In a dark twist to a mystery that has preoccupied the American media, police yesterday confirmed that four bodies found in shallow graves by a motorcyclist in the Californian desert were those of a young couple and their two small children, who vanished nearly four years ago.
The disappearance of the McStay family on February 4 2010 from their home in the middle-class San Diego suburb of Fallbrook has spawned books and documentaries after police entered the house to find bowls of popcorn in the living room and eggs, apparently about to be cooked, on a kitchen counter.
There had been speculation that Joseph McStay, 40, and his wife Summer, 43, had traveled to Mexico after the family’s locked and abandoned car was located four days after their disappearance in San Ysidro, a few hundred meters north of the border. Surveillance footage also appeared to show a family fitting their description walking into Mexico. But it now appears that they were murdered and buried in the desert.
The graves were discovered in the desert near Victorville, about 150 miles north of San Diego, on 11 November, after a motorcyclist reported seeing what he thought were human bones.
Two days later four sets of skeletal remains were dug up from two shallow graves. Dental records were used to identify the remains of Joseph McStay and his wife, and police said that DNA tests have confirmed the remaining bones to be those of Gianni McStay, aged four, and his three-year-old brother, Joseph (Giuseppe) Junior.
The coroner’s office has classified all four deaths as homicides, said the San Bernardino county sheriff, John McMahon, who added that the method by which the victims are believed to have been killed would not be released during the investigation.
According to the San Bernadino Sun, at least one set of remains taken from one of the grave sites had been bound with electric cord.
Earlier this year, speaking to CNN on the third anniversary of the family’s disappearance, former county sheriff’s department lieutenant Dennis Brugos, who led the original investigation into the McStays’ disappearance before retiring last year, said: “Nothing makes any kind of rational sense that you can put together.”