Mother, father of missing Tempe family identified in burned vehicle

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The mother and father of a missing Tempe family have been identified as two of the five bodies found inside a burned vehicle last weekend in Pinal County.

Investigators used dental records to confirm that the bodies of James and Yafit Butwin were inside the SUV that was discovered last Saturday in Vekol Valley.

Three other bodies found in the vehicle have yet to be positively identified, but authorities say they are likely the three Butwin children: Malissa, Matthew and Daniel.

Authorities also announced on Thursday that blood and shell casings were in the family’s home, suggesting James may have killed his wife and three children before loading their bodies into the SUV and driving to a remote part of the desert before killing himself.

Tempe Police Sgt. Jeffrey Glover said four of the bodies were found in the rear compartment of the vehicle, and a fifth was found in the backseat.

Two guns were also found in the burned vehicle, one of which matched shell casings found in the Butwin residence.

Police said James left a suicide note with his business partner, and another one at his office.

Police were first called to the Butwins' Tempe home in the 9300 block of S. Kenneth Place on Monday. A family acquaintance told authorities that James, Yafit and their three children were missing.

Police pursued the incident as a murder-suicide investigation after examining evidence at the home. Earlier this week they learned that the burned vehicle in Vekol Valley was registered to the Butwins.

Friends say the Butwins were going through a divorce and a rough financial patch.

James had also been dealing with a recurring brain tumor, according to his divorce attorney.

Psychiatrists say a brain tumor can cause someone to act out of character. Butwin had no history of domestic violence.

"There was confirmed to be a brain tumor going on and that can, depending on the area of the brain, make a person behave in a different way than they normally behave, so that is one potential answer in this case," said Valley psychiatrist Dr. Michael Yasinski, who did not know the Butwins.