The security guard accused in the murder of Florida tourist Carla Stefaniak is now 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 and 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, official 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-in-law 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, possibly Martinez, 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 told she had already left. Martinez then said she called a cab, but that did not appear to match her cel phone 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 in a recorded interview. “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.
Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at email@example.com. Follow @danuscripts.