Burned SUV found in desert belongs to missing family - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Burned SUV found in desert belongs to missing family

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Butwin family (Facebook photo) Butwin family (Facebook photo)
Courtesy: Pinal County Sheriff's Office Courtesy: Pinal County Sheriff's Office

A burned SUV found in the desert 35 miles south of Phoenix over the weekend is registered to a missing Tempe family.

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office says that Tempe police contacted them late Monday to tell them about a husband and wife and their three children -- ages 16, 14, and 7 -- who had been missing.

A family acquaintance called police after not being able to contact the Butwin family. That person became concerned after receiving a note from James Butwin with instructions on how to operate his construction business without him.

Tempe Police arrived and discovered "suspicious and concerning evidence inside their home," which is in the 9300 block of S. Kenneth Place, a nice neighborhood in Tempe.

The Butwins were not there and their vehicle, a Ford SUV, was missing. Police began investigating the family's disappearance as a murder-suicide.

Turns out James and Yafit Butwin were going through a bitter divorce and were having financial difficulties. James Butwin was also struggling with a recurring brain tumor.

Despite the pending divorce, James and Yafit continued to live together with their kids 16-year-old Melissa, 14-year-old Daniel, and 7-year-old Matthew.

Tuesday, authorities learned the vehicle found in the desert was registered to the Tempe residence. However, autopsies were unable to positively determine the identities of the 5 bodies inside, due to their unrecognizable state. Dental records will be their best hope.

As for the likely cause of death, the Pima County Medical Examiner has that information but has not yet released it at the request of investigators. His final report is expected to take between 4 and 6 weeks to complete.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu seemed certain that the burned out car and bodies were related to drug cartels, partly due to its location in the Vekol Valley, an area well-known for human and drug trafficking.

He even used the case as a way to take a shot at the federal government.

On his Facebook page earlier this week the sheriff wrote, in part: "All information is pointing that this is connected to the violent drug cartel smuggling in this high smuggling area. The border is not more secure than ever Ms. Napolitano!"

So we put in a request to talk with Sheriff Babeu -- but his office sent over an email that no one would be talking about the case until more information could be gathered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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