PHOENIX – Two of five bodies found burning inside an SUV in the desert 35 miles south of Phoenix are a Tempe couple whose case was being investigated as a murder-suicide, a coroner confirmed Thursday -- contradicting comments made by Arizona's second-most famous sheriff that a violent drug cartel likely was to blame.
The bodies were positively identified as James and Yafit Butwin using dental records because their bodies were burned beyond recognition, said Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County.
The other three bodies in the SUV are believed to be their three children, 16-year-old Malissa, 14-year-old Daniel and 7-year-old Matthew. All three had birthdays coming up in June and July.
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.
Also 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's 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.
Soon after they were found, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said that all evidence pointed to a violent drug cartel because of the location of the SUV in a known smuggling corridor and the nature of the crime.
"Given all these indicators, you don't have to be a homicide detective to add up all this information," Babeu said Saturday, the day the bodies were found.
On Monday, Babeu posted on his Facebook page: "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!" he added, in reference to previous statements made by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
But on Tuesday, Tempe police said that the SUV actually matched that of the Butwin family.
A family acquaintance alerted Tempe police that he was worried about the family on Monday after receiving a note from James Butwin instructing him on how to run his real estate business.
Police soon after found "suspicious and concerning" evidence in the home that they said pointed to the family being dead in a murder-suicide.
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.
James Butwin turned 47 on Friday.
Among some of Yafit Butwin's last words were posted on her Facebook page the same day, 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."