Prime suspect detained in Osa double murder case

Investigators finally have made an arrest in the long-running case of two Austrians who vanished on the Osa Peninsula.

A man identified as Gabriel Rojas Santamaría, 25, surrendered to prosecutors Wednesday after having been hiding out in the wilderness of the peninsula. He had long been a suspect.

The case was one of three that sowed uncertainty among expats living on the peninsula, primarily at Puerto Jiménez on the west shore of the
Gulfo Dulce in southwestern Costa Rica.

Dead are Horst Hauser, 68, and Herbert Langmeier, 66, who owned property in Dos Brazos de Río Tigre near Puerto Jiménez. The case attracted international attention because they were missing for more than a year and agents could not move ahead on the case without bodies.

The Poder Judicial noted Wednesday that remains of the men turned up on Playa Ciénaga March 16, and the discovery helped the investigation to advance.

Rojas was seen driving a vehicle that belonged to one of the men shortly after they were considered missing after Christmas 2009.

Prosecutors are leveling an allegation of two counts of murder and 28 counts of aggravated theft because someone accessed a victim’s bank account that many times and took $5.485, said the Poder Judicial. A single allegation of simple theft is being prosecuted, too, because Rojas is suspected of taking the men’s tractor.

Hauser and Langmeier were long-time residents who were involved in gold panning in the tributaries leading from the Parque Nacional Corcovado on the peninsula.

Hauser was identified from dental records supported by DNA tests after flooding uncovered his resting place. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that agents still were awaiting positive identification of the body presumed to be that of Langmeier. The evidence is coming from Austria.

Agents have been working on the case since 2009 because blood traces were found in the home the men shared on a remote tract in the wilderness.
The disappearances received heavy coverage in their native country. The Kleine Zeitung newspaper published a half dozen articles and interviewed Hauser’s brother, William, who visited Costa Rica to seek him unsuccessfully.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that its investigators contacted relatives of Rojas after the man was presumed to have fled into the mountains. They tried to persuade the relatives to encourage the suspect to surrender. When he did so Wednesday he was in the company of a lawyer, agents said.

Prosecutors sought a year’s preventative detention, but a judge ordered him to be held for nine months while the investigation proceeds, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Prosecutors and investigators are working on the theory that the two men were surprised by a home invasion and were killed by multiple blows. There is considerable evidence that the killer was not working alone. Austrian investigative sources have maintained that Rojas was a member of a criminal band that committed many illegal acts in the area.

The Judicial Investigating Organization suggested the same thing in a release Wednesday in which it said Rojas was a suspect of participating in the murder of the men.

Agents have detained four persons in the July 20 murder of U.S. citizen Lisa Artz. That, too, is being described as a home invasion with the help of inside knowledge.

Evidence discovered in searches related to the Artz murder appear to relate to the killing of Canadian Kimberley Ann Blackwell, who was found Feb. 2 in her remote home. Ms. Artz was the resident manager of Casa Tres Palmas on the east shore of the Osa peninsula. She was about to leave for the United States, and the prosecutor’s theory is that crooks thought she had substantial cash in her living quarters near the luxury dwelling that her family rented some 14 miles south of Puerto Jiménez. Ms. Blackwell, another long-time resident, operated an upscale chocolate company.

The murders are believed to have had an impact on tourism, not only on the Osa peninsula but in all of Costa Rica. A major Canadian magazine just did a major story on Ms. Blackwell, the Austrians and Ms. Artz.

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