San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Crime Beat

Tamarindo hotel owner dies of injuries after attack by robbers

Barry Lawson, a U.S. citizen and long-time Tamarindo resident, died Tuesday of injuries sustained last week during a robbery at the hotel he ran with his wife in Playa Langosta.

On April 1 several suspects entered the hotel, the Villa Alegre Bed and Breakfast, where Lawson and his wife Suzye lived, threatened the couple and demanded they hand over the code to the couple’s safe.

During the incident, the suspects hit the 74-year-old Lawson in the head with an object. He was taken to Hospital CIMA near San José, where he died Tuesday.

The robbers took $32,000 from the safe, a computer and two cellphones, according to the Judicial Investigation Police. Authorities are investigating the crime as a homicide.

Tamarindo residents were devastated by the news.

Lawson, who friends said was originally from Los Angeles, California, and his wife had lived in the community for more than two decades. They founded a non-profit organization, Amigos de la Educación, in 2000 to help Guanacaste schools and provide scholarships for students.

Friends said the money stolen during the April 1 attack belonged to the organization.

Barry Lawson performing with the Beachnuts Theatre Company in January 2015.

Genna Marie Robustelli

Lawson performed in local plays with the Beachnuts Theatre group and often took on the role of Santa Claus at Christmas time. He was an avid golfer and poker player.

Longtime friend Fernando Carcamo called Barry and Suzye Lawson “the parents of Tamarindo.”

Carcamo said Barry was an “amazing human being” who worked tirelessly and selflessly for others.

“That’s what makes what happened so senseless,” he said.

Shannon Vacca, owner of the NO Excuses Fitness Center, said her family was in mourning after learning of Barry’s death.

“My kids are devastated, as am I. Barry was like their Gringo grandpa. He played Santa every year. When I was in the hospital my kids stayed with him for a week and he took care of them. When I had an argument with my daughter, she’d go talk to Barry and he’d take her side, just like grandpas do,” Vacca said.

“We feel like we’ve lost a family member.”

Barry Lawson playing Santa Claus in Tamarindo.



Jeff Ruzcika, owner of Marlin del Rey catamaran tours, said he had known Barry for 20 years. He remembered Barry greeting tourists getting off the bus in Tamarindo in the early days.

“He has always been what I considered a stellar person, a pillar of the community, who gave as much as he could to the communities and the people in the area,” Ruzcika said of Lawson.

Jeff Howell owner of Costa Vision Eco Developments, said Lawson “was always genuine and he enjoyed everyone and every minute with people.”

He said Barry “made me aspire to be better than I was.”

A fundraiser to collect money for Barry and Suzye after the assault and robbery was scheduled for this Friday, but after Barry’s death the event was changed to a community meeting to discuss crime in Tamarindo and how to prevent future tragedies.

“This cannot happen here,” Vacca, the fitness center owner said. “We need to do something.”

Howell said he hoped the incident would “open up everyone’s eyes to the realities of paradise.” He said changes were needed in laws and with the local police.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to Barry’s family and to the love of his life, Suzye,” Howell said. “Our prayers are with you, the community is behind you and it’s time to make some changes, some positive changes in Barry’s name.”

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Dan Gibson

In ”todays” Costa Rica — if you are known to have any amount of money — it is just a matter of time until you are robbed or killed! The fact — many Costa Rican families can no longer afford to live in their own country is one of the major problems — however — rest assured the politicians have ”everything under control” — for ”their” families!!!!

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Sadle, that is a true assessment. On a more sad note, according to the details of this article, this was done by a local gang that had knowledge of Barry’s life and even the safe inside. Let’s see how this investigation pans out. It would be logical to investigate those who have worked with or for the family. Someone knew this was kept there and this was obviously a planned event. The municipality holds a certain amount of responsibility for this happening. If the tax money of the community was properly used, then chances of this happening would have been greatly diminished. Mr. Gibson you are exactly righ. People are being targeted. And the local enforcement is doing nothing but contributing to the problem. According to another article, they took over an hour to show up. And then after when the Lawsons went to OIJ Santa Cruz they were turned away and had to go to OIJ in Nicoya to file the assault and robbery. 6 hours later they were home. Two days later Mr Lawson passes. The community of Tamarindo should recind tax payments. They are getting absolutely NOTHING in return for their investments. Only crime and corruption.

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Rachel Duquette

Heather Lane?? Get informed before commenting, he actually went to the bank to deposit the money and was told by the woman bank teller it’s to late to deposit this large amount that I would have to count out?!…she knew the total amount, SHE obviously tipped off these thugs, but no one is investigating her??!! Sickening!! He was beaten not just hit over the head with a blunt object like described in this article, he gave up his first safe which had only a few dollars in it and they said no the one with exactly the amount he went to the bank with, that only the bank teller knew!!! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how they could have known the exact amount. We have been coming here for 5 years and were house hunting but this incident has made us reconsider, as should many people, having earned money should not be a reason for being murdered!!!

