Retired Navy Air Traffic Controller Killed in Texas Had Been Living an Unconventional Dream

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James and Michelle Butler set out on an adventure in summer 2018, traveling the country in a camper, but on Friday it was confirmed they were murdered in Texas last month at a beach campsite near Corpus Christi.

Texas law enforcement is investigating, but officials have yet to identify a person or persons of interest in the deaths of James, 48, and Michelle, 46.

The couple had been living in Rumney before departing in June 2018, said James Butler's sister, Deborah van Loon.

James Butler had retired after 21 years in the Navy, van Loon said. He had been an air traffic controller on the carrier USS Enterprise. He raised two children in Virginia, where the Enterprise was based at Naval Station Norfolk, the nation's largest naval base.

Van Loon said her brother retired and returned to New Hampshire so he could spend more time with their mother before she died.

He would take his mother out to play darts in leagues and tournaments, van Loon said, and he first met Michelle on one of those outings in 2010. They married in May 2015.

After James Butler left the Navy, van Loon said, he built homes and worked as a manager at a Walmart. But he longed to travel again.

"He said, 'I've traveled the world with the Navy, but I've never seen my own country,'?" van Loon said. Michelle Butler loved the idea of traveling, too.

So they packed up their RV and headed south.

The Butlers spent much of last year in Arizona, living in an RV park in Mesa.

"They had so much fun there," van Loon said. "They loved it there so much."

But they were itching to travel more. The Butlers started finding temporary work though websites with short-term job listings, aimed at people traveling in RVs. They would find a job and camp nearby in their trailer, van Loon said.

They went to Texas to work as gate guards on an oil rig, van Loon said, signing people in and out. They returned to New Hampshire in May for the wedding of James Butler's niece. The Butlers visited again in September to see Michelle Butler's son marry, staying for a week to spend time with family.

Though they were far from New Hampshire, van Loon said they always made time to talk to family and friends back home -- even if it meant driving up to an hour to find cell phone service. They video-called Michelle Butler's young granddaughter every two or three days, and spoke to other family and friends every couple weeks.

Van Loon said between all their loved ones, someone was in touch with the Butlers nearly every day. The family also kept up on Facebook, where Michelle Butler posted photos of their adventures along the way.

In October, the Butlers left their oil rig jobs and started making their way east toward their next gig in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. When they reached Corpus Christi, a beach town on the Gulf of Mexico, van Loon said they decided to stay a while. The couple found a campsite on a Padre Island beach where they could park the RV for free.

They had been there just over two weeks when Michelle Butler's family tried to reach her for one of their regular video calls, but she did not pick up.

It was not like the Butlers to not answer the phone and the family began to worry. They reported the Butlers missing on Oct. 23.

Around dusk on Oct. 27, the Kleberg County Sheriff's Office found a woman's body buried in a shallow grave on the same stretch of beach where the Butlers were staying. The search continued and officers found a man's body nearby the next morning.

After asking the Butlers' family to send dental records, law enforcement in Texas confirmed James and Michelle Butler were dead.

Authorities are trying to find the couple's 2018 silver Chevrolet 2500 pickup truck, with New Hampshire license plate 3738968, and their white Cedar Creek trailer, according to the Kleberg County Sheriff's Office.

The camper is believed to have crossed the border into Mexico, according to the family.

Multiple agencies, including the Texas Ranger Division, the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department are investigating.

Van Loon said she was anxious for answers.

"This needs to be resolved," she said. "I don't want them to drop the ball."

This article is written by Josie Albertson-Grove from The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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