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Thursday, March 30, 2023

U.S. couple fails to find missing son, but upbeat over Costa Rican officials’ new willingness to cooperate

The parents of David Gimelfarb – who disappeared on Aug. 11, 2009, at Costa Rica’s Rincón de la Vieja National Park, in Guanacaste – failed to find evidence of their missing son in this year’s annual search, but are optimistic about a reinvigorated effort from Costa Rican authorities.

Roma Gimelfarb, David’s father, said he has renewed faith in finding evidence in the case because Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) said they would be willing to include the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the investigation.

“They [OIJ officials] said they were going to review the case,” Roma Gimelfarb told The Tico Times. “They were going to review past mistakes.”

Roma Gimelfarb said that getting Costa Rican authorities to work with the FBI has been a three-year quest for the family. He also said the U.S. Embassy has been more cooperative this year than in the past.

An OIJ spokeswoman did not confirm at press time that investigators are planning on including U.S. agencies in the investigation.

Also, the head of the Coast Guard in Quepos confirmed that his office had received a new round of fliers on David Gimelfarb’s disappearance, part of a national strategy by police to distribute information about the case to all districts throughout the country. The head of OIJ in Limón, Rafael Araya, confirmed his office also had received notices on David Gimelfarb, disseminated from national offices.

David Gimelfarb, a 28-year-old Chicago native and psychology doctorate student, was last seen entering Rincón de la Vieja for a hike while vacationing alone in the country. Police found his rental car parked outside, but there was no trace of his whereabouts. The Gimelfarbs have highlighted several errors they believe police committed during the investigation over the years, including a decision to allow the rental car agency to retrieve David Gimelfarb’s rented auto and wash it without police first examining it for evidence. 

Luda and Roma Gimelfarb return to Costa Rica every year near the anniversary of their son’s disappearance. This year, they circumnavigated nearly the entire country, starting in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, where David Gimelfarb was last seen. They continued to the central Pacific town of Quepos, and then further south along the Pacific coast. Some local residents had reported seeing a man resembling David, but the Gimelfarbs now say those reports were confusing their son with a homeless man who went by the name William. They do not know William’s last name.  

The couple said they traveled further south to the Panamanian border, where they distributed fliers. They returned to San José, and then traveled to the Caribbean province of Limón where a woman at a gas station reportedly took in a disheveled and confused man who resembled David, but couldn’t speak. They also posted fliers at the Panamanian border at Sixaola and the community of Bribrí.

The Gimelfarbs expressed frustration at moments that seemed tantalizingly close to finding their son. For example, at the Limón gas station, in Río Banano, the Gimelfarbs said the woman who found a man she believed was David turned him over to local police at a checkpoint along the coastal highway. The police officers released him, despite the fact that he had no identification, according to the Gimelfarbs.

“They let him go,” Luda Gimelfarb said in an interview. “They said he was a nice guy and he didn’t have any documents.”

Please report any tips to the family by emailing or calling the OIJ at 800-8000-645. Contact the author of this story at

[Update Aug. 27] In a private meeting Tuesday afternoon with OIJ and U.S. authorities, Roma Gimelfarb expressed disappointment that U.S. authorities were not very enthusiastic to participate in the investigation.

“The meeting went so-so I would say,” Roma Gimelfarb said in a phone interview. “We didn’t get a definite promise for Americans to cooperate with OIJ.”

Gimelfarb said U.S. authorities did not preclude participation in the case.

U.S Embassy spokesman Eric Turner said he could not speak on the FBI’s involvement, but said the embassy will continue to work with the Gimelfarbs until the case reaches a resolution.

“We take the welfare and whereabouts of Americans as a top priority,” Turner said in a phone interview.

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