’t drive itself to the mall – weren’t there other businesses around the entrance of the mall that may have had footage around the entrance of the mall that may have been able to capture the car? strong gang activity in the area where Joseph McStay met Chase Merritt – in Jan 2012 a big raid of gang and injunction in the area where the business associate’s met – didn’t Summer have connections to that area from her past? have they thoroughly researched her past? nothing too sinister about the name changes – but patterns may help provide clues for now – where is Chase Merritt now? did Joseph know too much and that was the reason for his face to face with Chase Merritt? nothing odd about Summer trying to save money by shopping on craigslist – she was trying to make the home nice for her family – Target and Walmart may have been safer choices – or even Pawn Shops – have the police checked any pawn shops for any Jewelry sold around the time of their disappearance? maybe the police have looked at this and not released it – but the feeling I get is that though they seem to care and be interested – they don’t seem to be digging as far as they should be – there may be clues right at the house that they may have missed by too easily terming it voluntary – how thoroughly have they checked the backyard for clues? do they know if Summer had two pairs of glasses? didn’t someone say a pair of her ugg boots was left on their door step? I hope they are alive and well – and if they are they should let their family know they are ok – but think that this is something that definitely smells of foul play that caught them by surprise – and I have seen neighbors in my complex not set up their furniture until after having been there for a couple of months so it’s not that odd what they were doing

  19. I think mental illness has played a part in their disapearance. They were seen by an american woman @ a Walmart in Mexico ?
    Thoughts anyone?

  20. I just watched the story of the McStays on the Discovery Channel and my heart goes out to all of their family and friends. I am sure that the detectives covered this, but I am just wondering if all of the people who were working on the house (flooring, installing, movers) were thoroughly questioned/polygraphed. These were people who were in the house on a regular basis (no forced entry), had access to the computer and the family probably trusted them. They could have forced the family into the car or threatened them…Perhaps they made them go into Mexico to pick up drugs, money, etc and it went badly. I hope this is not the case but if it is, I hope the family is found and the criminals brought to justice. The McStays and all those who are missing are in my prayers.

  21. Really strange story but 2 things I think are really key. 1st off though Summer changing her name & age are extremely common in the US especially CA & NY so in Cnno big red flag there. However, most people I know who own land in Costa Rica or Belize have plans of living down there permanently. I don’t think the McStays were as close with Joe’s Mom or with Summer’s sister as the family now claims.
    I do think that they like Joe’s Dad had businesses with other people (including the senior McStay) and had the means to live out their lives in Central America for good without being found & brought back by their family & friends in the US. Sad but true. These people are fine & living the life they want to live. It is sad they couldn’t have been honest with their friends & family about it.

  22. I think the truth about the family will come out when the kids get older. Joseph’s birthmark on his forehead is something everyone would remember. If I saw a child with a prominent birthmark, then saw a poster of him, I would remember exactly where I saw him. He can only wear beanies of for so long. As the kids get older, they will ask a lot of questions and someone will recognize them. I don’t think it will happen any time soon though. Everyone has secrets…even the most normal, seemingly stable families. This family had a huge secret that they’ve managed to hide from everyone.

  23. are you kidding? he/she was involved in shady activity, took off with a bunch of cash and is most likey in costa rica. didn’t they say he was in to surfing? definitely alive and took off with a bunch of cash.
    the money was left behind on purpose, to keep people thinking.

  24. I keep looking at the video of the border crossing and i just don’t see these people as being the McStay family. The first guy is tall and has very thin legs. His hair is short and cut and does not look anything like Joseph McStays. The second person looks like a guy. He has very short hair and walks like a man. The kids could be the McStay kids tho. Have the police checked to see if any Mexican workers helped the McStays with work done in their new house. A lot of Mexican workers hang out around the stores asking for work. Americans know that they don’t charge a lot and it’s under the table. A lot of them speak and write English and are computer savvy. They could have been the ones using the computer for passport information for the kids. I just don’t think that Joseph and Summer would leave everything that they worked for. They looked very happy together. The truck was found close to the border crossing. I think that the parents were murdered and the kids were taken to Mexico. Being originally from California, I know anything can happen when it comes to drugs and money.

  25. I saw on the internet they were talking about a sighting of the children but it was discounted because it wasn’t the parents. What if the parents met with foul play but the kids have ended up with a new mommy and daddy. I would be checking every possible sighting and motive, no matter how small. I wonder now though what was the signifigance of the last known cell tower, did they know someone in this area. How did they pay for the toys found in their car? Did they owe someone money, did someone think they had money just from their behaviour? Did they have enemies from their previous life, the house they came from? I also read Summer had changed her name, who was she hiding from? Goodluck with looking for these beautiful people.

  26. If you are going to disappear on purpose, you wouldn’t leave $100,000 plus in your bank account like they did. Sadly, I believe that this is foul play. Very sad.

  27. I watched the show last night on E. Investigates and i can not stop thinking about this family. This story is mysterious everything that happened seems to be odd. I dont think this family would just get up and leave without saying anything. My thoughts are that there dissaperance has to do with the mom due to the family finding out that her name was fake and has had several name changes. Ive also watched the video from the border and I do believe that, that is the McStay family . My thoughts and prayers are with this family. Hope they find closure soon.

  28. Well of course we all speculating with lack of much knowledge. The facts known can point to numerous scenarios. But some things are particularly odd–1:routine phone call one hour after the car left the house. -2: four days later car left in lot. -3: strange background of mom. I’d like to know a couple more things: what are the odds of young family crossing border with two toddlers? What were the text messages to the mom, what was her background?

  29. I’ve read some forums, not newspapers about this story. My two cents: they have deal with someone that was dangerous but they have find out too late, only when the were too much involved. They go to police/fbi to be protected and autorithy have arranged a fake missing story to allowe mr & mrs to testify to a trial. Fake escape from home, fake border trapassing. The family is hidden somewhere and will returned at the end of this story. Is weird, to me, that local police statements are so “mmmmumbling” . (excuse my poor english)

  30. I have been reading the news about Israel Keyes. He is a serial killer who traveled across the united states Canada and Mexico. In Vermont, He kidnapped a family from their house in their vehicle. Left no evidence and their bodies were never found. There is a list of where he traveled during different times and the list show. Western US in Feb. 2010. Ihope the mcstay are alive but I believe we would have found something by now.

  31. I see an awful lot of bizarre theories here and everywhere else.

    The police have determined that the car was not driven to it’s found location by anyone other than the McStays,,,,,and it appears that IF the family unit crossing the border ARE the McStays, they went willingly and alone. There was a search on their computer about going to Mexico.

    We’re looking for zebras instead of horses when we come up with bizarre theories. The simplest is usually true.

    I think they went across the border to have dinner or do some shopping, fully expecting to return in a few hours.

    In Mexico, they met with some trouble and were murdered.

    Their beloved family dogs were left with no food and water,,,,,,fruits and veggies were left on the counter,,,,,,they didn’t expect to be gone long is the only explanation.

    They have never taken any money out of their bank accounts (and there was plenty of it). They are no longer alive,,,,,,,they were not kidnapped and robbed, or for sure they would have taken out money.

    There seems to be only one reasonable explanation,,,,,,,they crossed the border, fully expecting to be home within hours, and were murdered in Mexico,,,,,,,,,unfortunately, the Mexican government isn’t being much help.

    Unfortunate, but I really don’t see any huge mystery other than where their bodies are.

  32. @Holly:

    They couldn’t come back cause the kids didn’t have their passposrt and same for Summer so they had no intention to come back for sure IF they are the ones caught on the camera border.

    My theory:

    The neighbour cam cought their truck leaving their driveway with a car following in the back. So someone killed the couple, disposed of the bodies somewere very well hidden, took their clothes, kinapped the kids, stayed for a while in the US which would explain the inactivity in their bank account, credit/debit card, the dogs left in the yard, the fact that they leave in a hurry and it might explain a couple crossing the Mexico border (the kidnappers could wear their clothes to ressemble to them) and which would explain the fact they didn’t find the matching of the fingerprints on the map found in a Mexican restaurant. Well it’s my theory… I hope it’s not that and i hope with all my heart that they are all safe and doing good.

  33. Holly, I thought the same way you did for a while. The only problem with the border crossing thing is that they were missing for four days before their car turned up at the border. That’s the part that stumps me.

  34. The entire story or case has so many things to list that could have happened. They have some kind of connections to Mexico or they would not have been looking it up on the computer. OR, someone could have broken into their home and caught them off guard and that could be ther reason for all of the food left out and the dogs just thrown outside,. As for the other car caught on the neighbor’s camara there could have been more than one person. Could someone have been in the car with the McStays and someone else in th car behind them?Perhaps it was someone that they knew. No one has really filled us in on his business and what kind of business it was and how he got along with his employees and customers. That is alot of ground to cover. With the 85,000 dollars left in his business account, why is the staff still being allowed to use this account? Why haven’t these funds been frozen since there has not been any activity? Were there any large deals being made that could have had some controversy attached to them? Could he have had some any disgruntled employees or customers?

  35. My gut feeling is that Joseph is dead and Summer and the kids are alive. I think that’s why it didn’t look like him crossing the border. I think that’s also why the McStays fingerprints weren’t found on the map left in the restaurant where the waiter said he was sure it was them. If only the man handled the map maybe the waiter got it wrong and because he recognised Summer and the children he assumed it was Joseph. Did the police find out who the fingerprints on the map did belong to?
    It’s not normal to keep changing your name and I believe there were more sinister motives behind that.

  36. Summer was a good person. She could see that her husband had a sweet and laid back nature. She was trying to protect him from his business associates who wanted to manipulate him. I also think the person who committed this crime is trying to paint Summer as the villain.

  37. @John

    Well if there is any truth to claims Joseph thought Summer was poisoning him (which several of his friends thought and was revealed by C. Merritt) then the plot certainly thickens doesn’t it?

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