Investigators are calling the case of a missing Tempe family whose car was found torched in the desert a murder-suicide. This is a 180-degree turn from what Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu first labeled it, initially saying the deaths were a hit by drug cartels. Now some experts say the evidence was there that should have clued the sheriff to hold his tongue.
Every car has a vehicle identification number, or a VIN. Most of them can be found in the lower left corner of the dashboard and lead you to the owner of the car. So we wonder, if PCSO did their job and ran this VIN right away, why did it take a call from Tempe police to connect the car to the Butwin family?
"Your first job is to determine who owned that car," said Jon Sellers, who was with Phoenix police for 20 years and was a detective for 16 of them. He is referring to the Butwins' torched Ford SUV found in a remote area of Pinal County desert known as Vekol Valley, a spot notorious for smuggling. Sellers said once you find the VIN or other identification numbers in the car's frame, it'll lead you to the owners in no time.
"If you have the VIN number, you can get that information almost immediately through the MVD," Sellers said. So after they found the torched SUV Saturday morning, why did it take PCSO two whole days to visit the Butwins' Tempe home?
"It never took me two days," Sellers said, who isn't involved in this investigation.
Some are saying Babeu was too quick to make it a smuggling issue. On Saturday, he told our cameras this crime is evidence that the cartels may be in our backyard.
"These are more clues or evidence that the border is not more secure than ever," Babeu said on Saturday. Now, he's backpedaling.
"Everybody's trying to make like there was some affirmative statement or conclusion of fact," Babeu said on Wednesday. "That was never done."
And even though Babeu says he was only trying to be transparent, Sellers thinks it may have been a little premature.
"In hindsight, the sheriff probably should have withheld his opinion until all the facts were in," Sellers said.
On Wednesday, a small group of protestors showed up at PCSO's offices, denouncing how quickly Babeu rushed to judgment.
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