Monday, April 16, 2012

The McStay Family Disappearance (Pre-Discovery Post)

POSTSCRIPT: Obviously, this post was made before the discovery of the bodies of this family, which came as such a horrible shock and grievous "end" to this story. I qualify this idea of ending, because there won't be a true end to this story until the perpetrator(s) is/are apprehended and justice is meted out. And I'm glad that will be in a state with the death penalty in place. I'll leave this earlier post (written while the family's disappearance was still wholly unexplained) as it was for the sake of the particulars and information it contains, even though the speculation therein was proven wrong.

I was fielding comments tonight from people who are just discovering the modern Marie Celeste, the disappearance of the McStay family.

I am convinced they are alive and that they disappeared willingly.

This disappearance has made a bunch of people (and not just the "undisappeared" parts of the McStay family) a ridiculous amount of money at this point. Who knew disappearing is now such a cash cow. I guess it helps if you're a cute family and not just a troubled loner.

And yet. Did you see how PATHETICALLY LOW the REWARD is for the entire missing family?

If that alone doesn't make you skeptical, you must be a pretty broadminded person.

I worked through a variety of theories for the disappearance of this family but found myself ultimately rejecting the most widely held beliefs. I don't believe they're in Witness Protection. I don't believe they were murdered. I don't believe they went down to Mexico that night (and took their children) to make a shady deal that went horribly wrong.

The biggest misconception about these people seems to be that they had limited resources and that they are your average middle class American family. Wrong and wrong. They owned land in South America. Joseph McStay's business got some hugely lucrative contracts right before our economy tanked. Yes, they had declared bankruptcy. But that doesn't mean they didn't have a shitload of cash at their disposal. Even his mother stated how great Joseph was at bankrolling.

Why they disappeared is almost irrelevant if you believe they disappeared willingly and haven't engaged in criminal activity that would warrant their extradition from whatever country they now call home (unless they're back in America, which seems improbable).

If I had to guess which of the various theories I entertained I think is the real reason they vanished, I would stick with the mental illness hypothesis. I believe Summer McStay suffers from mental illness, probably borderline personality disorder. She has exhibited behavior which many think is indicative of criminality. But almost all her erratic behavior (and even her many name changes) is also consistent with mental illness and especially borderline personality disorder. BPD sufferers will often disappear out of the lives of loved ones with no explanation, and they sometimes won't talk to these people for years. They go through phases where they demonize people, even people who have done nothing wrong to them. Perception is reality and for these people it's so much more true.

Anyway, I wanted to share this video about people disappearing in today's climate of hypervigilant monitoring. Just because I found it interesting. I don't believe the McStays are in America. I seriously doubt Mexico was their final destination. I think they initially planned to settle somewhere in South America. I'm sure they didn't count on their story being one of the biggest international media sensations of the twenty-first century.

I'm guessing they've since moved on to Europe or somewhere outside of our hemisphere.

It probably won't help. They will probably eventually be found. Because I get searches on this blog for them every day from not only all overseas anglophone countries, but even most countries where English is not spoken. I get regular searches for them from different African countries. It's so strange which stories end up fascinating the entire world. It's really due to the way a mystery is created, and this is often done by a misrepresentation of facts. This is why P.T. Barnum was so successful and why we still know his name. This is why people believe there is such a phenomenon as "The Bermuda Triangle." Because of the power of misrepresentation. I think we're all gawking at another "Fiji Mermaid."

But I think all four of them are alive and well, if feeling a bit harried and pursued by Furies at this point.

A FINAL NOTE ABOUT THIS VIDEO: This isn't your typical journalistic presentation. The "extreme art" erudition displayed here is wonderful and I love the way the speaker begins this discussion on the paradoxes of privacy with a discursive foray into the world of meta-art, paranoid art and art that does various riffs on privacy-- ranging from "pulling a Cravan" to enacting various self-crucifixions. This is wonderful stuff. Wonderful writing that happens to be spoken rather than written.

