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Down to the Bone: A Missing Familys Murder and the Elusive Quest for Justice (Hardcover)

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A twisting, deeply engrossing investigation into the many lingering questions surrounding the sudden disappearance of the McStays, a family of four who vanished from their suburban San Diego home without a trace – until their skeletal remains were found in the Mojave Desert nearly four years later –  from New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother.

On February 15, 2010, Joseph McStay, his wife Summer, and their two young sons were reported missing from their new home in San Diego County. They left eggs and fruit rotting on the counter. Their Dodge truck sat in the driveway. Their dogs were abandoned outside without food. But investigators found no blood, signs of a struggle, or clues to their whereabouts. Did the family take an unannounced vacation? Were they running away from personal problems? Or were they victims of foul play?

Nearly four years later, a motorcyclist found the McStays’ remains in and around two shallow graves, one hundred miles away in the Mojave Desert. Their skulls showed signs of blunt-force trauma, likely due to the sledgehammer buried with them. Authorities focused on Charles "Chase" Merritt, a close friend and subcontractor for Joseph’s company. Despite a lack of physical evidence, scenarios that defied logic, and numerous unanswered questions, prosecutors convinced a jury of Merritt’s guilt. After an emotional sentencing hearing, the judge imposed the death penalty. But did another possible suspect, who was ignored by investigators and ducked a subpoena to testify, get away with murder? 

In this twisting, deeply researched true-crime mystery, New York Times bestselling investigative journalist Caitlin Rother hunts for answers to reveal the truth behind a heinous crime that became a nation’s obsession, with a controversial trial in its wake, and lingering questions of justice.

About the Author

Caitlin Rother is a New York Times bestselling true crime author and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist. She worked for nearly two decades as an investigative reporter and has had work published in Cosmopolitan, The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, among others. As a TV crime commentator, she has done more than 200 media appearances on episodes of 20/20, People Magazine Investigates, Crime Watch Daily, Australia's World News, Nancy Grace, Snapped, and numerous shows on Netflix, Investigation Discovery, HLN, REELZ, Oxygen, E!, A&E, C-SPAN and various PBS affiliates. Rother also works as a writing/research coach and consultant, and plays piano and sings in an acoustic band. She lives in Southern California and can be found online at

Praise For…

"A close look at a killer...Lost Girls by veteran journalist and true-crime writer Caitlin Rother is a deeply reported, dispassionately written attempt to determine what created a monster and predator. It is a cautionary tale and a horror story, done superbly by a writer who knows how to burrow into a complex case without becoming captive to her sources." The Los Angeles Times
"We've finally found the next Ann Rule! Caitlin Rother writes with heart and suspense. Dead Reckoning is a chilling read by a writer at the top of her game." —Gregg Olsen, author of A Twisted Faith

“A frightening and fascinating glimpse into a killer's mind.” —Ron Franschell, New York Times bestselling author on Body Parts
"Caitlin Rother skillfully chronicles one of the most fascinating and controversial cases of the past decade. Big money, sex and a questionable death make for an addictive read." —Kathryn Casey, bestselling author of In Plain Sight on Death on Ocean Boulevard
“Rother shows how a long-unknown victim of Wayne Adam Ford finally got her identity, providing satisfying closure on this disturbing case.” —Katherine Ramsland, author of Confession of a Serial Killer on Body Parts

"Was it suicide or was it murder? Investigative journalist extraordinaire Caitlin Rother masterfully examines the controversial death of Rebeca Zahau in Death on Ocean Boulevard. What truths does she uncover? Riveting!" —Dan Zupansky, host of the "True Murder" podcast on Death on Ocean Boulevard
"A suspicious headline-making death proves to be only the beginning as Rother unlocks the door of this real-life mansion of horrors to reveal a shocking true story of money, power, duplicity and scandal." —Michael Fleeman, New York Times bestselling author on Death on Ocean Boulevard
"Using her innermost understanding of suicide, Caitlin Rother connects you with the heart-wrenching details of the Coronado Mansion Case. Prepare to be deeply immersed in this beautifully written, impeccably researched book right up to the gripping epilogue. The new facts never before exposed about this case will shock you! DEATH ON OCEAN BOULEVARD is a must-read for any true crime fan!" —Alan R. Warren, host of the "House of Mystery" podcast on Death on Ocean Boulevard
"A true crime triumph for Caitlin Rother... It's a grim and bloody tale, one that directs our attention to the often-shocking complexities of the human animal and the sordid depths to which he may descend. Rother, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize during her tenure at the U-T, tells it well, thereby solidifying her star status in the field of true crime." The San Diego Union-Tribune on Dead Reckoning
"Riveting... a story that will haunt you... Rother presents a fascinating study of one woman's evil and greed—that ultimately leads to the murder of a kind-hearted millionaire. The compassion the author shows for the victim and the victim's family makes this book an emotional and gripping tale from beginning to end." —Aphrodite Jones, New York Times bestselling author, on Then No One Can Have Her

Product Details
ISBN: 9780806542621
ISBN-10: 0806542624
Publisher: Citadel
Publication Date: March 25th, 2025
Pages: 368
Language: English