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Florida woman slain in Costa Rica a ‘happy soul’

08 December 2018

Almost a week had passed since Stefaniak's relatives and friends in Florida embarked on an worldwide search after she failed to return from her birthday celebration in Costa Rica. Instead, Carla Stefaniak vanished last week, never making it back home alive.

Airbnb says it has removed the vacation rental listing in Costa Rica where a woman was staying when she was slain.

Her body was found half-buried and covered with plastic bags.

On Tuesday, police arrested that security guard, identified as 32-year-old Bismark Espinoza Martinez, in Stefaniak's death.

But Stefaniak's family always maintained that the story "didn't make sense".

Martinez is expected to spend the next three months behind bars on what's known as a preventive sentence in Costa Rica. Stefaniak was in Apartment No. 8.

Florida woman slain in Costa Rica a ‘happy soul’
Florida woman slain in Costa Rica a ‘happy soul’

She also suffered a blow to the head.

Investigators performed an autopsy Tuesday, and plan to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to match fingerprints to formally confirm the body belongs to Stefaniak.

Espinoza Martinez had been staying in the apartment next to Stefaniak's rental, the spokesman said, adding that the suspect is a Nicaraguan national who has been in Costa Rica since June. The family alerted Costa Rican authorities and launched a social media campaign to find her.

On Tuesday, Costa Rican authorities positively identified the body but did not allow her family to see it.

The body was badly decomposed, making it hard to identify.

On the Facebook page "Finding Carla", which has posted updates on the case, Stefaniak was described as "selfless, funny, charismatic, an wonderful friend, an avid animal lover and a fighter". Late Tuesday, in an emotional Facebook post, her family said that Stefaniak's father had confirmed the body found was his daughter's.

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Burton told First Coast News her sister-in-law was "really friendly, extroverted [and] has a ton of friends".

Stefaniak did not show up for her return flight on November 27.

While the US State Department advises "normal precautions" - the lowest level for safety and security risk - for Americans traveling to Costa Rica, it warns visitors to increase caution in certain neighborhoods, noting violent crimes such as homicides, armed robberies and assaults, with gang and narcotics activity and limited police presence. On Nov. 23, she posted a photo of her looking at the ocean that said, "Future resident of Costa Rica". Her companion flew home to Tampa a day early to get a better deal on the airfare, Jaime said. "She was really a nice girl".

"I just had a weird feeling even before I got to the airport", Jaime said. I started sending her birthday messages and no one had heard from her at all. She Facetimed a friend in NY, telling him she was going to ask the security guard to buy her a bottle of water.

"When she was leaving, I happened to be outside and see her with her luggage and stuff", Rivelli said. And she was not there. "We are not", her family wrote on Facebook.

Burton said Stefaniak sent an alarming message to a friend the night before she was reported missing, saying, "It's pretty sketchy here".

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After her sister-in-law left, an Uber driver took her on a tour of San Jose, then dropped her off at the Airbnb around 5 p.m. on November 27. "He thought the phone died or the reception was bad".

During an exclusive interview with WFTS, Stefaniak's father, Carlos, said his heart shattered when he saw her body.

Susannah Bryan can be reached at or.

Soon after, authorities said an unidentified body was found not far from the Airbnb.

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Florida woman slain in Costa Rica a ‘happy soul’