Authorities in Texas said Monday they are looking for two people in connection with the deaths of two New Hampshire residents who were found buried in a shallow grave at a beach last month.
The Kleberg County Sheriff's Office released a photo of two "persons of interest" in connection with the deaths of James Butler, 48, and Michelle Butler, 46, which are being investigated as homicides.
The move came three days after investigators confirmed that two bodies found last month at Padre Island, near Corpus Christi, were those of the couple from Rumney, New Hampshire.
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The Butlers had been traveling the United States in an RV since last year.
In the center of the small New Hampshire town where they’re from, a memorial is growing in the Butlers' honor.
Family members tell us they are heartbroken and searching for answers.
“You see things like this on TV and you say, ‘those poor people, they’re going through hell,’ and you just can’t even imagine it, and you just never, ever, ever think it’s going to be you,” said James’ sister Deborah Van Loon.
Sitting on the front steps of her brother’s Rumney home, Van Loon says it’s hard to imagine he’ll never return.
“Everybody that met him loved him, you just couldn’t help it – he was infectious,” she said.
After spending more than two decades in the Navy, and then building houses and working at a local Walmart, Butler and his wife Michelle decided they wanted to travel the country.
So, they bought a second-hand RV and took off together last June.
“Since the two started dating, they were inseparable,” Van Loon said.
The couple stayed in touch with family and posted on social media often, she said, so worry set in right away when they missed a facetime call from their 5-year-old granddaughter.
“It was very obvious that there was something wrong,” said their niece, Stephanie Van Loon.
The couple was reported missing on Oct. 23.
Within four days, their bodies were found near Corpus Christi – buried in a shallow grave on a beach near the spot where they had last posted some photos online.
“If everywhere you go you’re making friends, how could this happen to you?" Stephanie asked.
Authorities said the couple's truck and RV were captured on surveillance cameras crossing the border into Mexico – and neither James nor Michelle was driving.
The photo released by authorities showed two people in a vehicle, including a man in a red shirt in the driver's seat. The Kleberg County Sheriff’s Office is asking the public to help identify the people in the picture in a murder mystery that’s captivated the nation.
“At this point, we just want to find out who these people are and talk to them about the facts of the case,” said Kleberg County District Attorney John Hubert.
While the family would like to know what happened to John and Michelle, they admit that it won’t make losing them any easier.
“We can only hope there is justice involved, but that is as far as we can take it,” Van Loon said. “Other than that, it’s going to be a gaping hole in all of our hearts forever.”
Authorities haven’t yet revealed how the couple died.
The family is afraid whoever committed the crime likely befriended the Butlers before betraying them.
According to authorities, a deputy located a woman's remains in a shallow grave on the island on Oct. 27. Chief Deputy Jaime Garza said a man's body was discovered beneath the first body.
The sheriff's office had said the Butlers were reported missing, along with their truck and RV. Relatives said the pair was last heard from on Oct. 14. They said the couple was likely headed to a part-time job in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and due to arrive on Nov. 20.
The Butlers had set up their truck and RV near Beach Market 263 on Padre Island on Oct. 15, the sheriff's office said.
The investigation is ongoing.