Arizona Murder-Suicide Dad Had A Brain Tumor

Friends said James Butwin was speaking gibberish and depressed over divorce.

ByABC News
June 7, 2012, 1:49 PM

June 7, 2012— -- Friends of an Arizona family that perished in a fiery murder-suicide said the father's brain tumor may have led him to kill his family, something completely out of character for a man who was remembered as "one of the nicest guys."

Tempe Police are remaining tight-lipped about the circumstances that led James Butwin, 47, to allegedly kill his wife, Yafit,40; and three children Malissa,16; Daniel, 14; and Matthew, 7.

A 15-year-old friend of Daniel and Malissa and knew the family, said she remembered hearing stories that the father was recently "speaking jibberish" and having trouble fighting a brain tumor.

"This whole thing is illness. I know it's not God," she said. "The family is too good for this to be true."

Butwin was battling a brain tumor and in the middle of a divorce that was putting the normal strain of a separation on the entire family.

"Daniel said, 'It's really hard at my house right now because my parents are getting a divorce and they're always fighting,'" the friend told

The charred bodies were discovered on Saturday in a burnt SUV in the Arizona desert. The case gained national attention when Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu claimed the bodies were related to Mexican drug trafficking and used the case to criticize the Obama administration's border-security actions.

Authorities found evidence inside the Butwin family's home that leads them to believe it could be a murder-suicide, said Sgt. Jeff Glover of the Tempe Police Department. He declined to say what police found inside the home.

The family was reported missing by a friend who received a concerning note from James Butwin detailing how to run his real estate business.

Yafit Butwin filed for divorce on Sept. 22, 2011 and sought half of the couple's assets, despite a reported prenuptial agreement.

Butwin had asked her husband to move out of their upscale Tempe home, according to court documents obtained by the Associated Press.

"Husband's insistence on continuing to reside in the residence and refusing to respect wife's privacy is causing considerable tension between the parties and potential emotional harm for the parties' children," Yafit's attorney wrote in a filing.

James Butwin continued to live in the couple's home until the family's heartbreaking end.

More than 600 mourners packed Temple Emanuel, where Butwin was on the board, to participate in a Jewish service of grief on Wednesday.

Steven Gotfried, who was on the board with Butwin, said the rabbi addressed the common shock felt by the community.

"He said we were just in the beginning stages of shock and it will evolve and we will evolve together in the shock of this."

Funerals will be held at a later date.

Friends said they are leaning on each other, trying to cope with losing what one neighbor called "an amazing family with so much heart."

A eulogy penned for the family mourned their loss.

"They always say the good die young, but the words tie the tongue," it said. "We wish we could have known, but it's too late as it is shown."