Seeking adventure, James Butler, 48, and Michelle Butler, 45, rented out their house in New Hampshire in the summer of 2018, bought an RV and set out to live anywhere but home. Their travels took them to New York, Arizona and, in October, to a campground on the South Texas coast.
But then the Butlers disappeared. On Friday, authorities said they had found their bodies buried in a shallow grave on the beach southeast of Corpus Christi. Their truck and RV were missing. The deaths were ruled homicides, and investigators are searching for those responsible for the killings.
“I’m speechless, I guess,” the couple’s daughter-in-law, Caitlin Roth, said in an interview Monday evening.
“They were good people, family people, they would do anything for anyone, give their shirt off their back for anyone,” she added.
The Kleberg County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment Monday evening on how or when they believe the Butlers were killed. But at a news conference Monday afternoon, investigators said they were looking for two unnamed people of interest — a man and a woman — captured on surveillance camera footage driving into Mexico recently.
The authorities declined to provide more details about the people of interest, other than to say that they might have recently been in contact with the Butlers.
“They’re just people that we want to identify and talk to for background in the investigation,” John T. Hubert, the Kleberg County district attorney, said at the news conference.
The Butlers were bored with the monotony of everyday life when they decided about a year and a half ago to crisscross the country in an RV, Roth said.
James Butler quit his job at a Walmart and Michelle Butler left her office job. The couple first drove the RV to New York to visit a friend, then to Arizona, where they stayed for months, picking up “odds and ends” jobs as they traveled, Roth said.
“They didn’t have a destination when they started out,” Roth said.
In September, the couple returned to New Hampshire for Roth’s wedding to Michelle Butler’s son, Bradley Roth. After the wedding, James and Michelle Butler set out for Texas.
They landed at Padre Balli Park near Corpus Christi on Oct. 14, where they paid $25 a night to park their RV at the campgrounds, according to Roth. Soon, the Butlers headed to a nearby beach where they could park free, Roth said.
On Oct. 15, the couple went to the post office to mail their granddaughter — who was starting horse-riding lessons — Texas-made cowgirl boots. Two days later, when Roth tried to FaceTime the Butlers so they could see the excitement about the boots on their granddaughter’s face, the couple could not be reached.
“The messages were not going through and they didn’t answer,” Roth said.
A few days later, Roth still had not heard from the Butlers. On Oct. 23, she filed a missing persons report, she said.
Investigators used cellphone towers to approximate the Butlers’ last known location, leading them to an area of the beach on Padre Island known as “the bowl” for the way the sand dunes form a depression there, said Jaime Garza, chief deputy at the Kleberg County Sheriff’s Office.
A reserve deputy searching the area on the evening of Oct. 27 saw a bra on the ground, prompting him to think that it might be a crime scene, Garza said. Investigators soon found part of a body exposed above the sand, he said.
The next morning, investigators began digging and found two bodies, Garza said. On Nov. 1, the Nueces County medical examiner identified the bodies as those of the Butlers, the authorities said. Nothing else belonging to the couple was found at the scene, Garza said.
A spokesman for the Nueces County medical examiner said Monday that an autopsy was completed, but he declined to comment on how the Butlers were killed.
Roth said the Butlers were planning to drive to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in a few weeks to sell Christmas trees.
Now, the Butlers’ family plans to have the couple cremated and brought back to New Hampshire for a celebration of life, according to Bradley Roth.
“I was with her every day when I was growing up,” he said.
“I’m at a loss for words, to say the least,” he added. “It’s a lot to grasp and come to terms with.”