A high school athlete's confession and the chilling crime that shocked a small Idaho town - East Idaho News
CHILLING CRIME

A high school athlete’s confession and the chilling crime that shocked a small Idaho town

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BURLEY — In November 2023, EastIdahoNews.com shared a story about a 7-year-old girl who was kidnapped and killed in Burley in 1949.

Glenda Joyce Brisbois’ story was featured in our weekly Looking Back column, which looks back on what life was like during certain time periods in east Idaho history.

Since sharing part of Glenda’s story, we have learned more about the case that shook a small Idaho community.

Glenda Brisbois disappears

Glenda, who was described as a “friendly little girl, “was kidnapped while playing near her home, the Idaho State Journal reported on Nov. 17, 1949. According to Cassia County Sheriff Saul Clark, Wayne Whicker, Glenda’s 6-year-old playmate, said the two of them were walking near their school when a car with a man inside approached Glenda.

Clark said the boy told him the man who stopped to talk with Glenda had also spoken to two other little girls along the street before approaching Glenda, who then got into his car.

“She has been warned repeatedly about accepting rides from strangers,” her grandfather B.C. Bishop, of Payette, Idaho, mentioned. “She must have forgotten.”

“Her disappearance touched off an intensive air and ground search,” the Journal stated. “Planes swept over all main and secondary highways as far north as Arco and south to the Utah and Nevada lines searching for anything suspicious.”

Glenda Brisbois is found dead

A friend of the family found Glenda’s body 18 hours after she’d been kidnapped in an irrigation canal “1 mile southeast of this aroused and angry Idaho farming community of 5,300 persons.”

“Nearly a foot of water partly covered the small body, which was fully clothed,” an article by The Associated Press shared by The Town Talk said.

‘No. 1 suspect’ found on the run and later confesses to the brutal killing

On Nov. 18, 1949, it was announced “the No. 1 suspect” in the “kidnap slaying” was arrested Friday by a state patrolman in Elmore County, around 110 miles northwest of Burley.

“A description of a man wanted for questioning had been broadcast over the police radio a short time earlier,” the article explained.

The person arrested was Neil Butterfield — also spelled in other news articles as Neale and Neal — a 16-year-old Heyburn High School athlete.

“The youth arrested was described by Cassia County Probate Judge Henry Tucker as a former inmate of the State Industrial School at St. Anthony, where he was sent as a delinquent after a case involving forged checks,” the article in The Post Register mentioned.

On Friday afternoon, Butterfield “confessed to the slaying” to a group of Magic Valley peace officers after a “grilling at the Jerome County Courthouse.” Sheriff Clark said Butterfield, “hit the little girl on the head with a bumper jack three times.” However, by Saturday night, he still hadn’t confessed to raping Glenda, “although an autopsy disclosed the tot had been ravished.”

“I’d seen death in movies and read about it in books, and I wanted to see someone die,” Twin Falls County Sheriff Jesse E. Carlton said Butterfield told the officers at Jerome.

“A crowd of several hundred persons milled around the courthouse here Friday night,” the Twin Falls Times News reported. “It was to avoid this crowd that Butterfield was arraigned in the field. … The arraignment in a sagebrush field out of sight of the highway in Cassia County lasted about 10 minutes. The arrangements were secret because of the high feeling in Burley.”

The Twin Falls Times News talked with Butterfield the day he was arraigned. The paper explained that several times during the 15-minute talk with a Times-News reporter, Butterfield’s “clean-cut face wrinkled into a slight grin.” The paper said he “was not nervous.”

“(He) was composed, stolid and unremorseful,” the Times-News stated.

A look into Butterfield’s life

Frank Watson, superintendent of Heyburn High School where Butterfield was a “football star this fall,” said his classmates “at first, couldn’t believe the popular boy had committed the crime.”

“From all appearances he was a regular American boy,” Watson said. “He was liked by all students and teachers. He was not a problem boy and could have made the best grades if he had wanted to. Reports were that he was a perfect gentleman on dates.”

It was reported that he had a “normal home life and good parents” but did seem to have “some frustration — something that a person couldn’t put into words.”

Watson also said when “news of the discovery of Brenda Joyce’s body swept through the school like a grass fire,” Butterfield “joined with other students in discussing it.”

Watson said Butterfield told him about the discovery and Watson said, “They should make it tough for the murderer.” Butterfield responded, “They sure should.”

“He showed no signs of worry or even of knowledge of the affair,” Watson stated.

What happened to Butterfield?

On Dec. 28, 1949, The Post Register reported that Butterfield was ordered to undergo psychiatric exams at State Hospital South.

Butterfield was eventually sentenced to life in prison. The judge reportedly rejected the prosecutor’s call for the death penalty, citing Butterfield’s young age as a factor in his decision.

In January 1951, Butterfield was one of seven Idaho state prison inmates who tried to break out of prison. The inmates escaped their cells by sawing off the bars with hacksaw blades.

“Once loose in the cellblock, they attempted to dig their way out and were nearly successful before the attempt was discovered,” the Nampa Idaho Free Press reported. “All seven were … back in solitary confinement.”

Then in 1962, after 12 years of being in prison, Butterfield, who was 28 years old at the time, was released from the Idaho Penitentiary on parole.

“The Board of Corrections voted 2 to 1 to grant a parole to Butterfield with the warden casting the dissenting vote,” according to a news article.

“Time will tell if Butterfield has been rehabilitated,” the Twin Falls Times News stated. “For the sake of the public, let’s hope he has been.”

After his release, Butterfield took a job with an electrical firm in the Boise area.

It’s unclear what Butterfield did the rest of his life but records show he got married in 1964, two years after being released from prison, and died in 2000 at age 67.

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