What's Next: I've Got a New Book Deal!
By Caitlin Rother
I am thrilled to announce that I have landed a deal with Citadel Press/Kensington to publish my 15th book and my first solo hardcover.
Tentatively titled, DOWN TO THE BONE, this one will be about the mysterious murder case of the McStay family, who disappeared from their home in Fallbrook, California, in February 2010, and whose skeletal remains were found in the desert almost four years later.
Some book projects take longer to simmer than others. Of all my projects, this one has probably been simmering the longest: It’s been 12 years and nine books since I started following this case, which gripped the nation and Southern California in particular. The book is due out in 2024. Once I have a more specific pub date I’ll let you all know.
Even though I’ve been gathering research that entire time, I had to do it in spurts in between my other book projects. That’s partly due to this being a death penalty case, which always take years to get to trial. Partly because the man convicted of murdering the family kept changing attorneys—in between representing himself. Partly due to the fact that I had another couple of books that I had to write before this one (on the Rebecca Zahau case, which went to trial first, and one that got cancelled halfway-through because of COVID). Partly due to the trial dragging on for five months. And then partly due to COVID restrictions and some other issues that caused delays in getting the proposal finished and out to market.
So, believe it or not, even after 12 years of gathering “string,” as we called it in the news biz—which includes collecting more than 300 pages of search warrant affidavits, attending the preliminary hearing, going through court records, doing interviews, reading a zillion news articles, watching documentaries, following the trial through live tweets, and watching the trial livestreamed and on YouTube—this is when my deep research really goes into high gear.
I’m writing this blog post today for two reasons. One, to share this exciting and great news with you. (I’ve published four hardcovers before this, but they were all co-author gigs.) And two, I also want to put the word out that I’m interested in hearing from anyone with helpful or interesting information for my book. That would include a neighbor, friend, or anyone, really, who knew the McStay family or the defendant, Charles “Chase” Merritt, who is now on death row at San Quentin, or Dan Kavanaugh, on whom the defense tried to blame these murders throughout the trial.
I often get emails from people who want to give me information after my books are already published, but that doesn’t really do me much good. The time is now.
I’d also be interested in hearing from anyone who sat through the trial, which was impractical for me to attend personally since it took me four to six hours to drive to and from San Bernarndino whenever I attended a hearing or did an interview. Also, anyone who was a witness or was involved in the investigation or in the case in any way.
This case grabbed my attention from the start because it is very rare for an entire family to go missing, especially with two little boys, ages 3 and 4, whose cherubic faces were plastered on “MISSING” posters in the U.S. and Mexico, along with their mother and father. Who would want to hurt these people and why?
By all accounts Joseph McStay was a kind, generous, and loving family man who enjoyed playing with his three boys, surfing, soccer, and building custom fountains. His wife Summer was a fiercely protective mom who loved organizing her sons’ birthday parties and making sure they had lots of forts and toys to play with. Gianni loved dinosaurs and books, and was almost never seen without a hat or beanie, while smiley little Joey Jr. ran around after his older brother, trying to keep up.
But I want to know more about them. Much more. Because I like to pay a tribute to people who are murdered, and I do that by finding out who they were and what they accomplished before they became victims. And I can’t do that without help from people who knew them.
This case held the public’s interest for years because the family’s disappearance couldn’t be explained. Detectives with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said they couldn’t find any blood or other evidence of foul play at the house, so they investigated it as missing person’s case.
The lead detective said he thought the family had gone to Mexico, so he gave up in early 2013 and handed the case over to the FBI. Later that year, motorcyclist John Bluth, who I’m trying to reach as we speak (anyone know him?), found what he thought was part of a human skull while off-roading in the Mohave Desert near Victorville and called 911.
It turned out that the McStay family had not gone to Mexico, just like Joseph’s parents and brother had always said. They were taken or lured from their house and fatally bludgeoned in the head—while still alive—with a sledgehammer that was found with their remains in one of the two shallow graves in the desert.
We are all still wondering how, when and where this family was killed, because investigators and prosecutors do not know and could not give us that information. But this is only one of the many unanswered questions I will spend the rest of this year trying to answer as I research and write this book. I’d be interested in hearing what yours are too.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I generally don't write about a case before I get a book deal, but since this one dragged on for so long, I did write a blog post after attending the preliminary hearing in this case in 2015. You can find it here at the WildBlue Press website, where you can also buy two of my books, DEAD RECKONING and NAKED ADDICTION, my first and only mystery novel.
Thanks for reading!