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Families search for missing persons, closure in Costa Rica

David Dixon returned to Costa Rica on the two-year anniversary of his brother’s disappearance to encounter the same frustrations. 

At a downtown San José hotel on Wednesday, Dixon explained the situation: no progress on the case, dismissive authorities and bogus theories that didn’t match up with evidence. 

Michael Dixon remains one of several foreigners whose missing persons cases remain unsolved in Costa Rica. While the families face slim odds and sometimes indifference, they toil on in their pursuit for finality.

“Two years down the line, you’re not still keeping your hopes up that you might find him alive,” David Dixon, 32, said. “But you need to know what happened. It’s the most important thing.” U.K. resident Michael Dixon was last seen leaving his hotel in Playa Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, during the afternoon of Oct. 18, 2009. He was in the country on a business trip, and 33 at the time of his disappearance. 

The first theory put forward by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) claimed Dixon drowned during a morning swim. But witnesses never saw Dixon near the beach; only at a bar the night before and other locations inland, said David Dixon and his parents, Lynn and Hubert. Local police told the Dixon family that photos of Michael’s room, where his belongings stayed behind, showed he did not sleep in the bed Sunday night. 

During this trip, the Dixon family received a copy of the investigation from the OIJ. The document had not been updated since November 2009.

Outcry by the Dixons over the lack of resolution led the British government to update its travel advice about Costa Rica earlier this year. An official site notes that eight foreign nationals, including one British citizen, have gone missing in the last two years. One of those incidences, two Austrians missing in the Southern Zone’s Osa Peninsula, was solved recently after the bodies turned up – and a suspect turned himself into police. 

Almost two million tourists visit Costa Rica each year. Most report no troubles. The few that have vanished rarely have conclusiveness come to their cases. 

In August, the parents of a missing U.S. citizen came to Costa Rica to mark the two-year anniversary of their son’s disappearance. 

Even two years after their son David Gimelfarb disappeared, Roma and Luda Gimelfarb faced questions from doubters wondering why this U.S. family from Chicago, Illinois, keeps coming back to Costa Rica.

“How do you know he’s not back in America?” asked one reporter at a press conference with David Gimelfarb’s family during their visit.

David Gimelfarb’s passport was found near where he disappeared on Aug. 11, 2009 in Rincón de la Vieja National Park – in Costa Rica’s northwestern Guanacaste province – Roma Gimelfarb said. Plus, he added, sneaking into the United States is not that easy. 

“How do you know he isn’t trying to get away from it all?” a photographer at the press event asked.

Roma explained that David Gimelfarb signed a logbook and entered Rincón de la Vieja. His rental car was abandoned at the park. Nobody has heard from the doctoral student since then. Gimelfarb was 28 at the time. 

One of the original explanations for his disappearance was that he fell into the volcano in the park after an aerial photo appeared to show a body in the crater. Once rescue workers investigated, they discovered the “body” was nothing more than red foam, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Most local authorities did little to help, the Gimelfarbs said. However, the case caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois. He organized for U.S. military helicopters and search dogs to comb the Rincón de la Vieja, but nothing turned up. 

“It’s two years; I can understand skepticism,” Roma Gimelfarb told The Tico Times after the press conference. “But we need closure.” 

Despite dozens of reported sightings of a dazed man that resembled Gimelfarb, no concrete evidence exists about his whereabouts. The Gimelfarbs are offering a $100,000 reward for help finding David. If you have any information on the Gimelfarb case, email

In addition, the family announced plans to start a non-profit organization that would assist families when a loved one is missing in a  foreign  country.  The  foundation will  provide  worldwide  resources  to  find  missing persons  outside  of  their  native  countries.  

Natasha Paris still waits for a breakthrough after her sister disappeared a little more than a year ago on the Nicoya Peninsula near Santa Teresa, on the northwestern Pacific coast.

Kim Paris, a dual citizen of France and Canada, moved to Santa Teresa from Montreal at the age of 33. She arrived with her boyfriend, Gabriel Orozco, whom she married in Costa Rica in January 2010. 

Paris left a note the morning after an argument with Orozco saying she was going shopping. He waited 10 days to alert authorities, telling them she had run off a few times before the most recent incident. The brunt of the investigation focused on Orozco, but he was cleared and the case fizzled out afterward.

Even after blood-sniffing dogs explored his property, and authorities no longer considered him a suspect, Orozco said he continues to be the only person local authorities want to believe committed the crime. 

“It’s the easiest thing to say,” he said.

He and the Paris family have searched the region for clues to little avail. Natasha, Kim’s older sister by 18 months, said the OIJ now presumes her sibling fled the country. Kim, who Natasha considers her best friend, left her passport behind. 

“They think she’s in Nicaragua for some reason, so [authorities] are not really looking for her,” Natasha Paris said. 

The most recent mystery concerns a French couple, Gérard and Claude Dubois, who disappeared in Quepos, on the central Pacific coast, in mid-April. That case also remains unsolved. 

David Dixon pled with the U.K. government to aid in solving his brother’s case. Officials relented, but only if Costa Rican officials gave a formal invite. The request never came.

The U.K.’s Daily Telegraph published a quote in July from a OIJ spokesman stating the organization has “sufficient and adequate resources to develop the investigation.”

The Dixon family believes the only way their situation can be solved is if locals come forward. The family has made a $10,000 reward available for help solving the case. Anyone who has information about the case can email it confidentially to

David Dixon and his parents acknowledge there is little chance that Michael Dixon will turn up alive. But they do not want to end the story there. A family member deserves better than that. The one reality that exists, David said, is that we “don’t know” what happened.

That void draws the Dixons back to Costa Rica, and tells them to keep on searching.

“We want to find the truth,” David Dixon said. “That’s what’s driving us up until today, to keep coming back here. Just the need for the truth.”

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