Burned vehicle tied to missing Tempe family

PHOENIX - Tempe police confirm a missing family of five is linked to a burned vehicle found in Pinal County's Vekol Valley.

The torched SUV was discovered Saturday, with five bodies inside it. They have yet to be identified.

The vehicle is registered to the Butwin family household in Tempe, according to Tempe police.

Tempe police are simultaneously investigating the disappearance of the five members of that family.  Police are investigating the case as a possible murder-suicide.

The Butwins' friends contacted authorities when they discovered the two adults, Yafit and James Butwin, and three children, Daniel, Mathew, and Malissa, had disappeared.

"Tempe investigators discovered suspicious and concerning evidence inside the home," on the 9300 block of Kenneth Place in Tempe, police said in  a Tuesday news release.

On Monday, the Tempe Police Department notified the Pinal County Sheriff's office about the case.


The Pinal County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, continues to investigate the burned vehicle.

According to a PCSO press release, a US Border Patrol Agent working in the Vekol Valley area located the Ford SUV during a West Desert Task Force patrol along Interstate-8 in Vekol Valley on Saturday, June 2, 2012, around 4:30am.  According to Tim Gaffney, the director communications for PCSO, the vehicle fled the area and was not relocated until 8:30am, after it had been badly torched.

"The fire was out but the vehicle was still smoldering," Gaffney wrote in the release.  "Four of the human remains were in the rear storage compartment of the vehicle and one was in the second row passenger seat."

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office homicide Unit was called to the scene to investigate, according to the release.  "The area had several shoe prints and also 'sleepy feet' (shoes made of carpet remnants or burlap by smugglers to hid their footprints).  It also appeared accelerant was used when the vehicle was torched as it and its contents were so badly burned," he wrote.


Friends of the Butwin family say they're praying for the family. Classmates of Daniel Butwin, a soon-to-be sophomore at Corona del Sol High School, describe him as an avid drummer who loves percussion.  He is a member of the school's drumline.  Daniel's sister, Malissa, was going to be a senior at the same school, according to friends.

Court paperwork shows the two adults in the Butwin family, James and Yafit, were going through a divorce .

Family friends told ABC15 the husband and wife were living in the same house but in separate bedrooms.  They celebrated James' birthday on Friday.

"I don't know what to think. It's sad not to have him around to hang out with anymore," said Kyle Turnquist, a friend of one of the Butwin children.


Records filed in April 2012 show that James Butwin was ordered to provide his wife with $25,000 on or before April 9, 2012.  The records also show he was supposed to continue depositing "sufficient monies" into the parties' joint bank account for his wife's use to satisfy household expenses at the marital residence.

The couple was married in Israel in 1994 and had a prenuptial agreement.

Recent court records show Yafit disputed the pre-nuptial agreement, saying she signed the paperwork written in English although she mostly spoke and read Hebrew.  She said she signed the agreement when she was 22 years old and had "never used a computer, the Internet, or a cell phone.  I had never read anything substantive in English," she wrote in court paperwork.

A hearing had been scheduled for July 2012 in regard to the dispute over the prenuptial agreement.

A divorce was scheduled for September, 2012.

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