Police have made an arrest in the case of a Canadian woman murdered earlier this year in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, in the Southern Zone, authorities said.
On Friday, Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) agents based in Ciudad Nelly arrested a 36-year-old man, Jorge Enrique Flores, in connection with the murder of Kimberly Blackwell. Flores was sentenced to three months of preventative prison Monday night, while prosecutors build a base.
Blackwell was found beaten and shot to death on Feb. 2 in front of her home near Puerto Jiménez in the town of San Manuel de Cañaza on the edge of Corcovado National Park. She had frequent clashes with poachers who crossed her property to hunt in the park. The OIJ said in a statement that on the day of her murder Blackwell had a confrontation with a group of at least three poachers, one of whom was Flores.
OIJ agents arrested Flores outside of his house, according the statement, after interviewing people in the area around San Manuel de Cañaza and searching at least four houses.
Blackwell lived in Costa Rica for 18 years before her murder and founded Samaritan Xocolata where she employed local women to harvest cocoa grown on a section of her 52-hectare farm.
“Kimberley’s family in Canada was happy to hear that the local police have finally detained the person after nine months of waiting,” said Blackwell’s sister, Karen Lavallee.
Since the initial investigation, little progress had been made in the case to the frustration of Blackwell’s friends and family. Blackwell’s family even hired a private investigator to explore leads of his own when they felt that investigators weren’t aggressively pursuing strong leads in the case.
“A local detective was hired on our behalf back in February, and we have known for many months who it was,” Lavallee said. “We were very concerned that the local police were not going to proceed.”
The confrontation Blackwell had on the day of her death wasn’t the first she’d had with poachers. Friends say she was never afraid to back down from poachers, who had guns and hunting dogs, even shooting at one trespasser with her own BB gun.
At one point a poacher killed two of Blackwell’s dogs. Later, according to friends, she ran over that poacher in her car, breaking his leg.
Blackwell’s murder was the fourth killing of a foreigner in the Osa region since 2009. Austrian citizens Horst Hauser, 67, and Herbert Langmeier, 65, disappeared from the town of Puerto Jiménez in 2009. Their remains were discovered buried on a nearby beach. The prime suspect in that case, a 25-year-old man with the last name Rojas, turned himself in to authorities in August. Also in August, OIJ agents arrested three individuals in connection with the murder of Lisa Arts, 49, an American woman who worked as a caretaker at Las Palmas, near Puerto Jiménez.
With the arrest in Blackwell’s case authorities have now made arrests in all three cases.
Blackwell, who grew up in Canada, built a log cabin in the rugged Yukon Territory, where she worked as a logging camp chef in her 20s. She had owned her farm in San Manuel de Cañaza for nine years at the time of her murder. The original owner of the farm, a local who lived on an adjacent piece of land, has, according to friends of Blackwell’s, moved into Blackwell’s house and taken over possession of the land again, under Costa Rica’s squatter laws.
Blackwell’s sister said the arrest came on the heels of a recent meeting between Canadian and Costa Rican authorities.
“We also feel that this has finally come about after Canadian Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper visited Costa Rica in August,” Lavallee said. “Before his arrival, officials from the Canadian Embassy met with the local police for an update on her case and her case was discussed with (Costa Rican) President (Laura) Chinchilla. We sincerely believe that the embassy wanted to follow through with this investigation as Prime Minister Harper had pledged funding to Costa Rica to help with the training of the police.”