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Lindsay Losasso

A memorial fund has been established to help the nonprofit Amigos de la Educacion that Barry Lawson created with his wife to Suzye recoup the thousands of dollars that were stolen from their scholarship fund during the robbery. A fund has also been established that will directly support the family and help to defray some of the uncovered medical and funeral costs. Please click on the link below to donate or to learn more. Thank you for supporting the Lawsons and Amigos de la Educacion during this very difficult time.

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I think the businesses should unite and form a business district improvement and hire their own security force.

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Richard G. Edwards

Barry was a wonderful soul.
My deepest sympathies to Suzye, who shouldn’t be going through the pain she’s experiencing.
We, unfortunately, stopped sending our travelers to Tamarindo a few years ago, as a U.S.-based wholesaler. After many years of sending hundreds of people a year there. It was due to our own observations and the beginnings of dissatisfaction from our clients about the overdevelopment and accompanying perceived dangers. Now they’re not just perceived.
Agreed that the realities need to be faced and the corruption at all levels that was just a bother years ago, when bikes or hubcaps floated away, is now a question around the future of tourism in the country.
It would be a great tribute to Barry if some solid national actions were taken to shift the direction.

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Heather Lane

This is very very sad, I was in tears reading this last night, and it’s infuriating that the murderers are still FREE. Another sad truth is that this was AVOIDABLE. Had the money been in a bank account instead of at their residence, this could not have happened. The thieves knew what they were after, and what they wanted was kept in a home instead of in a bank account.

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Jeff Howell

I wanted to take a few minutes to express my heartfelt sorrow for this tragic and senseless crime. Barry and Suzye Lawson were one of the matriarchs of Tamarindo. They built a beautiful yet humble B & B over 20 years ago here in Playa Langosta. Barry was one of the most genuine and loving people you could ever meet. It’s just tragic and he will sorely be missed. One of those souls you run into in your lifetime that changes your life forever. I was blessed to have known him. Now the question is where do we go from here. First thing is finding these sick SOB’s and putting them away. But more importantly is making sure the laws and the governance of this beautiful country evolve to address the reality that exists now. This is an emotional issue but needs to be handled with tact and precision. I ask everyone to share their concerns and solutions to me if you are an ex-patriot living in Costa Rica. This isn’t an isolated incident. Lots of stories get swept under rug for the fear of bad press which people fear will hurt their business. It’s time for that to stop, we need to address these issues now before it’s too late to correct it. Additionally, we need to arm the residence here with information on how to protect their families and property so they are better prepared. I’m not saying we should all run out and buy a gun, but I’m not against it either. The community is having a meeting this Friday at 7pm to address these issues. It will be at the Surfclub Sportsbar in Playa Langosta. I want our message to the municipal and all the way up to the Presidents desk to be clear and concise. Help us make positive change so we can minimize these types of horrific acts. It can only stay the paradise it is if we all band together, Tico, Gringo, Canadian, Italian, French…we’re all just God’s kids! contact is

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Corinth Vasquez

My prayers go out to the Lawson family and all those effected by this horrible tragedy..
Me and my family were also victims of a robbery in the same area – fortunate for us it was a non-violent crime. However they did break into our apartment while we were asleep and even entered one of the rooms where my kids were. We too had thought this area was our little slice of paradise and embraced the “Pura Vida” life.. However, last year the Pura Vida became Pura Bullshit!

We had been coming to the same place for 10 years but this time we were taken for everything we owned on our first night.. We consider the owners, staff and lots of the locals very close friends and they treated us like family. My wife and toddler had been there for a month with no incidents. Ironically the night I showed up to pay our debts and begin our family vacation we were robbed.
Even with cement walls, a locked gate & an 24hr armed guard our safety was still compromised but nobody knew or saw anything.. The only thing worse is knowing that the SOB that did it or tipped somebody off to do it was probably someone pretending to be our friend.. We could never imagine being targeted for we always traveled light, cheap and never had much money anyway..

The wost part of it all is that our yearly paradise spot was ruined.. It’s really sad that such a beautiful place who’s economy is based on tourism dollars is now becoming unsafe.. It’s only the hard working Tico’s that will suffer.. I know we won’t be back anytime soon and if things don’t get better maybe never.. There’s a reason why 80% of real estate and business are all for sale – people are getting out before it becomes no different than it’s northern neighbors.. I wish the government would wake up before it’s to late. It would be a shame for future generations not to be able to enjoy this place.

– Cory

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So sad that this couple endured such indignities, first in their home at the hands of criminals and then in their adopted country at the hands of authorities. I am sorry for the brutality that led to the death of this man, and sympathies to his wife, family and friends that are left to make sense of something so senseless.

