Monthly Archives: June 2014

Who killed the McStay family?


Victorville, California – Four years ago, Patrick McStay lost everything he loved. His son, Joseph, his daughter-in-law, Summer, and their two little boys, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3 vanished. “From Day One, I just had this gut feeling that I was never going to see them again,” he said, swallowing tears. “I just knew. Something told me, I wasn’t going to see them again.”

The McStays disappeared from their home in suburban San Diego in February 2010.

There were no signs of a struggle. No apparent plan to flee. Nearly four years later, the mother, father and two boys were found slain in the Mojave Desert their bodies buried in shallow graves.


How did they get there? Who killed them?

From the beginning, the case has baffled investigators, but they aren’t giving up.

Said John McMahon, sheriff of San Bernardino County, in an exclusive interview with CNN: “It is certainly my hope that at some point in the future, we’ll be able to solve this, and bring the suspect or suspects to justice.”

February 4, 2010, began as an ordinary day in the McStay home in Fallbrook, a community of about 30,000 people about 18 miles from the Pacific Coast and 50 miles north of San Diego.

Patrick McStay spoke on the phone with his son, who ran a custom water feature business, and was scheduled to have a lunch meeting around noon. Summer McStay spent the day caring for the kids and overseeing the family’s home renovation.

They were looking forward to their youngest son’s birthday party that weekend. But that night, the family of four suddenly left the house, the doors locked, the car gone. Inexplicably, their two beloved dogs were left outside without food or water.


“It’s as if you took off really fast but were coming back,” said Susan Blake, Joseph McStay’s mother, who is divorced from Patrick McStay. “Your thoughts are going wild. ‘Well, why would they be missing?’ Something’s not right here,” she said.

The investigation

Early evidence pointed investigators south.

Four days after the McStays disappeared, detectives say the family’s white Isuzu Trooper was parked and subsequently towed from a parking lot just steps from the Mexican border. And the car wasn’t the only clue. After they found the Isuzu, investigators discovered someone at the McStay home had done a computer search for getting passports to Mexico. They also found surveillance video showing a family of four matching the McStays’ description crossing on foot into Mexico on February 8. “I just thought, well, maybe they took off,” said Joseph’s mother.

But his father wasn’t buying it. “I said right up front, the first time I saw it (the surveillance footage), it wasn’t them,” said Patrick McStay, adding that Summer was afraid of Mexico. “Would Summer take her two children in there? Heck, no,” he said.


Missed opportunities

Patrick McStay worried detectives were chasing dead-end clues. “I could have probably hired some Boy Scouts and done a better job,” he said.

He reached out to Tim Miller, founder of the nonprofit search-and-rescue organization Texas Equusearch, which, in turn, contacted freelance investigative journalist Steph Watts for help. One point that raised questions for Watts was the last known call from Joseph McStay’s cell phone. The call was to a friend, Chase Merritt. It came in about 40 minutes after a neighbor’s security camera captured the family’s Isuzu pulling out of the McStay’s cul-de-sac. Merritt didn’t answer.

Among those questions, Watts said, were, “Did Joseph actually make that call from his phone, or did somebody else take Joseph’s phone and make that call? Was he trying to call for help?”

The journalist also noted the impact of the delay in reporting the family missing to law enforcement. Joseph’s brother contacted authorities 11 days after the McStays disappeared. He says he waited because he didn’t want to overreact, and thought the family might just be on vacation.

“The first few hours are so critical, the first few minutes … The beginning of someone trying to commit a crime against you, that’s the only chance you have to get out,” Watts said.

The call the family feared finally came in November 2013, from an off-roading motorcyclist in the Mojave Desert.

More than 150 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, and some 100 miles north of the McStay home, the biker found what looked to be part of a human skull in a remote area of Victorville, California.

Authorities investigated and found four skeletons in two shallow graves. With the help of dental records, they determined the bodies belonged to the McStays.

Once considered a missing persons case, the investigation moved to homicide. It also switched jurisdictions, passing from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Jan Caldwell, with the San Diego department, defended her office’s handling of the case. “This is an incredibly thorough investigation,” she said, her hand atop a thick stacks of files. “Thumbing through it, I can see phone records, I see photographs, I see communications.

“And to have done all of this, to have compiled this kind of a massive file and still not know the answer, enormously frustrating,” Caldwell said last year, soon after the remains were discovered.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is no longer commenting on the case. It refers all questions to San Bernardino, which declines to get into specifics, citing the ongoing investigation.

Summer’s mother, brother and sister also declined to comment to media.

