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American among six tortured, shot and burned in massacre at Costa Rica cattle and coffee farm

By The Independent

An American cattle and coffee farmer found dead with his five farm hands at a ranch in Costa Rica had been trying to sell his property to return to the United States and be closer to family.

Stephen Paul Sandusky, 61, was a United States citizen and Costa Rica resident, according to the US Embassy in the Central American country.

The former Florida resident retired to a farm in Llano Bonito de Buenos Aires de Puntarenas, about 200km south east of San Jose.

He listed the property for $1.8m in 2019 to return to the US, but the Covid pandemic hit and left it on the market for the past two years without a buyer, listing agent Diego Quesada told The Independent.

“He wanted to go back to his family and he wanted to go back to the States,” Mr Quesada said.

Mr Sandusky first bought the property 25 years ago before expanding it in 2005 and deciding to sell in 2019, Mr Quesada said. The divorced father of two had been in the country since the late 1990s, according to Q Costa Rica.

“Since then and after the pandemic started he didn’t lower the price of the property, and so far the listing was active and still looking to sell,” Mr Quesada said. “He was a very nice guy.”

He moved to Costa Rica to begin farming because he “wanted to live in peace”, his lawyer Jorge Enrique Infante told Q Costa Rica.

“He was a very noble, kind, and generous person. He told me that he wanted to learn agriculture and that is why he bought the farm. He started with cattle and then he realized that he had a small profit,” Mr Infante told the outlet. “Years ago we stopped having a professional relationship but about a year ago I ran into him in a supermarket and we were talking. Yes, he told me that they robbed him a lot”.

Authorities suspect robbery was the motive behind the massacre, which left all six victims either doused in gas, burned or shot. The Costa Ricans killed were Daniel Quesada Cascante, 44, his wife Alina Villarevia, 41, and their son, Daniel Quesada, 20. Susan Zúñiga Rodriguez, 40, and Borbón Muñoz, 38, were also killed, according to TV Sur.

Mr Sandusky hired Mr Quesada for maintenance on a vehicle, and Mr Quesada’s family along with their friends joined for the trip, according to ACHR Noticias.

Police suspect several gunmen went to the farm to rob the property as several tools and items missing from the house were presumed to be stolen, the outlet reported.

The house was also heavily damaged with broken windows and a burned truck, where some of the bodies were found.

Don Eladio Quesada told ACHR Noticias that he found the bodies on Sunday.

"We walked in and found my son’s body fully burned, the scene with the women around the car, it was hard to find all the bodies burned and wrapped in tires and some with shots," he said.

He had travelled to the property after his family failed to return home, Mr Quesada’s sister told TV Sur.

"Daniel always went with (his father) César because he was also a mechanic and they worked together; Alina was going to accompany them because they say it is a very beautiful place," she told the broadcaster.

Mr Sandusky’s farm had been for sale since 2019, and locals claimed he had been attacked on previous occasions but was loved among the local community, according to Le Teja.

Mr Sandusky’s farm was listed for US$1.8 million on Chirripo Real Estate. It is on 70 hectares of pasture with 20 hectares of coffee plantation, and rolling hills for livestock pasture and a variety of fruit trees surrounding the single-storey home.

The US Embassy would not release further details on Mr Sandusky due to privacy concerns, according to the Associated Press.

Costa Rica is considered the least violent nation in Central America with a homicide rate of 11 per 100,000 people each year. By comparison, the US homicide rate in 2019 was 5 per 100,000 people, according to the most recent figures from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

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