Family: Body found in Costa Rica belongs to Florida woman

Gruesome details emerged Wednesday in the case of a Tampa native murdered while on vacation in Costa Rica.

Authorities said the killing was sexually motivated and an autopsy revealed a neck injury, and several cuts and lacerations consistent with stab wounds to the body of 36-year-old Carla Stephaniak.

Investigators say they found a large amount of blood in the room of the Airbnb where Stephaniak was staying.

Her family confirmed authorities identified Stephaniak through fingerprint data. 

On Tuesday, relatives learned from Costa Rican authorities that they believed a woman’s body – officials discovered earlier – was Carla Stefaniak. Early Tuesday morning, family members headed to the morgue to identify the body, but after waiting several hours, they said investigators wouldn’t allow the brother and father inside.

Before midnight, nearly 16 hours later, Stefaniak's family was allowed to see the body, relatives said. Late Tuesday, in an emotional Facebook post, her family said that Stefaniak's father had confirmed the body found was his daughter’s. 

“Words cannot express the devastation within her family and friends,” the Facebook post said. “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.”

On Tuesday, investigators arrested 32-year-old Bismarch Espinosa Martinez, a security guard from the villa where Stefaniak was staying, classifying the death a murder case. Investigators said he was taken into custody after they reviewed surveillance video, which showed contradictions in his statements following Stefaniak's disappearance last week. 

“Solving this case is very important for the country, very important for the family of the victim,” explained Walter Espinoza, spokesperson for Costa Rica’s judicial investigation department, “and it is very important for this society in general.” 

Authorities in Costa Rica say the FBI assisted in confirming her identity through finger print data around 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Stefaniak's family also said they are not done fighting for her, saying they plan to continue to press authorities to look into the possible involvement of more people in her death. 

Stefaniak went on the trip to Costa Rica to celebrate her birthday with her sister-in-law, April Burton. Burton returned to Tampa last Tuesday, but Stefaniak was scheduled to head back the following day. When she never exited her scheduled flight Wednesday, her family began worrying.

The night prior to her flight, Stefaniak took an Uber ride around the town and was dropped off at her Airbnb. She Facetimed a friend in New York, telling him she was going to ask the security guard to buy her a bottle of water. 

"He said her phone died," Burton said last week, "and that was the last we heard from her." 

The owner of the Airbnb told relatives she was seen entering an Uber with her luggage around 5 a.m. Wednesday, but Uber records do not show a transaction. Stefaniak's brother flew to Costa Rica last Friday to search for her. Her father caught a flight from Tampa International Airport on Monday.

Soon after, authorities said an unidentified body was found not far from the Airbnb. An autopsy determined she died from head, neck and limb injuries, and showed she had injuries from stab wounds.

Authorities are still working to locate Stephaniak's luggage and belongings which are still missing and could be key evidence in the case.