George Artz and two of his daughters sat in a friend’s dining room in west San José on Wednesday, and talked about how they shouldn’t be there.
The family should’ve been with Lisa in the Florida Keys. For 30 years, they dove together into turquoise waters on the first day of lobster season. The night before her scheduled flight, Lisa Artz remarked at a party how excited she was to try to best her father in catching the most lobsters. Her favorite part of the annual family vacation was the competition between father and daughter.
On the morning of July 20, a caretaker noticed that Lisa did not wake up for her trip. The caretaker peered into her jungle cabin at Tres Palmas to discover the 49-year-old with her arms and legs bound with duct tape. The adhesives also masked her eyes and mouth. A pillow covered Lisa’s head.
Two decades ago, George Artz built that cabin nestled in the Osa jungle in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone. Lisa fell in love with the Costa Rican people and the beauty of the terrain. She found her life less chaotic here than in the states. She looked after the land on a part-time basis for 20 years. In January, she decided to make her stay permanent at Tres Palmas, 18 kilometers south of Puerto Jiménez.
The intruder or intruders took nothing from the cabin except her purse. Lisa’s clothes are still laid out in the room, next to her suitcase, ready for a trip home.
Instead Lisa’s father and two sisters, Christina and Morgan, came to Costa Rica. They do not believe the sole motive was robbery, although the family thinks that whoever committed the murder knew Lisa planned to leave the next day, and had hoped to catch her with extra cash.
“She was just a person that was full of life,” George Artz said. “If she was to go to a store or a beach or anything she’d go with a flower in her hair. Just smiling and caring and as loving as anyone you knew.”
George, 70, looks fit and broad-shouldered, with olive-colored skin and a shock of white hair. He’s determined to find his daughter’s killer, in spite of recent history proving that it will be a challenge. The murder is the fourth to occur in the sparsely inhabited Osa region since December 2009. So far, no one has been arrested for any of the killings. Local residents believe there are strong leads in each of the cases, although they do not believe the crimes are directly related.
The Artz family spoke for hours with the local members of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and the U.S. Embassy about the crime. George Artz pleaded with OIJ investigators to let him know if there’s any way he can assist the investigation. Those familiar with the other recent deaths in Osa worry that this one will also remain unresolved. Seemingly self-defeating Costa Rican laws make it difficult to arrest and prosecute suspects, they said.
“We want to solve this not only for us personally, but for everyone,” Christina Artz, 42, said. “This is our family down here. We’ve been here for 20 years. We want to protect them as much as we want to solve what happened to her.”
Last weekend, Osa neighbors showed their support for the Artzes with a ceremony honoring Lisa. She loved to hike, fish, and most of all, surf. On Saturday, about 30 surfers paddled out into the ocean and formed a circle. Mary Alice Spina gave Lisa’s ashes to the Pacific. Others dropped flowers from Lisa’s garden onto the waves. The Artz family watched from the shore, holding hands with dozens of mourners.
“There was a definitely a sense of healing and community coming together,” said Eva Lovely, 36, who led a “releasing” song out on the waters. “And we were able to hold that space and could stop being angry for a split second.”
Lovely recalled Lisa’s outgoingness. She invited everyone for long hikes. She gave away vegetables from her organic garden and taught others to surf. Lovely laughed and said even while pushing 50, Lisa still looked striking in a bikini out on her board.
She could always be talked into trying something different. Just two weeks ago, Spina and Lisa joined the Cabalgata Festival, a traditional horse parade in Costa Rica. The two journeyed on a four-hour horseback trek trough Puerto Jiménez. They were the only foreigners on the route, enjoying the scene with about 60 Tico riders. Lisa rode as the Hawaiian cowboy, dressed in vibrant clothes, flip-flops and with a pink flower in her hair.
Spina arranged the scattering of the ashes. She only told a few people. As word passed from neighbor to neighbor in the tight-knit region, Spina was greeted by a huge gathering of locals and expats on the beach Saturday afternoon for the rite.
“It was beautiful,” Spina said. “I had never done it before. I never want to do it again.”
Another paddle out will be held back in Florida. George Artz owns a restaurant on Cocoa Beach, and the rest of the family, Lisa’s mother Betty Jane Reedy and stepfather, her little brother Georgie, her nephews, all live in the area.
On the night before she died, Lisa called her father to discuss her two-week vacation. She chattered about seeing the rest of the family and taunted George about the looming lobster competition. Lisa started to plan out the entire trip.
While they endured more upsetting scenes – examining a crime scene on their property, taking home Lisa’s dog Lulu, identifying a body in a morgue – the family holds on to the images of where Lisa is supposed to be now. George Artz likes to think about where he and Lisa should be at this moment – out on the ocean, in their element together.
He tries to focus on one photo in particular, a shot of them preparing to pursue lobsters in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The picture I get, someone sent this to me through Facebook, is of her sitting on the side of my boat, with her dive tank on and the sun getting ready to come up, and she’s going like this to me, ‘Dad, I’m going to kick your ass down there.’”