Detectives still have not named any suspects or persons of interest. “There was certainly evidence found in and around the grave sites, but at this point we’re not prepared to talk about what evidence we did locate,” said McMahon, the San Bernardino sheriff. Watts said the only way the case will be cracked now is if someone talks. “There was more than one person involved in this case because not one person dragged four people out to the desert and buried them single-handedly,” he said. “As the pieces begin to come together, it’s looking to me like it was extremely orchestrated. So we have to ask ourselves, why?”

Like Watts, Patrick McStay believes the killer, or killers, has to be someone who hated his family for a reason, but that reason is unclear. So many theories. So many questions. So few answers. “It’s like a play. The first act has just ended. We’ve got three more acts to go,” he said.



Michael Jace called his father-in-law after he shot his wife


Los Angeles  — Actor Michael Jace, who is charged with killing his wife, called and told his wife’s father about the shooting and asked him to come for the couple’s two young children soon after it happened, an emergency call released Thursday indicates.

In the three-minute call, the father of April Jace told a dispatcher that his son-in-law had called and texted him about the shooting.

“My son-in-law called me, and (texted) me, and said come get the kids because he shot April, our daughter,” the caller, whose name was redacted from the audio, told a fire department dispatcher.

Michael Jace, who played a police officer on the acclaimed TV series The Shield, was arrested on May 19, and police have said he also called police directly to report that he had shot his wife. That police call was not released.

Jace has been charged with murder but has not yet entered a plea.

His father-in-law called police while driving to the Los Angeles home of the couple. By then, police had already been notified of the shooting, according to the audio.

Michael Jace’s attorneys Jason Sias and Jamon Hicks did not comment on the content of the audio but noted that the case is relatively new and they were still investigating.

Motive for shooting not disclosed

“We have the utmost concern for the Jace children,” Sias and Hicks wrote. “Mr. Jace has a constitutional right to a defense. It remains extremely early and we are still in the fact-finding process.”

Police have not disclosed a possible motive for the shooting but previously said they were investigating whether it was prompted by financial difficulties or other marital problems. Michael Jace had filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and had fallen behind on payments to creditors as recently as December.

The family of April Jace released a statement last week calling her death “a senseless act of domestic violence.” The family said it was rallying around April Jace’s three sons, who range in ages from 5 to 18.

April Jace, 40, a financial aid counselor at Biola University, had two sons with her husband, both of whom were at home at the time of her killing. They were uninjured. Her oldest son was from a previous marriage.

Michael Jace also appeared on the show Southland and had small roles in the movies Planet of the ApesBoogie Nights and Forrest Gump.



 — Nearly nine years after a pregnant Janet Christiansen Abaroa was found dead in her Durham home, her husband, Raven Abaroa, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in her stabbing death, avoiding a potential life prison sentence for the crime.

Janet Abaroa

Janet Abaroa

The 34-year-old was set to be retried next week on a first-degree murder charge after a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a guilty verdict in his five-week trial in May.

The state offered the deal – the third in the case – late last week, Durham’s chief assistant district attorney, Roger Echols, said, with Janet Abaroa’s family agreeing that it was in their best interest.

Abaroa entered an Alford plea under which he was sentenced to 95 to 123 months in prison for the crime. In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining his or her innocence, and admits it is in his or her best interest to plead because there is sufficient evidence of guilt.

“I didn’t receive a fair trial the first time, and I don’t think I’ll receive a fair trial the second time,” Abaroa told Superior Court Judge Howard Manning.

“The fact is that I love my family very much, and I don’t think it’s worth risking the possibility of spending the rest of my life in prison for something I didn’t do,” he added. “I take this plea to ensure that that doesn’t happen, and that’s the only reason. I did not kill my wife.”

Janet Abaroa’s family said later that they weren’t surprised by his remarks.

“We are disappointed that he would not accept the responsibility for this horrible act,” her father, Val Christiansen, said after Wednesday’s hearing. “Not only did he kill Janet, but he knowingly killed his unborn child. No amount of jail time will ever provide justice for Janet or her unborn child.”

Abaroa, who has said he didn’t know his wife was pregnant, maintains that he left his Ferrand Drive home for a soccer match on the night of April 26, 2005, and returned a few hours later to find Janet Abaroa crouched on the floor in their upstairs office and their 6-month-old son, Kaiden, crying in his crib.

An autopsy found she had been stabbed three times in her left hand, chest and neck – with the fatal wound being in the neck. She was likely in the very early stages of pregnancy.

Durham police arrested Abaroa in February 2010 in Idaho, where he and Kaiden were living at the time.

Abaroa’s prison sentence of 8 to 10 years – with credit for time served – means he could be released as early as 2018.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Christiansen, said one of the most difficult and long-lasting effects of the crime was that Kaiden – now 9 years old and living with his paternal grandmother in Utah – never got to know his mother or his baby brother or sister. Janet Abaroa, he said, was also denied the experiences of motherhood.

