Se­cu­rity guard held in mur­der in Costa Rica

Tampa Bay Times - - Tampa Bay - BY DANIEL FIGUEROA IV Con­tact Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]­ Fol­low @danuscripts. Times Staff Writer

The Costa Ri­can se­cu­rity guard ac­cused in the mur­der of Flor­ida tourist Carla Ste­fa­niak be­ing held in jail and is con­sid­ered a flight risk, ac­cord­ing to that na­tion’s au­thor­i­ties.

The Ju­di­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion De­part­ment said Bis­marck Espinoza Martinez, 32, is the sole sus­pect in Ste­fa­niak’s slay­ing. Martinez is a guard at the prop­erty in the San Jose sub­urb of Es­cazu where Ste­fa­niak was stay­ing and lived in the room next to hers.

Ste­fa­niak was re­ported miss­ing by fam­ily when she never boarded her flight home from Costa Rica on Nov. 28, her 36th birth­day. A “Find­ing Carla” Facebook page and so­cial me­dia cam­paign went vi­ral as the search for her went on for a week.

On Mon­day, Costa Ri­can au­thor­i­ties said they found the half-buried body of a woman in the woods about 1,000 feet from Ste­fa­niak’s room. The next day, au­thor­i­ties and her fa­ther con­firmed that it was Ste­fa­niak.

“At this time, we al­ready have an iden­ti­fied sus­pect and he is un­der pre­ven­tive cus­tody,” In­ves­ti­ga­tion De­part­ment Gen­eral Di­rec­tor Wal­ter Espinoza said in a news con­fer­ence. “(He) will also be sub­jected to other tests that will al­low us more clar­ity and more light on the case.”

Martinez is a na­tive of Nicaragua, of­fi­cials said. He’d been in the coun­try since June, but Espinoza said he was there un­der “ir­reg­u­lar” cir­cum­stances. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing, the di­rec­tor said, and Martinez is con­sid­ered to be a flight risk.

Espinoza said he couldn’t re­veal de­tails of the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion but said “the ini­tial ap­pear­ance is that it was sex­u­ally mo­ti­vated.” He said in­ves­ti­ga­tors are still try­ing to fig­ure out the ex­act mo­tive for her death and un­der­stand the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the in­ci­dent.

An au­topsy re­vealed that Ste­fa­niak had suf­fered mul­ti­ple stab wounds and a bro­ken neck. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to her head, of­fi­cials said.

Ste­fa­niak was an avid trav­eler and had been in Costa Rica since Nov. 22 with her sis­ter-in-law April An­toni­eta to cel­e­brate her birth­day. They trav­eled to the coun­try to­gether, but the sis­ter-in­law flew back on Nov. 27. Ste­fa­niak took an Uber back to their rented AirBnB apart­ment in Villa le Mas to wait for her flight the next day. She stayed in con­stant con­tact with friends and fam­ily through FaceTime calls and mes­sages on What­sApp.

Some­time around 8 p.m., the mes­sages stopped. Ste­fa­niak was chat­ting with a friend and said she was thirsty. She told friends the weather was get­ting bad and the area seemed “sketchy.” The last thing she was re­ported to have said is that she was go­ing to ask a guard for water.

When fam­ily and friends never heard back from her, they knew some­thing was wrong.

Au­thor­i­ties ar­rested Martinez af­ter they said his story changed and did not match the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the case.

The se­cu­rity guard ini­tially told au­thor­i­ties Ste­fa­niak took an Uber and checked out around 5 a.m. Her fam­ily, how­ever, was able to see her Uber re­ceipts from two rides with the same driver from the day be­fore and saw noth­ing that matched Martinez’s claim.

She had also ar­ranged for a ride to the air­port with the same driver for 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 28. That driver showed up and was told she had al­ready left. Martinez then said she called a cab, but that did not ap­pear to match her cell­phone ac­tiv­ity, said fam­ily friend Laura Jaime.

Ste­fa­niak, a na­tive of Venezuela, moved to Tampa in 2000, then to Mi­ami in 2012. Much of her fam­ily still lives in the Tampa Bay area.

“My daugh­ter went as a tourist and was mur­dered,” Car­los Caicedo, Ste­fa­niak’s fa­ther, said. “How can we have any doubt? And she was mur­dered in the worst way, with cru­elty.”

Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press, AirBnb has since re­moved Villa le Mas from its site.


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