Security guard arrested in connection with death of South Florida woman in Costa Rica

Authorities say body had injuries to head, neck, upper extremities

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter, Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - All signs indicate that a body that was found Monday in Costa Rica is that of a South Florida woman who was reported missing last week, authorities announced Tuesday.

Authorities in Costa Rica said a 32-year-old Nicaraguan man, identified as Bismark Espinosa Martinez, has been arrested in connection with the death of Carla Stefaniak, 36, of Hallandale Beach.

Although authorities were waiting on a fingerprint match from the FBI to confirm the identity, family members said a body found Monday is that of Stefaniak.

The body was found half-buried and covered with plastic bags in a mountainous area behind the Airbnb where she was staying. 

Authorities said blood was found inside the apartment where Stefaniak was staying, which was next door to Espinosa Martinez's apartment. 

Bugra Demirel, a close friend of the Stefanhiak family, said he can't believe what he has been hearing and the family is still holding onto hope.

"It is just terrifying. We cannot express how much pain these people, this family and friends are going through right now," Demirel said. 

Courtesy April Burton via CNN

American Carla Stefaniak went missing in Costa Rica.  

Authorities said Espinosa Martinez was also a security guard at the building. They said the body was found nearly 1,000 feet from the property and had signs of blunt force trauma to the head and injuries caused by a blade to the neck and upper extremities.  

According to relatives, Stefaniak was celebrating her birthday in Costa Rica with her sister-in-law, April Burton. 

Burton, however, left Nov. 27, a day before Stefaniak was scheduled to leave. Stefaniak booked a room using Airbnb for her final night.

Stefaniak dropped off her rental car at a Thrifty Car Rental business after dropping off her sister-in-law.

She then took an Uber back to her Airbnb.

The Uber driver apparently offered to give her a city tour and she agreed.

After getting dropped off at the Airbnb, Stefaniak went to her room to change and get ready. Between 30 to 50 minutes later, she came back down to the same Uber driver, who was waiting for her, and paid him in cash to take her around.

Friends said she sent photos of herself out on the town and she bought a purse and earrings. 

She was later dropped off by the same Uber driver and sent a photo of the place she was staying at to her sister-in-law.

Stefaniak also apparently spoke to her friends via a Whatsapp group chat and told them the power had gone out during a rainstorm.

"It's raining hard, power went off. Super Sketchy," she wrote. 

She later communicated with a friend via Facetime and said that she wanted to go out that night but was too tired. The friend said her phone died around 9 p.m. 

South Florida private investigator Wayne Black said he was contacted by Stefaniak's family after her disappearance. He said he suspected foul play from the start.

"Someone was interviewed at the Airbnb and said she left for the airport at 5 a.m., and the flight was much later. There was something fishy about that story to begin with," he said.

Investigators said they reviewed surveillance footage and spoke to witnesses who saw Stefaniak at various times and said they determined the contradictory statements the security guard gave to them were incompatible with evidence they found. 

Officials said immigration reports indicate Espinosa Martinez has an "irregular immigration status" in Costa Rica and has been in the country since June. 

"I don't know if this is right to say this is or not but maybe there was a way to save Carla … maybe not," Demirel said. "If I could just rewind back the time, I would just beg them to do something about it the day after not five or six days after."

Local 10 News reporter Trent Kelly spoke to Stefaniak's co-workers Tuesday at the insurance office in Dania Beach where she works.

Stefaniak's co-workers said she was an excellent employee who could get along with anyone. 

An Airbnb representative said the company is cooperating with local authorities in Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica and the FBI are also assisting with the case, Stefaniak's family said.

An attorney for the vacation rental facility from which Stefaniak disappeared released a statement to WFTS, saying the owners are also cooperating with the investigation and have temporarily closed the facility.

"Since 2013, Villa Le Mas has operated a small vacation rental facility located at San Antonio, Escazu, Costa Rica. We have received over 1,000 guests with wonderful reviews about the property and our service," Federico Jenkins said. "We are deeply saddened and devastated by the tragic events that occurred last week. 

"The owners are fully cooperating with the authorities in the investigation and we hope that once the facts are determined, the perpetrator is brought to justice. Our deepest sympathies are with the family of the victim of this horrible crime.

"While the investigation is ongoing, and since the focus of the owners is the comfort of our guests, the facility has been temporarily closed."


 

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