Tamarindo hosts visitors from all over this planet and Police service in the community is a JOKE, the community no longer has a police station in Tamarindo – it’s several km’s away and the phone number is a closely guarded secret – perhaps there isn’t a phone… that would surprise no one. Apparently no one comes when called anyway…

In the days leading up to Semana Santa there was much pageantry and puffery with uniformed goons from several government agencies with complete alphabet represented (guns at the ready with complete body armour and flack jackets) and no shortage of motorized equipment for support all for checking vehicles for a mandatory tow rope and reflective triangles…. but not one of them could find their way to find a band of purse thieves (about 10 days ago) or assist a distraught couple that were victimized in their own home… much less to ask around for thugs that are enjoying a $32000 pay day.

There is such an air of complacency and apathy when it comes to crime, criminals and victims (outrage that fizzles quickly a la Jairo Maro – and moves on to the next outrage) — because prosecution and sentencing is the JOKE that immediately follows police procedures and services.

Thanks to Tico Times for publishing this story – in the community social media outlets there is already suspicion that this will be hushed, shushed and minimized and merely become another ‘little secret’ lest the tourist dollars cease to flock in.

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Scott Dannen

Senseless. I think a possible solution to this is have the Northwest Coast form their own Province so the tax monies collected will stay in the area so they can have a Police Force that actually is a deterrent to crime. We pay property taxes and get very little if anything in return. The coast is fast becoming a tourist attraction which will bring another element of undesirables that will take advantage of every opportunity they can. When I first started visiting petty theft was rampant but now the criminals are becoming more bold because the chance of getting caught is low. And I agree with one of the respondents that wages are low and resort to theft, especially when they see tourists living a life of luxury. And a way to increase their wages is invest tax dollars into the area for infrastructure that will increase property values leading to increase in wages. The locals in Santa Cruz and Liberia have no desire to help the Gringos and they receive large dollars in tax revenues from the coast.

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No one deserves to lose their life because they have money. No one deserves to be robbed because they own a hotel or drive a flashy car. I agree that we all have to use caution to protect ourselves no matter where we are, but this incident crosses the line.
Sadly, This has given me great hesitation to consider Costa Rica as a place to ever call home.
I’m heart broken because I can never consider Tamarindo deserving of “Pura Vida” again after this senseless act of violence.
I hope that everyone will come together to demand more of the police and of each other.

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Darrel Parks

So fricken sad Barry was nice I met him briefly a few times. Feel soory for his wife. I have said this a few times in the 15yrs being here . we as Americans need to stick together. God bless Barry he is looking down on us in heaven. Pisses me off. I work in tourism. costaricaprivatetours on Facebook and google sites . Tourism has been hit again we can not let this happen guys. Tourism is coming back too this hurts all of us who work in tourism. O.I.J by the beach sucks my buddy in heredia. And Escazu will be informed of this. This crime will not go unpunished . Ex navy . l

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My condolences to his wife. As a “Tico” feel deeply sorry for your loss.

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How sad. I am a tico living in TX for 10 years now. Every time I see news like this it makes my blood boil. Sadly even myself as a tico would not consider move back for my family’s safety and the mess up CRs government.

How sad, CR is heading the wrong way, looking more and more like its Central American neighbors and if you look at the Spanish media in Costa Rica somehow they fail to report this kind of stuff.

The country wonders why is the economy heading south? Intel and other leaving?

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US citizens come to Costa Rica thinking that the country is safe and there is no coruption. The fact is there is coruption in every part of Costa Rica including the police. I still do not understand why US citizens come to Costa Rica to invest or live. Local Organized crime is everywhere in Costa Rica they work with local police and local goverment officials. I see US citizens that come to Costa Rica and Buy big houses and drive high end cars and they ask why was i robbed. US citizens get in trouble in Costa Rica when they think and buy high end homes and High end cars. The truth is they need to keep there life very simple in Costa Rica do not have money in Costa Rican banks because the bank staff work with the criminals and do not buy high end cars because car dealerships work with criminals do not buy high end homes because maids and gardners work with crimmals. US citizens need to tone down there life style and keep quit about there money they have. IF you look and act simple you will not have any problems in Costa Rica but if you act like you have money and want to help others your an easy target in Costa Rica. This is a sad story and nobody will get caught because Costa Rica is a real mess. As unemployment goes up expect more crime against US and Canadian Citizens they stand out in Costa Rica and criminals know who they have a few dollars.

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not at all true. U.S. Citizens, as well as expats, know very well that the rate of thievery is high in Costa Rica, and no one knows better about dealing with CR’s corruption than an ex-pat, it is practically a ever-present for us. in addition, I know persons all nationalities including Ticos, and of ALL financial strata, that have been ripped off here . . . often the people living the most simply don’t have the security that they should, and oops there goes their 5th bike (that they own instead of a car). and btw, the perps are very often not Ticos. That said, I live in a big house, drive a decent SUV and I have never had my house nor my car broken into, so . . .

also, blaming the victim? so not cool. Barry had a nice home, but it has to be as it was his business (B&B) as well. and for a couple of decades, it provided fair and caring employment to many a Tico, not to mention the countless amount of charitable acts, and no one was complaining about his lifestyle then. it certainly didn’t earn him murder

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This was not a random act… someone knew that money was there. When will it end?

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That’s to sad

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