Carla Stefaniak, 36, was reported missing in Costa Rica on November 28, and her family has since launched a social media campaign to find her, begging the State Department to get involved in the situation. Stefaniak, from Miami, Florida, was traveling with her sister-in-law April Burton, to celebrate Stefaniak’s birthday.
Burton flew home on November 27, and Stefaniak’s flight was booked for the 28th. But the airline says she never arrived. Now, local authorities have discovered a woman’s body buried 200 feet from the Airbnb property Stefaniak was staying. Here’s everything to know about the situation.
According to Stefaniak’s family, who created a Facebook page for her, Stefaniak was last heard from on November 27, when she texted family letting them know what her plans were.
According to her sister-in-law, Stefaniak dropped her off at the airport, and then spent the night in the Airbnb alone. BBC reports that the owner of the Airbnb and local security guards say they saw Stefaniak get into an unmarked car at 5:00 a.m. on November 28. But the family is skeptical of that story. “None of us really believe this 5 a.m. story because it really doesn’t make sense,” Burton told Fox News.
On the same Facebook post, Stefaniak’s family said that they feared for her safety. “Carla Stefaniak’s life is in imminent danger,” read the statement. “The local officials and U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica will not pursue the matter because they feel she was rational at the time of her disappearance and got into a taxi of her own free will.”
On Friday, her brother flew to Costa Rica to assist in the search, and BBC reported that Stefaniak’s father was also traveling to the country. The family also started the hashtag #FindingCarla on social media. The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica has not yet commented.
ABC Action News reports that a woman’s body was found near the back of the Airbnb property that Stefaniak was staying at. The body will not be identified until an official autopsy is conducted. The body was found by specialized dogs who searched the property with law enforcement.
“The body was in a state of decomposition but the preliminary observation does verify the body is a woman,” said Walter Espinoza, the director general of the Judicial Investigation Agency, the law enforcement agency tasked with investigating her disappearance.
The listing for the property where Stefaniak was staying has been taken off of Airbnb, and the company has not yet commented on her case.
According to the Associated Press, Costa Rican authorities have identified the body found on Monday as Carla Stefaniak. BBC News reported that following an autopsy, the cause of death was determined to be head trauma. In a statement to the press, Costa Rican director general of the Judicial Investigation Department Walter Espinoza announced that a security guard at the property has been taken into custody for his suspected involvement in Stefaniak’s death.
“Words cannot express the devastation within her family and friends. We want the world to know that we will never forget Carla,” said Stefaniak’s family in a statement. “We will never forget the joy she brought into our lives, how much she made us laugh. We will always be with her and we know she will always be with us. May god bless her soul.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Espinoza revealed the identity of the man arrested in relation to Stefaniak’s murder. A man living in the apartment next door to the Airbnb, Bismarck Espinosa Martinez, attracted the attention of police when he gave police contradicting stories about when he last saw Stefaniak. According to the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Martinez was a security guard at a resort in San Jose.
Espinoza also said during the press conference that the crime was “sexual in nature.” When Stefaniak’s body was found, she was partially nude and wrapped in plastic bags. An autopsy revealed that she suffered from multiple cuts on her arms and neck. Espinoza also shared that the Airbnb where Stefaniak was staying had traces of blood and “other forensic evidence” on the floor.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.