SAN DIEGO (CBS 8 / AP) — A San Diego judge has unsealed court records from the early stages of an investigation into the disappearance of a family of four whose bodies were eventually found in desert graves.
Documents unsealed Friday at the request of CBS News 8 and 17 other news organizations offer the most detailed look yet at the condition of the Fallbrook home of Joseph and Summer McStay and their two young sons when investigators arrived in February 2010.
A tall lamp was lying on the floor. There were several open suitcases with folded clothing inside, rotten eggs in the kitchen and two small bowls of slightly spilled popcorn in the living room.
The disappearance remained a mystery until the bodies were found near Victorville in November 2013.
Charles "Chase" Merritt, who knew Joseph McStay from work, pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder last year. He could face the death penalty, if convicted.
In one of the search warrant affidavits, San Diego Sheriff Homicide Detective Troy DuGal told the judge there was no evidence of foul play in the McStay home.
Even so, because the family had been missing two weeks at the time the first search warrant was written, Detective DuGal concluded, “It is my opinion the McStay family is the victim of foul play… I believe that some or all of the McStay family has been kidnapped or killed.”
DuGal also believed evidence of murder may eventually be found in the home.
“If the family was killed in the residence... there may be trace evidence that has been left behind such as human hairs, tissues, secretions as well as other forensic evidence,” DuGal wrote.
An inventory list details exactly what investigators took from the home during their Feb. 19, 2010 search. The items seized included documents, letters, computers, hard drives, cameras, cell phones, power cords, and "children/sexual behavior documents from the garage." It's unclear what the sexual behavior documents refer to.
There is nothing to indicate that investigators recovered fingerprints, blood stains or forensic evidence, however, at least during their 2010 search of the home.
CBS News 8 has confirmed that San Bernardino detectives returned to the home and served another search warrant in August 2014, after the McStay family bodies were found. That 2014 search warrant remains sealed.
One of the search warrants, #104-10, initially was missing page four when released to news outlets. Judge Runston Maino had unsealed the warrant without redacting any information. CBS News 8 determined the page was missing from the court's original copy.
Upon request, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department -- which did not oppose the unsealing of the search warrants -- emailed the missing page to the court and it was eventually provided to media outlets. The search warrants posted on this page now include the missing page in question.
News organizations have also asked a San Bernardino judge to unseal some 60 search warrants from later stages of the investigation.
A hearing has been set regarding that unsealing request for January 30 in San Bernardino before Judge Michael Smith.