By mid-October, the communication had stopped.
On Oct. 27, a woman’s body was found buried in a shallow grave on the Texas beach where the Butlers were last seen camping, officials with the Kleberg County Sheriff’s Office told the news media. A day later, authorities discovered a man’s body underneath.
On Friday evening, van Loon got a call from law enforcement: The bodies belonged to her brother and his wife.
The deaths, ruled homicides by a medical examiner, are under investigation, according to local media. Authorities have video of the Butlers’ truck and trailer crossing into Mexico, driven by someone else, CBS Boston reported.
Confirmation of the bodies’ identities came a day before James’s birthday, van Loon said. Her brother was going to turn 49; Michelle was 46. Friday’s call was devastating, but also a “consolation,” van Loon said, because their families finally have some answers since reporting the couple missing weeks ago.
“The past week has been sheer hell not knowing, since they found the bodies — just being up in the air,” she said.
The sheriff’s office said a friend had reported last seeing the couple on Oct. 16, a day after they parked their camper on the beach on Padre Island, Tex., the Associated Press reported.
Law enforcement officers “are working on identification of persons of interest and attempting to find the whereabouts of the victims’ truck and RV trailer,” the office said in a news release, according to the AP.
The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday from The Washington Post. On Monday, authorities identified two persons of interest, releasing their photos and asking for the public’s help “to bring those responsible for the deaths of James and Michelle Butler to justice.”
The Butlers’ relatives are working to bring the bodies home, van Loon said, and trying to make sense of a horrific turn in two happy lives.
The couple got their RV after James, who had traveled the world with the Navy, said he wanted to see the United States. By fall, van Loon said, the Butlers were having so much fun on the road that they had put their Rumney, N.H., house on the market to become long-term “RVers.“
After working on Texas oil rigs to fund their travels, she said, they were about to move to Florida and sell Christmas trees, “to do something different.”
Together, she said, the Butlers left behind five children.
As the news of their deaths has spread, van Loon said, condolences have poured in from people around the country — and around the world, because of James’s 21 years in the military.
“It’s beautiful and heart-wrenching all at the same time,” van Loon said.