Two of the five bodies found burned in a vehicle 35 miles
south of Phoenix over the
weekend have been identified.
“We positively identified two of the five bodies as James
and Yafti Butwin,” said Pima County Medical Examiner
Gregory Hess. “We believe the remaining three bodies in
vehicle were children, but we haven’t made positive
The five bodies were found Saturday in a SUV in a
mountainous desert area that’s a
well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal
immigrants headed up from Mexico. The bodies were so badly
burned that investigators couldn’t immediately determine
their gender, age or ethnicity.
On Tuesday, police in Tempe said that a vehicle belonging
a missing family of five, whose disappearance was being
investigated as a murder-suicide, was the same vehicle
found burning in the desert.
Police found bullet shells inside the home, as well as a
suicide note in the husband’s office and another mailed to
a colleague. There was also evidence found that led police
to believe people were shot inside one of the bedrooms.
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 marriage.
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
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
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
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
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 violence.
“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
Glover said Wednesday that he was unable to say who among
the family police believe is responsible for carrying out
If confirmed as a murder-suicide, the Butwins would be the
second high-profile murder-suicide in Arizona since May.
The rest of the bodies are expected to be identified
the next few days.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this