SAN DIEGO - Authorities Friday said human remains found in the Mojave Desert near Victorville this week belong to a Fallbrook couple who disappeared with their two young sons in February 2010.
A motorcyclist riding about 50 yards from a dirt road west of Interstate 15 on Monday morning found two shallow graves containing the skeletons of Joseph and Summer McStay and two children believed to be their sons, Gianni and Joseph Jr., San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.
Dental records confirmed the couple's identities, and detectives have concluded that all four were homicide victims, McMahon told reporters in a late-morning briefing. Authorities expected to identify the juvenile remains soon through DNA comparisons, he said.
The sheriff, whose agency has taken charge of investigations in the case, declined to disclose how the McStays might have been killed and said no suspects had been identified.
Law enforcement expert John Carman says the shallow graves the McStays were found in and their close proximity to a busy freeway tells him it was not a professional hit.
"If it was real important, they'd probably go deeper or do worse," said Carman. "They were in a hurry and once they're on 15, north or south they're out of there."
Rick Baker, the author of "No Goodbyes: The Mysterious Disappearance of the McStay Family," told 10News, "Did Joey have enemies? Maybe a couple. Were they the kind of enemy that would want to kill him? I didn't see that."
Baker says even his law enforcement sources close to the McStay case are keeping the details of their deaths close to the vest, but says one did tell him one thing that was done to one of the bodies.
"One of the bodies, either Summer or Joseph, their hands had been bound," he said.
Meantime, Baker told 10News he has pulled his book from Amazon.com and taken down his online blog.
"All of that was to find the McStays," he said. "It's strange for me. I'm almost in a grieving process. I always believed that there would be one day that I would meet at least one of them and be able to talk to them and see the kids."
Sheriff's investigators would not say what kind of clothing and other personal items were found inside the graves, but did say the evidence recovered will help complete the investigation.
The last known confirmed sighting of the family was on Feb. 4, 2010. The then-40-year-old husband, who owned a decorative-fountain company, his 43-year-old wife and their sons, ages 4 and 3, appeared to have left their Fallbrook home in haste, according to investigators.
Deputies found the family's two dogs at the house, and nothing inside suggested the couple and their children had gone on a vacation or other routine trip. A carton of eggs was left on a kitchen counter, according to sheriff's officials.
A few days earlier, the McStays' white Isuzu Trooper had turned up near the U.S.-Mexico line in San Ysidro with one of the boys' asthma medicine inside the SUV.
Among few possible pieces of evidence in the case was a blurry Feb. 8, 2010, video showing four people closely resembling the family walking across the international border into Baja California.
In response to a question at Friday morning's briefing about whether the family might have run afoul of a Mexican drug gang, McMahon said detectives had no solid theory about who might have killed the family.
"It's too early to tell whether it's cartel-related or any other suspects," he told news crews at San Bernardino County sheriff's headquarters. "We'll continue to work with San Diego (law enforcement). They provided us a couple of investigators we've been working with. But again, the investigation is early, and we have not had an opportunity to read all of their reports."
McMahon added that there also was "no information to suggest where they were killed at this point."
During the news conference, Joseph McStay's younger brother haltingly described getting a degree of closure along with the rest of his family from the discovery of their long-missing loved ones' remains.
"It's not really the outcome we were looking for, but it gives us courage to know that they're together and they're in a better place," Michael McStay said, his voice choked with grief.
Joseph McStay's father angry with handling of case
Patrick McStay, Joseph McStay's father, first confirmed with 10News Thursday that two of the bodies discovered in the Mojave Desert were of the couple.
On Friday, he told 10News, "It hasn't really sunk in because something in the back of my mind keeps saying, 'Gee, you may just get that call that says sorry we made a mistake, it's not them.' I keep that little glimmer of hope there, but then the other side of me is tapping me on the shoulder saying no, no, that's not it."
McStay said he has no faith in law enforcement and believes the San Diego County Sheriff's Department missed important clues in the investigation. He said he told sheriff's investigators about three people that could be connected to the disappearance of his son's family, but feels he was ignored.
"I've been consumed with knowing something happened to them. The San Diego Sheriff's Department is only doing whatever they felt they could do that would fit with their little theory and prove that they voluntarily walked away. The only thing you ever heard out of them or you ever saw was that," McStay said. "I have to hang on to the anger because the anger keeps me from cracking up … I think it hasn't really sunk in."
"All I've been screaming for was a thorough competent investigation. Take it out of their hands because they're corrupt and that's what I've been screaming. Four years I've been telling everybody," McStay added.
Detectives with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said they poured through hundreds of leads, but those leads let nowhere.
Now, memories are all he has left.
"If you could find one person on this earth that was better and more loved than my son Joey, I sure as hell would like to know who they are," McStay said.
"I want whoever did this to know… I will not let up. I will find you," he added. "I want you out there because I'm going to get you."
Patrick McStay told 10News that this coming Wednesday will be one of the hardest days of his life. It would have been Joseph's 44th birthday.
Sheriff's department responds to McStay father's criticism
Patrick McStay called the investigation into the disappearance "inept" and "incompetent."
On Friday, 10News reporter Michael Chen asked sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell, "He calls the sheriff's department 'incompetent.' How do you respond to that?"
"I think there's a lot of grief in that statement," said Caldwell.
Caldwell said detectives pursued every lead -- hundreds of them. Deputies said the evidence pointed to them leaving of their own free will, including a computer search for passports for children in Mexcio, along with the family's Izuzu Trooper left at the border. The family also owned property in Belize.
Shortly after the disappearance in 2010, Joseph McStay's brother took 10News inside the home. Summer McStay's prescription sunglasses were left behind and rotten eggs were left on the kitchen countertop.
The family dogs had been left without food or water.
John Carman, is a former San Diego Police Officer and has also worked for several federal agencies, told 10News, "That's a big mistake. How can somebody make a judgment like that when they left their house in the condition it was in?"
The McStay case is another high-profile investigation in which the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has felt the heat.
In the death of Rebecca Zahau, who was found nude and hanging inside a Coronado mansion in July 2011, family members questioned investigators' suicide conclusion.
In the kidnapping of Hannah Anderson in August 2013, deputies were criticized for not tracking down possible surveillance video.
In April 2013, the sheriff's department turned the case over to the FBI, but 10News was told they never stopped investigating and thought the FBI had better resources for an international search.
"We're a big department and we can take it. What I can say is these detectives are very good at what they do," said Caldwell.
- Family member says remains of Joseph and Summer McStay found near Victorville: http://bit.ly/19owwwQ
- Father of missing McStay dad speaks to 10News: http://bit.ly/1aXV9qH
- Shocking new theory about McStay family disappearance: http://bit.ly/18AOs8f
- SD Sheriff's Dept. hands over McStay family case to FBI: http://bit.ly/1dzlMjH
- Missing McStay family on America's Most Wanted: http://bit.ly/1iglFgr
- New clues uncovered in disappearance of McStay family: http://bit.ly/1e8ei89