It's weird how the same stories obsess us all. Probably the second-most read post on this blog is the one about Lee Cutler. And that ties in to the tragedy of Christopher McCandless. It was that book about McCandless's strange and final journey, Into the Wild, which so infected Lee Cutler with the idea of just taking off, vacating one's life. I had the thought before the interviewer even spoke it when he put up the last photo of McCandless. Why on earth are you taking a picture of yourself smiling when you've nearly starved to death in the wilderness and went there for no discernible earthly reason. He was living out of an abandoned school bus in the Alaskan wild. Amazing Werner Herzog didn't follow the smell of death to that story. Or maybe I just missed that one?

And when the WIRED writer began talking about people who faked their deaths, I knew instantly which stories he was going to mention. The spoiled brat who embezzled millions and then put a plane he was flying on auto-pilot and parchuted out (endangering who knows how many) after sending a fake distress signal was the first story that came to mind. Investigation Discovery has shows that cover all these stories. That one has appeared in more than one incaration. I have to admit I totally disbelieved his wife on the episode of Who the BLEEP Did I Marry? She should be very grateful all those charges were dropped and the public bought her innocent act. But for anyone who studies voice stress, you know when someone's giving you a line of hooey like she does on that show.


  1. I'm a private investigator from Australia. My opinion and theory after reading and watching on the mcstays is that something went wrong on the boarder.
    I believe the mcstays were going to adopt a child from Mexico through some shady people which they didn't know at the time. Summer wanting to know Spanish and the research on the computer about children and Mexico adds up to this theory. On the day they left it was because they were awaiting a call to give them the all clear they must have got a call or message to come straight away which prompted them to leave suddenly. There was toys purchased in the car boot which indicates summer wanted to buy some new toys for the new addition. They did not tell their family as it was to be a surprise.
    They left the car and house in a state which clearly indicates they had every intention of returning and it wouldn't take long for them to pick up the new child. The whole family went as there was probably some reason like the mexican family wanted to meet everyone or they wanted to make it a family adventure for the boys to meet their new sibling together.
    They crossed the boarder with no bags or items and with the car location they planned on crossing back that night however once they got across something went wrong and the plan turned bad.
    Maybe they needed the money upfront, the mcstays felt something and questioned it, it was a ploy to get the boys and sell them who knows but that was the mcstays intention. What happened after them crossing was not planned. I believe the parent are most likely dead. What was supposed to be happy turned bad.

    1. Excellent analysis, logical - but it would seem that the McStays would have left some evidence of communicating with the parties purporting to have the child (appears to have been represented to be a girl from the type of toys found in the SUV).

    2. What about the four day gap between the time they left their home, the parking of the SUV and their crossing the border ?

  2. To Anonymous- wow...I have to say, great theory. We just don't know. Joseph's brother has gone on to adopt, so your theory could be close to home.

    William- I have a question maybe you can help me with. As we know, Summer was lying about her age by 11 years. My question for you is- do you think Joey must have known Summer's real age? The reason I ask is because I just don't see how a spouse could not know their partner's true age. They lived together. Surely he had seen her Driver's License several times.

  3. Hi Pearl. I think he knew. I think he knew about the other messed up misrepresentations too. I think he accepted her as she was because he loved her. But he must have known the oddities. I wonder if her driver's licenses even had her correct age on them. I thought her real age only came out when Interpol discovered it?

  4. That's what I'm confused on- I know people can easily lie about their weight on their Driver's License but I would think it would be impossible to lie about your age. It is true that Interpol discovered her true age, which is how Joey's family found out her true age. So Joey must have known, but just didn't tell anyone...unless she somehow had connections and her Driver's License had her false age on it.

  5. Hi Pearl. She could have easily started out with a completely false birth certificate. Or doctored hers to read what she wanted. I'm just speculating, same as you.

