Officials are now saying that the five bodies found burned beyond recognition inside an SUV in the Arizona desert may actually be linked to a missing Tempe Ariz. family, not drug cartel violence, the Tucson Citizen reports.
Tempe Police announced Tuesday afternoon in a press conference that their investigation has led them to believe that the incident is likely a murder-suicide and completely unrelated to the Mexico's drug war – despite claims to the contrary by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.
"Right now, we're dealing with a murder-suicide investigation," Tempe Police Sgt. Jeff Glover confirmed. However, the evidence still doesn't point to a clear-cut case.
A few days before this announcement, Babeu went on the record saying almost the exact opposite.
"It doesn't appear to be suicide or something like that where you hear of some crazy events," Babeu said Saturday. Ever since the bodies were discovered, Babeu has repeatedly made the case that the deaths were proof that drug cartel violence was spilling across the U.S border.
His assumptions were based on a few facts, according to KPHO in Arizona. First, the bodies were found in a known drug smuggling corridor and the grisly style murder certainly fit the profile for the drug cartels. Second, law enforcement initially attempted to stop the SUV hours before it was torched, but the driver fled. Finally, the Pinal County Sheriff's office said the evidence found at the scene also furthered their theory.
“All information is pointing that this is connected to the violent drug cartel smuggling in this high smuggling area,” Babeu said Saturday via his Facebook page. “The border is NOT more secure than ever Ms. Napolitano!”
At first glance it doesn't appear that Babeu is completely backing off his initial conclusions. Today the Pinal County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) had a press release posted stating that homicide detectives were still investigating a potential drug smuggling connection.
The Tucson Citizen has more on the details of the investigation by Tempe Police:
Tempe police said Tuesday that they went to the family’s house at 2 p.m. Monday and found obvious signs of a crime and notified the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office shortly thereafter.
Late Tuesday morning, Tempe police informed the Sheriff’s Office that they had confirmed that the burned vehicle found in the Vekol Valley belonged to the family.
At an afternoon news conference, Sgt. Jeff Glover identified the victims as the Butwin family of Tempe and knocked down the theory that their deaths were linked to cartel drug smuggling, as Pinal County sheriff’s investigators had originally stated.
Tempe Police identified the missing couple as James and Yafet Butwin. They have been missing, along with their children, for several days now.
KNXV in Phoenix reports that the father actually left a note with a neighbor instructing him how to run his business when he was gone. Officials also found signs of a struggle in the house. Watch more on the report here:
Babeu's critics accuse him of jumping the gun and relying on emotion and speculation instead of the facts in the case.
But the news release posted today on the PCSO website says they are continuing the homicide investigation. The release reveals some of the evidence collected and makes further references to drug cartels:
On Saturday afternoon, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office received a phone call from an individual who asked to remain anonymous. The individual reported that he feared his brother-in-law was among the dead. The brother-in-law had told him the night before that he was “going to Vekol Valley to make money.”
The brother-in-law had left to Vekol Valley with four other acquaintances. Homicide detectives asked the reporting party if his brother-in-law was involved in drug or human smuggling and he said he didn’t get involved in his business but he “knows its illegal.” The reporting party said that when he tries to call his brother-in-law or his friends on their cell phones they go straight to voicemail.
On Sunday, a homicide detective again spoke with the reporting party who told us he still has been not able to get in touch with his brother-in-law or his acquaintances. The five men were last seen driving in a Ford SUV. Homicide detectives are also not able to locate the brother-in-law either.
PCSO knows the names of the family members involved including those who are missing, but we’ve been asked to withhold as the family fears possible retaliation from the drug cartel.
The release also points to a report in the Boston Herald where a federal law enforcement officer theorized that the victims could have been hostages killed by a Mexican drug cartel.
It may be safe to say that the dust hasn't quite settled in this case.
Babeu is no stranger to controversy and has been known to jump into the heated immigration debate. He recently went on CNN and told Anderson Cooper that the Bureau of Alocohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was an "accomplice" to drug cartel murders in their involvement in the failed drug-running operation Fast and Furious. Watch here: