Israeli Mother, 3 Children Dead in US

A board member of Temple Emanuel in Arizona is the primary suspect in a murder-suicide that left an Israeli mother and 3 children dead.

Chana Ya'ar ,

Burnt SUV found 35 miles south of Phoenix
Burnt SUV found 35 miles south of Phoenix

Businessman James Butwin, 47, is suspected of having shot and killed his Israeli wife Yafit, 40, and their three children, daughter Malissa, 16, and sons Daniel, 14, and Matthew, 7 before turning the gun on himself, the day after his wife wished him a "happy birthday."

Tempe police said their bodies were discovered in a burning SUV found in the desert 35 miles south of Phoenix last Saturday. The vehicle was registered to the family and was missing from their home.

Butwin and his wife, a native Israeli who emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1990s, were in the process of getting divorced. Yafit had filed the papers in September, but her husband refused to leave the home, creating significant tension, according to court papers quoted by the Associated Press and local media. The businessman was also experiencing other serious financial and medical problems, including a brain tumor that was not responding to treatment. The couple was set to return to court next month.

Butwin's partner, Robert Kempton, called police on Monday and said he was worried after receiving a note from Butwin listing instructions on how to operate their real estate business without him, Tempe police Sgt. Jeff Glover told reporters.

Counseling professionals were sent to Temple Emanuel on Wednesday, according to the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, and to the East Valley Jewish Community Center where Matthew Butwin attended summer camp. Counseling was also offered to those who attended a “service of grief” at Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation, on Wednesday evening.

Prior to identification of the bodies, the Pinal County sheriff had told reporters at a briefing he believed the murders had been the work of a drug cartel.