  6. I have input the wrong birthdate on my DL in the past and without question was given a DL with the incorrect birthyear"

  7. I am very curious as to where they went off to... Very interesting that it took them "3 years" to find a home to purchase and when they finally decided to buy a home the real estate market was severely in the negative. There was not very many people looking to actually purchase a home in this area of SD County in 2010.

  8. Maybe Summer accidentally killed one of the boys ( anger issues?) and then called Joseph to tell him to come home and they decided to disappear for fear of her likely prosecution. Explains leaving the dogs, not accessing funds and if this happened they would likely drop everything (leave the eggs, popcorn bowls) and leave. Maybe they buried the body by that bridge and planned their escape for 4 days. It would explain so much based on the limited info we have and I am sure there is much info we don't know. Just a thought.

  9. Grim scenario, Trish. I hope you're wrong, but I could see that as a very remote possibility. But your theory could fit the psychological dynamics. I don't believe that's what happened though, I'm happy to say. It would be rare for a spouse to completely cover for a spouse (J.M. clearly loves his kids--I use present tense deliberately) with something that horrible. But I'm sure it's happened in the past in rare cases.

  10. don't buy some of the above...accidental murder? no because the footage of all four crossing the border I believe is definitely them because of the time coincidence with their car being abandoned. If they had no passports they weren't intending to come back, but those toys in the back of the car really puzzle me. The fact that they made no cash withdrawals after they vanished suggests they had a lot of money with them maybe in the small bag Joseph seems to be carrying as he crosses the border.

  11. The toys were probably to occupy the kids in a motel room somewhere (the four days before the actual crossing into Mexico). Possibly cash there, or I think more likely they did wire transfers or possibly used an express international carrier like DHL or all of the above. Probably using fake i.d.'s for all these transactions, including the motel.

  12. William: that explains the toys and the cash although I think most of the toys were unopened (?) plus the toy cooker seems an odd toy for a couple of boys. The question remains why disappear? If you are planning to leave as their computer searches from a week before suggest, then why leave your house in such a hurry and why hang about in the United States for four days? And finally during all that time,why not make just one litte phone call to your family (who they seem to get on well with) to let them know you're ok and end their suffering. All very strange!

  13. If the house is left a mess (and it would be since they're not completing the move-in) it might look like they left "in a hurry." But there's really no evidence they left in a hurry. I think people misread that. It's not like it was this nice, clean house. It was a mess because they were painting and buying things and throwing things anywhere. But I blogged elsewhere on this site my belief that mental illness (Summer's) is part of the explanation. I think she suffers from borderline personality disorder. It would explain a lot. And that would also explain the lack of communication. Breaking off contact for long periods of time (years sometimes) is typical of the disorder. If you want to stay with someone like that, you have to go along with their obsessions and phobias. Why not four days? I think they had more to settle with the business partners than they could have accomplished in that brief phone call for which we have a record the night they left the house.

  14. What if Summer arranged to buy the toys from a listing on Craigslist? Joey gets home just in time to go meet the buyer. The seller disposes of Joey and Summer, steals the Trooper and takes the kids across the border.

  15. Could it be someone who could have killed Joey and Summer and then kidnapped the kids and cross the border and wear the parents clothes for the camera at the border? I don't konw but just another theory... Maybe that's why the dogs have been left outside, no activites in their accounts, credit/debit cards??? Maybe they kept the kids 4 days in a hotel with them (the kidnappers) which would leave any trace and drove their truck, leave it there, steal their cellphones and get away with it. The toys in the trunk would be for the kids while they kept them and maybe that's why it was a fridge and sink, they bought something very fast for the kids. I also know that Joey medications were found in the truck so the kinappers wouldn't need those...

  16. Joseph and Summer were mixed up with a drug cartel. U.S. agents fingered them and they turned,providing info, cartel found out and dispatched hit team, DEA learned of impending hit and called Joey telling him to grab the family and run to a safe house. After four days, border crossing was staged to throw off hit team and family went into Witness Protection.

  17. I just read that their bodies have been found in a California desert. So sad and still such a mystery.