Aliases, a plastic surgery receipt and 43 days on the run: How a suspect in the murder of a Vermont cyclist got caught in Costa Rica

The officers walked up to the receptionist, demanding in broken English that she show her documents, according to Poulsen. An American who had moved to the surf town in September like many pandemic nomads, Poulsen wanted to shrink into the bamboo wall, his mind wondering where his own passport was if authorities turned to him next.

The woman, who was named Ari Martin, responded to officers with one word, “Puntarenas”, the name of a distant port town. She seemed to suggest that her passport was hours away, across the Nicoya Peninsula. The officers didn’t seem to buy it, according to Poulsen. They escorted her out of the hostel and drove her for six hours to the country’s capital, San José.

It was there, according to authorities, that the woman broke down and confessed her true identity: Kaitlin Armstrong.

It was a name that became infamous in six weeks after Armstrong, 34, fled Austin, Texas, following the May 11 murder of well-known mountain biker Anna Moriah. “Mo” Wilson. Police say the crime was sparked by Armstrong’s jealousy over a relationship Wilson, a 25-year-old Vermont native, had previously had with Armstrong’s boyfriend, Colin Strickland.

The murder sent shockwaves through the close-knit world of elite off-road cycling. Wilson, a Dartmouth graduate who had recently quit her job to play the sport professionally, was scheduled to compete in a race in Texas days after her death.

Santa Teresa was buzzing with the news that an American fugitive had hidden among the palm trees on the peninsula. Poulsen was shocked.

“I guess I always thought that if someone, for example, killed someone, I could feel it on them. Like you get a weird vibe, but I didn’t feel anything like that,” he said. he said in an interview with the Globe. “So when I found out I was like, ‘Holy Buddha!'”

The arrest ended an international search for Armstrong, who used another person’s passport to board a plane bound for Costa Rica, where she traveled across the country by bus, following her passion for yoga in bohemian beach towns.

But the six-week search could have been avoided entirely were it not for a clerical error early in the investigation that allowed Armstrong to flee Austin two days after the murder.

Austin police were inundated with leads and information in the hours following Wilson’s death.

They learned that Wilson spent the afternoon of May 11 swimming and dining with Strickland, 35, a professional cyclist and Armstrong’s boyfriend, according to an arrest affidavit in Travis County District Court. Strickland dropped Wilson off at her friend’s house around 8:30 p.m. Shortly after, surveillance footage captured a black Jeep with a bike rack — matching the description of Armstrong’s car — pulled up to the East Austin apartment where Wilson was staying. Later that night, Wilson’s friend arrived home to find the cyclist dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

Investigators found casings from 9mm bullets at the crime scene that matched the type of weapon Strickland said he and Armstrong both possessed. A tipster also called Austin police, alleging Armstrong was angry to find out that Strickland and Wilson had been romantically involved the previous fall when Strickland and Armstrong briefly separated.

After gathering this information, the Austin Police Department learned that Armstrong also had a warrant for her arrest on an unrelated theft charge. According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Fox News, the Michigan native skipped a $650 bill for Botox treatment in March 2018.

Even as they built the case against her in Wilson’s death, the warrant gave police a more immediate chance to apprehend Armstrong and present her with the substantial evidence that appeared to link her to the shooting, which the medical examiner of Travis County ruled a homicide.

The evidence “made it less beautiful,” Detective Katy Conner commented during the May 12 interview. Armstrong nodded in apparent agreement, according to the affidavit.

But still, the police could not detain Armstrong. The warrant for the non-payment of Botox cited the wrong date of birth and was therefore invalid.

Armstrong was free to go.

She walked out of the police station and into the heat of Austin. Within 36 hours, she sold her black Jeep to a CarMax dealership for $12,200, then on May 14 she boarded a plane to Houston and New York’s LaGuardia Airport. York.

His fate over the next four days remains uncertain. Voter records show Armstrong’s sister lives in a holistic camp in the Catskills, a few hours from New York. On May 18, Armstrong resurfaced in surveillance footage at Newark airport with her long blonde hair pulled back and a black mask covering the lower part of her face.

By then, the police had officially obtained a homicide warrant for Armstrong. Yet at security, Armstrong was able to flash a passport stolen or gifted by a close acquaintance, whom authorities did not name. Then she flew to San José, Costa Rica.

Once there, she lived frugally, staying in hostels, traveling by bus and seeking work as a yoga teacher, a profession she had long practiced in the United States. Somewhere during his travels, Armstrong dyed his hair reddish brown and cut it to shoulder length. She introduced herself as Liz. Or Beth. By the time she had traveled west and down the mountains to Santa Teresa, she had settled on Ari.

That’s what Poulsen, the surf photographer, called him anyway, whenever he went to the front desk of Don Jon’s Lodge to crack a joke or offer advice on stretching the cash in the coastal oasis that only seemed to grow more expensive and popular with each new cobbled street.

Armstrong had taken shifts at the front desk as needed and persuaded the hostel owner to let her teach yoga classes when the regular instructor couldn’t. Otherwise, she’s kept a low profile, finding refuge in a city where “we don’t really like asking people what they’re doing or judging people or anything,” Poulsen said.

The only time she caused alarm was when she disappeared for a few days in June. The inn owner called her again and again. She returned with a bandage over her nose, discoloration under her eyes, and a story that she had been injured in a surfing accident.

She was still wearing the bandage on the afternoon of June 29 when the three Costa Rican police officers broke into Don Jon’s house.

U.S. Marshals had reviewed flight manifests departing Newark and found the name of a person close to Armstrong on a scheduled May 18 flight from Newark to San Jose, and gate surveillance cameras showed boarding of Armstrong. Costa Rican authorities then traced the route of his bus from San José, discovering his many aliases among the login sheets of hostels across the country.

After being taken into custody, Armstrong maintained her story for much of the six-hour drive to San Jose, officials said. But once in the capital, she admitted her real name and her 43-day run as an international fugitive came to an end.

The inn owner and Poulsen later open a safe containing his personal belongings. There they allegedly found a US passport with his real name on it, a vaccination card with his name on it, a US passport with another person’s name on it, and a receipt for $6,350 for cosmetic surgery at a clinic in San Jose under another name, according to Poulsen.

Police said at a news conference in Austin on Thursday that they obtained the cosmetic surgery receipt from the hostel but could not confirm that it definitely belonged to Armstrong.

“You saw the photos like me,” U.S. Marshal Brandon Filla said, referring to the dramatic differences between Armstrong’s driver’s license photo and his July 2 reservation photo. “But I will say she had a bandage on her nose with a bit of discoloration under her. the eyes. His statement was that it was from a surfboard incident and, well, I think we’ll leave it at that.

She was deported to Houston days later and jailed in Travis County Jail on July 5, where her bond is set at $3.5 million on murder and other charges, including the long-running Botox theft. .

“We hope this is the start of closure and justice for the Wilson family,” Filla said at the press conference last Thursday.

A month ago, hundreds of people gathered for a memorial service in Anna Moriah Wilson’s small hometown of East Burke, Vermont, where her love for cycling had blossomed years earlier in middle of the state’s network of rural gravel roads and rolling mountains.

A former riding partner, Jordan Fields, said other cyclists and skiers – Wilson was a ski racer at Dartmouth before turning professional in cycling after graduation – tried to keep their attention focused on Wilson, “the way she rode, the way she lived, the way she shared space with friends,” he said.

Globe reporter Mike Damiano contributed to this report.


Hanna Krueger can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @hannaskrueger.

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