What Really Happened To Carla Stefaniak?

For her 36th birthday, Florida insurance agent Carla Stefaniak traveled to Costa Rica with her sister-in-law for a dream vacation. On her last night there, Carla checked into a villa alone – and disappeared.

June 07, 2019

Carla Stefaniak [Investigation Discovery]

Carla Stefaniak [Investigation Discovery]

By: Catherine Townsend

UPDATE (AUGUST 7, 2019):

Bismark Espinoza Martinez has reportedly been charged with the equivalent of second-degree murder in connection with the murder of Florida insurance agent Carla Stefaniak in Costa Rica. Espinoza Martinez has been charged by the Fiscalia de Pavas (Prosecutor’s Office) with “homicidio simple," according to Q C Costa Rica.

Espinoza Martinez faces only 12 to 18 years in prison if he is convicted — and Stefaniak's family has expressed their outrage at the brevity of the potential sentence. Stefaniak’s brother Mario Caicedo told the Costa Rica Star: “We want him to get the maximum penalty the Costa Rican law allows. There’s so much things to the crime that would make anybody think this is first-degree murder.”

Police determined that Stefaniak had been bludgeoned and stabbed repeatedly during the brutal attack. Her neck was broken, and investigators found many defense wounds.

The family also questions that Espinoza Martinez was the only suspect charged in Carla’s murder. They have stated in the past that they believe that Espinoza Martinez is too small to have carried Carla 100 meters to the shallow grave where she was found. They also pointed out that the room was very thoroughly cleaned after Stefaniak disappeared, which led them to believe that if Espinoza Martinez killed Stefaniak, he may have had help.

According to the report by Telenoticias (Teletica), the accusation states the following:

“Espinoza taking advantage of the domain of the site, decided to approach Karla Stefaniak, for which he went to the villa she occupied, located 20 meters from the security booth and on the property in which the accused resided. “Without being able to determine how by virtue of the fact that there was no force on the doors and windows, the defendant entered and once attacked her with a “arma blanca” (blade weapon) causing seven wounds at the neck and face. “Then, the accused taking advantage of the geographical and conditions of the site, in order to disappear the body moved her approximately 100 meters from the property and hid it in the undergrowth.

“Among the relevant witnesses, there is the lady who, in addition to working in the villas, is a friend of the mother of the accused, who can undoubtedly confirm the telephone conversation that existed between the mother and the wife of the accused, in which Bismark’s wife told the mother-in-law the confession of having been the one who murdered the victim.”

Caicedo said the family hopes to pressure Costa Rican authorities into charging Espinoza Martinez with the harshest penalty possible. He said in a statement to ABC News: “What we want to do is just spread the word about what’s happening in Costa Rica. American authorities have no jurisdiction in Costa Rica, so all we can do is spread the word and make the news viral to put some pressure on Costa Rican authorities to do a better job.”

Espinoza Martinez is currently in Preventive Detention awaiting trial.

ORIGINAL STORY (JUNE 7, 2019):

For her 36th birthday, Florida insurance agent Carla Stefaniak traveled to Costa Rica with her sister-in-law for a dream vacation. On her last night there, Carla checked into a villa alone – and disappeared. Now, her family and friends are desperate to find out the truth about what happened to her.

“Traveling was her passion. Her dream was to travel around the world,” Carla’s brother Mario told investigation Discovery. For her 36th birthday, Carla traveled to Costa Rica with her sister-in-law April. According to her family, Carla was addicted to social media, and their adventure unfolded on social media: Carla posted photos of herself during surfing classes and hanging out and traveling to the beach.

On November 27, Carla dropped April off at the airport, the day before she herself was scheduled to return home. Carla then spent the rest of her last day on a tour of downtown San Jose, employing an Uber driver who she had arranged to pick her up at 8:30 the next morning for her return flight to Fort Lauderdale.

At around 5:00 p.m. that afternoon, she checked into her room close to the airport – which, according to her family, was a gated apartment complex with several Airbnb rentals inside. Carla sent pictures of the villa and indicated to friends online that it was raining. At around 7:00 p.m. she texted April to say that the power went out – and sent pictures of the dark villa. Though the power came back on, she sent out another text, saying that the place seemed “sketchy.” Just before 9:00 p.m. she texted two other friends to let them know that she was going out to ask a guard for a bottle of water. That was the last that they heard from her.

The next morning, on Carla’s actual birthday, there was no trace of her on social media. Because this was so unusual her parents and friends started calling and texting her, and sent various messages via social media. One of her friends went to Instagram and saw that she had not been online since the previous evening – just before 9:00 p.m., the same time she said she was going out for water.

When she failed to show up at the airport her friends and family called the U.S. and Costa Rican police. Authorities had to wait 48 hours before they could call it a missing persons case. In the meantime her frantic friends and family spread the word on social media, hoping that someone had seen her. Within a few days Carla’s dad, her brother Carlos Caicedo and a friend were on the ground in Costa Rica. They visited the Airbnb where she stayed, and staff told them that a guard saw Carla leave very early on the morning of her birthday. The room Carla had stayed in was clean.

Police contacted the Uber driver, who told them that he never picked Carla up. Uber’s records backed him up – he waited at the appointed time, but told police that a guard at the compound told him that Carla had been picked up at 5:00 a.m. Costa Rican police have stated that they do not consider the Uber driver a suspect.

The family talked to Senator Marco Rubio and the FBI, with US law enforcement agencies coming in to help local authorities. The FBI checked Carla's iPhone movements and bank transactions, with all evidence pointing to Carla having never left the compound.

On December 3, 2018, investigators inspected the room more carefully with scent-detecting dogs. According to authorities, the dogs signalled an alert, indicating that they found traces of blood. Authorities also said that the room appeared to have been cleaned with bleach and vinegar. A few hours later, Costa Rican police discovered a half-naked body partially wrapped in plastic. Tests later confirmed that it was Carla. Forensic investigators determined that Carla had suffered blunt force trauma to her head, and had many knife cuts all over her body. The knife broke due to the force that was used, and her jaw was dislocated. Police believe that Carla was murdered in her room and sexually assaulted – and that the killer dumped her body in the woods.

Investigators arrested 32-year-old Bismarck Espinoza Martinez, who was the apartment complex security guard where Carla was staying, according to CNN. The man, who was allegedly an illegal immigrant from Nicaragua, lived next door and had been the person who claimed that Carla was picked up in the early morning hours. As reported by The Tampa Bay Times in December of 2018 the Judicial Investigation Department of Costa Rica is detaining Espinoza as the sole suspect in Stefaniak's murder, and have placed him in preventative custody for an indeterminate period of time. According to Investigation Department General Director Walter Espinoza the investigation is ongoing. It is still remains unclear as to what, if any, charges have been lodged against Espinoza Martinez and whether or not he has a lawyer or what plea he may have entered.

Carla’s family however, believes that her murder was the work of more than one person. They, and investigators, say they believe that a person working alone could not kill Carla, and then drag her 200-pound body to the woods and clean a very large room on their own. Investigators say that they are still waiting for the results of DNA testing on semen and hair found on Carla’s body. In the meantime, Carla’s family hopes that they will find the missing piece of the puzzle.

For more on the case of Carla Stefaniak watch Investigation Discovery's Still a Mystery on ID GO.