Body found in Costa Rica is Florida woman

A security guard at a Costa Rica Airbnb rental villa has been arrested for allegedly killing a South Florida woman who went missing last week, authorities said Wednesday.

Carla Stefaniak, who had gone to the Central American country to celebrate her 36th birthday, never boarded her Nov. 28 return flight after messaging friends that it was “pretty sketchy” at the resort.

Bismarck Espinosa Martinez, 32, was arrested after contradicting himself in statements to the police, the department said. Investigators found blood in his nearby apartment. 

An autopsy revealed that Stefaniak suffered a blunt force wound to her head and lacerations on her neck and arms, authorities said. Search dogs found the partially decomposed body, wrapped in plastic bags and half-buried, in woods near the Airbnb apartment she rented.

“What happened to Carla is just unimaginable,” said her friend, Bugra Demirel, who described her as a “happy soul” who made everyone laugh. 

Espinosa Martinez, a Nicaraguan immigrant, worked security at the Villa le Mas complex but lacked documentation to be in Costa Rica, department officials said at a news conference in San Jose. Officials believe he has lived in Costa Rica since June.

Investigators identified Stefaniak’s remains using fingerprints, the country’s Judicial Investigation Department said. Stefaniak’s family members also traveled there to help with identification. 

Stefaniak’s brother, Mario Caicedo, confirmed the death to NBC News on Wednesday morning, saying that they were able to see the remains Tuesday night.

A post on a Facebook page set up by friends and family read, “Words cannot express the devastation within her family and friends. We want the world to know that we will never forget Carla. 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.” 

Stefaniak, of Hallandale Beach, Florida, went missing nearly a week ago. A GoFundMe page said she was last heard from around 8 p.m. on Nov. 27. Her family notified Costa Rican authorities after she did not board her flight home the next day after checking in online. 

An insurance agent, Stefaniak loved to travel and post photos on Instagram. In her last Instagram post on Nov. 25,  she laid near a pool with tropical plants in the background. “I’m going to miss the place,” she wrote.

Stefaniak went to Costa Rica with her sister-in-law, but she booked a return flight the day before Stefaniak. An Uber driver took her on a tour of San Jose, then dropped Stefaniak off at the Airbnb around 5 p.m. on her last night of the trip. 

Police discovered what appeared to be blood in the apartment where Stefaniak stayed in the San Antonio de Escazu neighborhood and analyzed surveillance video from the apartment complex.

Walter Espinoza, head of the country’s Judicial Investigation Department, said the images in the video did not align with Espinosa Martinez’s statements.

“It’s too much for us,” her father, Carlos Stefaniak, told ABC Action News in Tampa from Costa Rica. He showed a photo of his four children – Carla and her sister, and their two brothers. “That’s my team. They are incomplete.” 

Airbnb removed Villa le Mas – a compound with seven vacation apartments – and said Wednesday that it had reached out to family members with condolences. The compound’s attorney said its owners are cooperating with the investigation

It was once called Villa Le Mas and was an “aftercare facility” for tourists who traveled to Costa Rica for medical procedures, according to its TripAdvisor.com profile. In recent years, reviews have been mainly negative.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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