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NJSP charge father and son in mysterious woods burial of missing man

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

BEYOND NORTH JERSEY : Did a father and son kill a South Jersey man whose remains were found strewn and buried in a state forest this month, two years after he went missing? Or did they dispose of Joseph Butterworth’s body after he died on his own? A family was finally able to bury Butterworth privately today, while State Police who accused both men of dumping the body try to determine what happened to him.

Police interviewed Brandon Strater, 24, of Daytona Beach, Florida, after he reportedly was the last person seen with 29-year-old Joseph Butterworth in July 2008. Relatives reported Butterworth missing three days later, said NJ State Police Sgt. First Class Stephen Jones.

Butterworth’s car was found three months later in the woods about three miles from where his body was eventually found, Jones said.

But it wasn’t until this month that investigators caught a break.

A hunter walking through Wharton State Forest in Burlington County on Dec. 11 found several bones, took them home, then called State Police, Jones said.

Acclaimed forensic anthropologist Donna Fontana confirmed the bones were human, and the hunter led investigators to the spot where he found them.

State Police detectives and State Park Police dug right there and found the rest of Butterworth, who was identified through dental records, Jones said.

Troopers with the Major Crimes Unit and Troop C Criminal Investigations Office pulled the case file and retraced all of the steps. That led them to Brandon Strater, who was seen with the victim in Haddon Heights before he went missing. The younger Strater was picked up by U.S. Marshals last night at his Daytona Beach home.

Authorities in New Jersey took his father, 55-year-old Lee Strater, of Sewell, into custody, as well.

Both men are charged with desecrating human remains and hindering apprehension. Lee Strater made bail and was released this morning. Brandon Strater is being held in the Volusia County Jail in Florida, awaiting an extradition hearing.

“At this point, neither man has been charged in the death of the victim,” Jones said this afternoon.  “It is currently unclear how Butterworth died, and this investigation remains open and active.”

Because of that, Jones couldn’t go into detail about possible scenarios.

State authorities turned over the remains to Butterworth’s family, who held a brief wake in Haddon Heights today, followed by a Mass at St. Rose of Lima RC Church nearby and a private interment.

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