‘Love triangle’ murder, plastic surgery, and Costa Rica escape: How top cyclist’s alleged killer evaded bungling officials for seven weeks

Kaitlin Armstrong was freed by Austin police despite being a suspect in the murder of Moriah Wilson. Forty-three days later, US Marshals finally tracked her down more than 2,000 miles away in Costa Rica. Bevan Hurley examines why it took so long to find her

<p>Kaitlin Armstrong (left), Moriah Wilson (centre) and Colin Strickland (right) </p>

Kaitlin Armstrong (left), Moriah Wilson (centre) and Colin Strickland (right)

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When Austin detectives investigating the murder of Moriah “Mo” Wilson interviewed their key suspect three days after her death, they found her to be angry and evasive.

Kaitlin Marie Armstrong, 34, “turned her head and rolled her eyes in an angry manner” when asked by detective Katy Conner on 14 May about her boyfriend Colin Strickland spending time with Ms Wilson on the day of her murder 72 hours earlier, according to a police affidavit.

Austin police called Ms Armstrong in for questioning after they discovered that real estate agent and part-time yoga instructor had an open misdemeanour warrant on a theft of services charge.

She was shown video surveillance of her black Jeep Cherokee outside the house where Ms Wilson had been shot dead. Police say she was “still and guarded”, and eventually nodded at the suggestion that “maybe you were upset and just in the area”.

During the interview, detectives learned that the arrest warrant was not valid and they couldn’t hold her.

“Armstrong then requested to leave so the interview was ended,” the affidavit stated.

Authorities would not set eyes on Ms Armstrong again for another 43 days, when she was arrested on Wednesday at Don Jon’s Surf and Yoga Hostel in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, by agents assigned to the seaside resort town’s tourist police division.

Though the manhunt has come to a close, questions remain about how Ms Armstrong managed to evade capture for nearly seven weeks, seemingly several steps ahead of the law enforcement agencies trying to track her down.

‘Another type of lifestyle’

The day after her 14 May police interview, Ms Armstrong sold her Jeep Grand Cherokee to a dealership for $12,200 before flying from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Houston Hobby and then taking a connecting Southwest flight to LaGuardia in New York.

An arrest warrant was issued for her on 17 May, and the next day she turned up at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Authorities did not see her boarding an outbound flight.

Brandon Filla, Deputy US Marshal Western District of Texas, told The Independent agents later tracked Ms Armstrong to Costa Rica after learning she had obtained a valid US passport in another person’s name and checking flight records.

They tipped off authorities in the Central American country, who began combing likely tourist hangouts for any sign of the fugitive.

They eventually caught up with her at Don Jon’s, a $17-a-night hostel and yoga retreat in the popular surf resort of Santa Teresa,  170 miles (275kms) west of the capital San Jose on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Ms Armstrong reportedly gave police an alias, which did not show up when traced the name through the country’s immigration service. She then provided her real surname, which officers matched to her international arrest warrant.

She had cut and dyed her hair in an effort to change her appearance, and had a bandage on her nose.

Don Jon’s Surf and Yoga Lodge in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, where Kaitlin Armstrong was reportedly arrested

A staff member at Don Jon’s confirmed to The Independent Ms Armstrong had been staying there at the time of her arrest. 

“She looked much different than her older photos,” a person who claimed to be with Ms Armstrong when she was arrested commented on an online forum.

“She did have a bandage on the nose she told me was a surf accident. I was about to ask how exactly it happened because if a surf board did that to her nose she should be dead in the water. I think she had surgery done.”

Sources also told Velonews Ms Armstrong had undergone plastic surgery

Video footage obtained by local news outlet Teletica shows Ms Armstrong being led through a prison after her arrest, her back turned to the camera.

Teletica.com obtained video of Kaitlin Armstrong after her arrest in Costa Rica

Ms Armstrong had been “trying to set up another type of lifestyle” in the town, Mr Filla told The Independent.

When asked if anyone else would be facing charges for helping Ms Armstrong, Mr Filla said: “Now that we have her we will evaluate and look into other things. If we have strong facts or evidence that present themselves we’ll forward that on to the relevant authorities.”

A spokesman for the Austin Police Department told The Independent they could not comment on their handling of the investigation and referred enquiries to the US Marshals.

Had authorities checked Ms Armstrong’s social media accounts at the time she was questioned, they would have learned that she was an experienced global traveller. Her Linkedin page shows says she spent time in Bali, Indonesia, teaching yoga.

Ms Armstrong’s sister Christie wrote about a trip the sisters had taken to Europe in 2018 in a post to Instagram.

Kaitlin Armstrong, centre, in Rome, Italy, in 2018 with her sister Christie Armstrong, right

“I’m still adjusting to not having Kaitlin Armstrong, who has been like a personal assistant to me and all of us - checking flights, hotels and doing all of the things. She’s seriously such a gem, and I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.”

‘Laid-back surf town’

In a Costa Rica travelogue last summer, New York Magazine described Santa Teresa as a "laid-back surf town" where beachfront hotels offer morning yoga classes and surfing at sunset.

“The laid-back town of Santa Teresa has blossomed into a booming travel destination and is recognized as a world-class surfing spot, yet many people just come to enjoy Playa Santa Teresa,” GoVisitCostaRica writes.

Announcing her arrest, US Marshal for the Western District of Texas Susan Pamerleau said they had elevated the investigation to major case status early on, which likely played a key role in her capture.

She will now face deportation to the US, where she will be charged with first-degree murder and could be liable for the death penalty.

In a statement after her arrest, Ms Wilson’s family said: “We’re relieved to know this phase of uncertainty is now behind us, and we trust that justice will prevail.”

An ‘on-again, off-again relationship’

Ms Wilson, 25, from Vermont, was an ace downhill skier as a teenager before converting to gravel bike racing in her 20s.

A month before her death, Ms Wilson beat 30 of the top gravel racing cyclists in the United States to claim the Fuego 80k at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterrey, California.

Ms Wilson followed up that victory with a win at the Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego on 30 April, and arrived in Austin on 10 May as the favourite to win the Gravel Locos in Hico, a few days later.

Moriah ‘Mo’ Wilson was one of the top gravel racing cyclists in the world

She was staying at her friend Caitlin Cash’s apartment in Maple Avenue, east Austin, and on 11 May arranged to meet fellow pro-cyclist Colin Strickland, who according to a police affidavit she had been romantically involved with.

The pair went swimming at the Deep Eddy Pool public aquatic centre in Austin before going for a meal at nearby Pool Burger, Mr Strickland, 35, told investigators. He dropped Ms Wilson off at her friend’s home at around 8.30pm.

One minute later, a neighbour’s surveillance camera captured Ms Armstong’s Cherokee outside the address.

Later that night Ms Wilson was found bleeding and unconscious with multiple gunshot wounds by the friend she was staying with. Despite attempts to resuscitate her, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to a police affidavit, Mr Strickland told detectives in a 12 May interview that Ms Armstrong had returned to their home in her SUV around 9.20pm.

Mr Strickland said he struck up a relationship with Ms Wilson in October 2021 when he and Ms Armstrong were on a brief hiatus. Texts between he and Ms Wilson showed that she was under the impression they were still dating.

Colin Strickland cooperated with the police investigation into Mo Wilson’s homicide

According to the affidavit, a friend called police on 14 May to say that Ms Armtrong had learned of the “on again, off again” relationship in January.

Another caller, identified by the pseudonym Jane to shield her identity from Ms Armstong, said she “became furious and was shaking in anger” and stated that she wanted to kill Ms Wilson.

She began calling Ms Wilson and ordering her to stay away from her boyfriend, according to the affidavit.

In an interview with police, Mr Strickland said around that time he purchased 9mm handguns for himself and Ms Armstrong.

During his police interview, Mr Strickland spoke in glowing terms about Ms Wilson’s prospects as a pro-cyclist, describing her as the best gravel cyclist in the United States, and possibly the world.

He was not nearly as flattering about his girlfriend Ms Armstrong, also a “competitive” cyclist, telling officers he had asked her not to ride with him because she “holds him back”.

Mr Strickland, 35, told The Sun last month that the police affidavit impliying he was still romantically involved with Ms Wilson was “skewed”.

Mr Strickland admitted dating Ms Wilson in October 2021 during a break from his relationship with Ms Armtrong, adding that she was also seeing other men at the time.

But he insisted that since then his friendship with Ms Wilson had been “strictly platonic” since then.

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