By Tom Blake
In 1986, I met Susan McStay in Texas while on a business trip. A long-distance relationship began between Dallas and San Rafael, California, where I lived.
She had two teenage boys: Mikey, who lived with her, and Joey, who lived with his dad, Patrick, in Houston. I nicknamed her “Spunky,” because that reflected her personality.
About a year later, Susan and Mikey moved to San Rafael to live with me. I had not met Joey. A few months later, Joey and Susan were talking on the phone. I got on the line, and said to Joey, “Someday, I hope to meet you,” having no idea when that would be.
Less than 24 hours later, Joey called his mom. “I’m at San Francisco Airport. Can you pick me up?” He had come to California without notice, entirely on his own. We now had a family of four.
Susan felt the people in Marin County weren’t as friendly as the people in Texas. Her boys kept telling me they wanted to live in “SoCal,” where they could surf. I was ready for a location change as well.
In my business travels, I often flew to Orange County. I recall in February 1987 getting off a plane. The temperature was 76 degrees at John Wayne Airport. I thought, wow, mighty nice. I stopped to see the Mission in San Juan Capistrano.
I found a new home in Laguna Niguel and decided to buy it. I called Spunky and said: “Pack your bags. I bought a home a mile from the ocean. I’m putting the San Rafael home on the market.”
We moved our belongings in a U-Haul truck with me driving, and Mikey and dog Kira in the cab. Following behind, in a Mercury Cougar, were Joey, Susan and dog Amy Lou.
A few weeks later, Spunky and I married at the courthouse in Santa Ana. Our celebratory lunch that day was at Polly’s Pies in Laguna Hills.
Joey and Mikey graduated from Dana Hills High School. In 1988, I opened Tutor and Spunky’s Deli in Dana Point. Mikey worked there briefly. Joey part-timed at Costco in Capistrano Beach.
We moved again, this time to Monarch Beach, even closer to the ocean so the boys could walk to Salt Creek Beach to surf.
In 1994, Susan and I divorced. She was close to her boys. She once said to me, “Blood is thicker than water.” She and the boys moved to San Clemente.
In 1998, I met Greta. In 2001, I leased my Dana Point home and moved to San Clemente to live with Greta. From time to time, we’d see one or more of the McStays around town. I recall Greta and me seeing Joey and his family at Sonny’s Pizza & Pasta.
On Feb. 4, 2010, Joey, his new wife, Summer, and their sons, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, went missing from their Fallbrook home. Five days later, their car was found abandoned in a parking lot near the Mexican border, giving an impression that their disappearance may have been voluntary.
People and authorities were baffled; I sure was. That wasn’t the Joey that I had helped raise, albeit for just five years.
Things didn’t add up. Food had been left on the table, their beloved dogs were left without food or water and there was $80,000 in a bank account.
I recall naively thinking perhaps Joey would call me one day and say, “Hey, Tom, can you come down to the border to pick us up? We want to come home.”
The mystery of the family’s whereabouts lasted nearly four years. On Nov. 11 (my birthday) 2013, an off-road motorcyclist noticed human bones in the desert near Victorville, CA, and notified authorities. The four McStay bodies were found buried in two graves.
Mikey called me: “They’re all gone,” he said. It was surreal. I couldn’t grasp it.
A year later on Nov. 5, 2014, Chase Merritt, a business partner of Joey’s, was arrested on suspicion of murdering the family.
On Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, I received a phone call from Mikey. We hadn’t talked in a year. We chatted for 40 minutes. He told me the trial was finally beginning on Monday, Jan. 7 and early on, he and Susan would both be called to testify.
Mikey said he and his new wife, Gaylan, live in the North Beach area of San Clemente, near the McStay Memorial Bench, which is on a bluff overlooking the ocean, at 1407 Buena Vista. I was pleased he called.
And now that the trial has started, the McStay family case is back in the news. I’ve heard it mentioned on KNX radio and KFI (San Diego). I’ve read about it in the Los Angeles Times, and it’s even on YouTube. I’ve seen it on the evening news.
Now, we can only wait to see how the trial turns out. There are so many unanswered questions. Mikey, Susan and Summer’s family deserve closure. They’ve waited nine years.
Tom Blake is a Dana Point resident and a former Dana Point businessman who has authored several books on middle-aged dating. See his websites www.findingloveafter50.com; www.vicsta.com and www.travelafter55.com. To receive Tom’s weekly online newsletter, sign up at www.findingloveafter50.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.