Costa Rica police raids lead to arrest in 2018 death of South Burlington ex-pat

Local News

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – In a series of raids Wednesday, Costa Rica authorities arrested more than a dozen people, including a woman who was romantically linked to Thomas Cook, the South Burlington man whose body was found in a shallow grave three months after he retired to the Central American country.

According to Walter Espinoza, director of the Costa Rica Judicial Investigation Department, among those arrested was Yaritza Hurtado, a woman with whom Cook became involved when he retired to the town of Jaco in July 2018. Authorities believe Hurtado is actually the girlfriend of a hitman and drug dealer connected with a drug trafficking ring targeted in Wednesday’s raids.

In video shared by Cesar Madrigal, a Costa Rican freelance journalist, police can be seen quietly approaching a compound under the cover of darkness. In a second clip, a bulldozer knocks down a fence to clear the way for a group of officers, who enter with guns drawn.

In remarks to journalists, Espinoza said in Spanish that it appears Cook was targeted by the traffickers as “an easily accessible victim.”

“Upon realizing that this person lived alone in our country, that he had no close relatives and that there were no people that asked for him constantly, they saw he was an easily accessible victim who also had available funds and that could allow them to make some money by killing him,” Espinoza said. “That’s the hypothesis that we’re handling.”

Jim Bremer, a friend and travel companion of Cook’s, said they met Hurtado on a trip to Costa Rica together in January 2018. Bremer said he was suspicious of her motives, and he worried about Cook’s plan to retire in Costa Rica.

“When we were down there, there was a shooting in the bar across the street from where our condo was,” Bremer said. “It just struck me as not somewhere I’d want to be walking by myself, and that was my main concern — Tom was down there all alone.”

Video: Costa Rica police raids linked to slain Vermonter

Cook was last seen leaving a bar in Jaco on the evening of August 23, 2018. In July, authorities released surveillance video from a bank that shows Cook making a withdrawal that day and leaving in a blue vehicle. His family reported him missing two weeks later.

Before his remains were located and identified, Cook’s family struggled to get any helpful information from Costa Rican authorities, including bank transactions and cell phone records. With meaningful information hard to come by, they turned to the non-profit Missing Americans Project, which had the resources needed to keep attention on the investigation.

While it’s not clear what charges Hurtado will face, Sandra LaFrance, Cook’s sister, said Wednesday’s arrest offered some bit of closure.

“Honestly, I kind of resigned myself with the fact that we probably would never know what happened to him,” LaFrance said. “Now, that’s different. I know that my brother didn’t die in vain now, and I’m excited. I totally give all the glory to God on this one.”

Bremer had a similar sense of relief.

“Today felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders,” Bremer said. “It was just heartbreaking, and today is the first time there’s ever been a little bit of light at the end of that tunnel.”

Members of the drug trafficking ring are believed to have killed at least two other people, police said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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