PHOENIX – In what could be some of her last words, Yafit Butwin wished her
husband a happy birthday and said how proud she was of her three children.
Now police in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe believe that Butwin, her husband Jim,
and their children are all dead in a murder-suicide, and have matched their SUV
to one found burning in the desert 35 miles south of Phoenix.
The bodies found in the SUV on Saturday were so badly burned that it could take
several days or longer to positively identify them using dental records; a
coroner wasn’t even able to tell the ages, ethnicity or gender of the bodies.
Court records show that Yafit Butwin filed for a divorce from James Butwin in
September and was seeking half of his liquid assets, spousal support and
exclusive access to their upper-middle-class home in Tempe during the divorce
“The parties’ marriage is irretrievably broken and there is no reasonable
prospect of reconciliation,” according to Yafit’s petition to dissolve the
But James Butwin, 47, continued living in the home with Yafit and the kids,
16-year-old Malissa, 14-year-old Daniel and 7-year-old Matthew.
“Husband’s insistence on continuing to reside in the residence and refusing to
respect wife’s privacy is causing considerable tension between the parties and
potential emotional harm for the parties’ children,” Yafit’s attorney wrote in
one filing in Maricopa County Superior Court.
James Butwin, who was from New Jersey, also was fighting his wife’s request for
the money, pointing to a prenuptial agreement she signed shortly before they
married in her home country of Israel in June 1994; she was 22.
Yafit Butwin’s attorney argued that when she signed the agreement, she was
under duress and coercion by her husband.
Court records say that Yafit was born on a chicken farm in an Israeli village,
didn’t speak fluent English and didn’t understand the American legal system when
she signed the lengthy agreement.
Yafit Butwin also argued that her husband had plenty of money, estimating his
total assets at around $1 million.
No orders of protection were filed as the divorce proceeded.
A court document filed in October as part of the divorce proceedings said Yafit
was pregnant. There was no indication Wednesday that she ever had the baby, but
it’s unclear what happened.
Neighbors of the Butwins told The Associated Press that on top of the divorce _
set to go to trial next month _ James Butwin was battling a brain tumor and that
he was frustrated that treatment wasn’t helping him.
The neighbors also described the Butwins as a well-liked and well-respected
family in the neighborhood, and that there were no indications of any type of
“From what we know them to be, this is totally unexpected to the point of
almost being unbelievable,” neighbor Robert Kempton said Tuesday. “We’ll
choose to remember them in the wonderful, positive light that we knew them.”
Yafit Butwin’s Facebook page shows her last post came on Friday _ a picture of
James, with the three smiling kids and a caption that reads: “Happy birthday,
Jim. I am so proud of my three children:) and they know why.”
James Butwin turned 47 on Friday. All three children had birthdays coming up in
June and July.
Tempe police Sgt. Jeff Glover said that a partner in James Butwin’s real estate
business first contacted them on Monday, saying that he was worried about the
family after Butwin wrote him a note explaining how to run the business without
Glover said investigators found “suspicious and concerning” evidence inside
the home but declined to specify what that was. The evidence was strong enough
for police to immediately begin investigating the case as a murder-suicide.
Glover said Wednesday that he was unable to say who among the family police
believe is responsible for carrying out the crime.
If confirmed as a murder-suicide, the Butwins would be the second high-profile
murder-suicide in Arizona since May.
On May 2, police believe former neo-Nazi gunman Jason Todd “JT” Ready shot
and killed his girlfriend and three members of her family, including a toddler,
before turning the gun on himself. Ready was the leader of a civilian border
patrol group known as the U.S. Border Guard.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/(hash)!/AmandaLeeAP
- 7 common ways to get sued by your employees
- Why it might be time to upgrade your toilet
- Arizona teachers are building a better future by using technology in the classroom
- How to make summer reading fun for the whole family
- How to find relief for chronic joint pain
- Can the NBA Lottery save the Suns?
- Skip Urgent Care: 5 ailments you can treat with telemedicine
- Skin Cancer in Arizona: Stats, facts and new immunotherapy drugs making strides
- Distracted walking injuries end up not so funny
- Scary situations: 5 quick tips before you let a contractor in your home
- Four ways telemedicine is changing the health care industry
- 5 mistakes homeowners make in the spring
- Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona's waterways
- Smart home basics: things you need to know to get started
- 5 Surprising things causing back pain
- Arizona agriculture is a $17.1B industry
- Timeline: Arizona's roots in brewing history
- 5 reasons to love the D-backs this season
- Tips for taking your home entertainment experience to the backyard
- Tech-related injuries your parents never experienced
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments