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

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The family of a South Florida woman who disappeared while on a birthday getaway to Costa Rica has confirmed a body found is that of 36-year-old’Carla Stefaniak. According to the “Finding Carla” Facebook page, her father identified the body as his daughter’s around 11:30 PM. The Broward County woman has been missing for more than a week after traveling to Costa Rica with her sister-in-law to celebrate her birthday.

A friend of a Florida woman who was slain while on vacation in Costa Rica says his friend was a "happy soul" who made everyone laugh and had a large social media presence.

Carla Stefaniak was found dead near her Airbnb rental on Monday. She’d checked in on Nov. 27 into the Villa le Mas, near San Jose, and was supposed to return to Florida the next day.

Authorities are saying that her murder, allegedly by a security guard who lived next door to the Airbnb apartment she was renting, was apparently sexually motivated, the New York Daily News reported.

On Tuesday, Costa Rican officials arrested 32-year-old Bismark Espinosa Martinez. Investigators say blood was found in his nearby apartment.

Friend Bugra Demirel of Tallahassee said in a telephone interview that the 36-year-old insurance agent loved to travel and post photos on Instagram. Her trips included visits to Iceland, Switzerland and Mexico, all documented on social media.

For her birthday, she and her sister-in-law decided to visit Costa Rica for a short trip.

Her last Instagram photo was Nov. 25. It featured her in a turquoise bathing suit, lying near a pool with tropical plants in the background. She wrote, "I’m going to miss the place."

Family and friends became worried after she did not arrive home as scheduled on Nov. 28, having checked into her flight but not boarded the plane. Her brother believed she had been “kidnapped or abducted,” he told NBC.

Language wasn’t an issue; Stefaniak was born in Venezuela, then moved to Tampa in 2000 with her family and finally settled in South Florida.

Authorities detailed that Stefaniak had been found partially nude, covered with plastic bags, with blunt force trauma to the head, and stab wounds her neck and arms, ABC said. Authorities did not release much more information about the case, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Martinez, a Nicaraguan immigrant, was working as a security guard at the complex despite lacking the proper documents to be in Costa Rica, department officials said at a news conference in San Jose. He is believed to have lived in Costa Rica since June.

Airbnb says it has removed the vacation rental listing. According to its listing on TripAdvisor, the Villa le Mas is a compound with seven vacation apartments. Villa Le Mas’s attorney, Federico Jenkins, said the owners are cooperating with the authorities in the investigation.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that an autopsy found stab wounds on her arms and neck, and the cause of death was determined to be a blow to the head.

On Wednesday, her family worked to bring her body home so they could make funeral arrangements.

"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."

Demirel wondered if the culprit planned to harm Stefaniak from the moment she booked the reservation because her profile photo shows she’s "beautiful" and she noted in her reservation that she was traveling alone.

Airbnb encourages users to post their photos as an "important way for hosts and guests to learn about each other."

"I want people to know these things happen," he said. "Girls traveling alone make decisions to stay at places. We want them to be aware of their surroundings. But it is hard to have fun and have your guard up at the same time."

The New York Daily News contributed to this report.

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