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5 burned bodies found in Arizona desert being investigated as murder-suicide

This image provided Saturday, June 2, 2012, by the Pinal County Sheriffâ AP Photo/ Pinal County Sheriffâ

This image shows the vehicle where five burned, dead bodies were found inside, in Pinal County's Vekol Valley area, west of Casa Grande, Ariz.
AP Photo/ Pinal County Sheriff's Office

(CBS/AP) PHOENIX - Two of five bodies found burning inside an SUV in the desert 35 miles south of Phoenix have been identified as a Tempe couple and police say the case is now being investigated as a murder-suicide.

Authorities had originally said they thought a violent drug cartel was likely to blame.

Two of the bodies were positively identified as James and Yafit Butwin. The three other bodies in the SUV are believed to be their three children, 16-year-old Malissa, 14-year-old Daniel and 7-year-old Matthew.  

The Butwin's were identified using dental records because their bodies were burned beyond recognition, said Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County.

Hess said that his office got dental records for James and Yafit Butwin on Wednesday but didn't get the children's records until Thursday. He said he hopes to positively identify their bodies no later than Friday.

On Thursday, Tempe police Sgt. Jeff Glover revealed that police believe James Butwin killed his wife and children before taking his own life because they found two suicide notes that he had written.

Police also found blood and shell casings in several of the family's bedrooms and two guns inside the torched SUV.

It is still unclear whether everyone including James Butwin was dead when the SUV was set ablaze.

"This is really the most tragic ending to a situation that's realistically domestic violence," Glover said. "It's not an easy situation for the community. There are neighborhoods and close friends and family that are devastated over this situation."

A Border Patrol agent found the five bodies in the burning SUV on Saturday.

Yafit Butwin had been seeking a divorce from James Butwin, who neighbors and police say was battling a brain tumor and experiencing financial problems.

Yafit Butwin filed for divorce in September and was seeking half of her husband's liquid assets, spousal support and exclusive access to their upper-middle-class home in Tempe during the divorce proceedings. The divorce was set to go to trial next month.

Among some of Yafit Butwin's last words were posted on her Facebook page the same day last Friday, along with a photo of James Butwin and her three smiling children. She wrote: "Happy Birthday, Jim. I am so proud of my three children :) And they know why."

More on Crimesider:
June 4, 2012 - Five bodies found in torched SUV in Arizona likely drug-related violence, police say

  • Crimesider Staff

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