“Janet missed Kaiden’s first steps, missed out on hearing his first words. She missed out on being called ‘mommy,'” Christiansen said. “Janet will never get to enjoy watching her son thrive as he matures.”

Erica Bakey described her older sister as a kind, loving and fun person whose death inflicted pain on all who loved and cared for her.

“One of the questions I ask myself over and over, is ‘Why kill her?’ Bakey told Abaroa. “Why not just get a divorce? Why not just leave her? Why not just leave her to us? She had so much to live for, and you cut that short. When you took Janet’s life, you took a part of me, my family and all who loved her.”

Abaroa’s defense attorney, Amos Tyndall, said many of the facts presented by prosecutors in the case were true but that some were also either “highly contested” or untrue.

“Mr. Abaroa shares a lot of what Mr. Christiansen said,” Tyndall told Manning. “He’s always stated that to us – how much he misses Janet and how much he loved her – and he has always maintained his innocence.”

Tyndall contended during Abaroa’s trial that police only focused on him as a suspect and ignored or explained away any evidence that could have helped identify another culprit in the case.

Durham County Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks said it’s likely that Janet Abaroa had been making lunch for the next day when her husband called her into their upstairs office on the night of her death and killed her.

The couple had been having “extreme financial difficulties” Coggins-Franks said, and it was “very apparent” that the type of life Raven Abaroa wanted to live “was going to change extremely.”

He was already facing embezzlement charges from stealing from his job and had been having trouble in his marriage.

“Although Janet and Raven appeared to be happy, Raven was, for lack of a better word, a womanizer,” she said.

During his first trial, the state portrayed Raven Abaroa as a controlling and verbally abusive husband who not only cheated on his wife but had a penchant for spending money.

Witnesses testified that Janet Abaroa feared her husband, his temper and wild mood swings.

“In that trial, we saw the dark side of the defendant,” Christiansen said. “He was exposed for what he really is – an embezzler, a convicted felon, a sexual predator and a narcissistic, self-absorbed individual.”

LaVerte Dowd and her family befriended the Abaroas years before the crime when the young couple lived in Smithfield, Va. They remained close after they moved to North Carolina.

“Janet, in our experience, was loving and quiet and kind and gentle – all those things that we want to emulate,” she said during Wednesday’s hearing.

“Janet loved Raven,” she added. “She was willing to overlook his infidelities, his embezzlement and his controlling nature. She wanted her marriage to work because she loved him and valued marriage. He threw that away like it was yesterday’s garbage, as though it was worth nothing.”


‘Coronado Angels’ funeral honors 3 girls allegedly stabbed by mother


Mourners gathered this morning at a funeral service in Gardena to remember three young sisters allegedly stabbed to death by their mother.

Known as the “Three Coronado Angels,” the youngsters — Sophia, 2 1/2; Yazmine, 16 months; and Xenia, 2 months — were killed May 20 at the home of Carol and Rudy Coronado.

Carol Coronado, who suffered from self-inflicted knife wounds when her children were killed, remains in jail and did not attend the service at St. Anthony of Padua Church.

Mariachi music played as three small caskets adorned with red and purple marigolds and roses were lined in front of about 250 mourners. Rudy Coronado sat in the front row wearing a black shirt and pants, a red rose and a purple tie. Most of the service was in Spanish.

The Rev. George Aguilar prayed “for all parents who grieve over the death of their children that they be comforted with the knowledge that their children dwell with God.”

“May (God’s) spirit unite this family so they may walk with his presence and one day be reunited with these children,” he said.

Outside the church, three hearses waited to take the girls’ remains to Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, where executives were so moved by the family’s pain that they offered to provide free burial services.

As Rudy Coronado exited the church following the three caskets — Sophia’s a light purple, Yazmine’s pink and Xenia’s white — he rubbed the smallest one with a black cloth.

The funeral procession traveled along the 110 Freeway making its way to Green Hills Memorial Park on Western Avenue.

St. Anthony’s parishioner Helen Timko, 81, of Harbor Gateway said she came to the service because she’s a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of three.

“I think there are a lot of us here that are mothers,” Timko said. “My great-grandchildren are about their ages. My heart just goes out to the family.

She said everyone needs to pay more attention to their neighbors, as they did in the past when people knew their neighbors and their problems.

Carol Coronado is charged with three counts of murder in the May 20 slayings at the family home in the 1000 block of West 223rd Street, an unincorporated community between Harbor Gateway and Carson. Her husband was outside working on his pickup truck when the girls’ grandmother, Julie Piercey, discovered the grisly scene inside.


An Inside Look at Jury Selection for Bryan Wayne Hulsey Trial

An Inside Look at Jury Selection for Bryan Wayne Hulsey Trial

via An Inside Look at Jury Selection for Bryan Wayne Hulsey Trial.