Family of New York woman who was found strangled to death in Turks and Caicos bushes claims police are ‘covering up’ her murder to promote tourism
- Marie Kuhnla, 61, a mother and longtime New York public defender, was found dead in a remote section of the Club Med Resort on Providenciales in 2018
- In the aftermath, local officials called in an American medical examiner who ruled that her cause of death was ‘manual strangulation’
- But while police originally reported that the manner of death was a homicide, they are now claiming in court that she died of ‘positional asphyxia’
- They claim she fell into the bushes and suffocated herself
- Kuhnla’s family and their attorney, though, point to evidence of bruising on her inner thigh and broken ribs
- They claim that Frank Yacullo, a former Club Med employee, had sexually assaulted her before killed her
- A jury is set to rule on her official method of death on Thursday or Friday
The family of a woman found strangled to death while she was on vacation in Turks and Caicos has claimed that local police are trying to cover up her murder in an effort to protect the tourism industry.
Marie Kuhnla, 61, a mother and longtime New York public defender, was found dead in the bushes of a remote section of the Club Med Resort on the Providenciales island in October 2018.
In the aftermath, local officials called in an American medical examiner who ruled that her cause of death was ‘manual strangulation.’
But while police originally reported in her death certificate that the manner of death was a homicide, they are now trying to claim in court that she died of ‘positional asphyxia’ after she fell into the bushes while drunk.
‘What we watched last week was that Club Med and the police department were working together to discredit the medical examiner,’ family attorney Abe George told DailyMail.com.
He said that in an inquest into Kuhnla’s death, both the police and Club Med officials are positing that Kuhnla ‘tripped and fell into the sand and suffocated herself … because she was so drunk’ even though authorities found sand in her airway.’
George claims that the police and Club Med are now making these claims in the inquest because ‘Club Med is the largest employer on the island,’ and news of a murder would be bad for the tourism industry.
A six-member jury is now set to rule on whether the original manner of death – that Kuhnla died from a homicide – could have been incorrect on Thursday or Friday.
The body of Marie Kuhnla, 61, (pictured) was found in a remote section of Club Med on Providenciales in October 2018 after she was reported missing following a day of drinking
Her family is now saying police and Club Med officials are trying to cover up her homicide, and are instead claiming she died of positional asphyxia
Kuhnla was last seen on October 14, 2018 while vacationing with two colleagues from the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society in the Turks and Caicos and was reported missing by her friends who became concerned after she disappeared following a day of drinking at the resort pool.
Her body was found two days later in a remote part of the Club Med Turkoise resort only used by staff members, with her underwear pulled down.
An American medical examiner, Dr. Michael Steckbauer, was later called into the island to investigate her death and ruled that she died of strangulation by homicide.
He continues to stand by that ruling, FOX News reports, and called her death ‘intentional’ in a $10 million wrongful death suit brought by the family against Club Med officials for allegedly covering up the horrific crime.
The family now claims that Frank Yacullo, a former Club Med employee, sexually assaulted her before killing her.
They point to an autopsy revealing that after Kuhnla’s body was found, her remains were put in front of a refrigerator exhaust fan blowing hot air in an apparent attempt to accelerate decomposition before Steckbauer arrived on the island.
And a private investigator, Ed Dowd, said he determined that Kuhnla had broken ribs and bruising on her inner thighs – suggesting she was beaten before her death.
But in 2019, Rick Kuhnla Jr. told FOX News, the lead police officer from the islands traveled to their home on Long Island, New York and began expressing doubts that her death was a homicide.
Instead, he reportedly suggested that she died of ‘positional asphyxia,’ which is where a person’s position causes improper breathing, leading to death.
‘He thinks that she just got herself into a position in the bushes where she couldn’t breathe – which didn’t happen. It’s not possible,’ Rick Jr told FOX.
‘We’ve talked to, you know, through our lawyer, we’ve got in touch with retired NYPD officers who run a private investigation firm and said “That’s just absurd.”‘
Those private investigators, he explained, said that when Kuhnla was found, she was barefoot but her feet were clean and her sandals were found hundreds of feet away – suggesting she did not walk through the gravel to the bushes.
‘She was not walking to that location. What happened is that she was either murdered there and dumped there, or she was murdered somewhere else and dumped there,’ Dowd previously told NBC 4.
Kuhnla’s body was found in the bushes near the resort, with her underwear pulled down. Police are seen here investigating the scene in 2018
Kuhnla’s family and their attorney claim the police are covering up her murder to protect the island’s tourism industry
Rick is now suggesting that the police are now changing their story to protect the island’s tourism industry.
‘I think they have the interest that tourism is their number one industry,’ he said, ‘and it’s a lot smoother for them to say that she died by accident in some bushes.’
And George pointed out to DailyMail.com that police have previously let Yacullo go just 24 hours after he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting Kuhnla before her death.
He had previously allegedly sexually assaulted Kuhnla’s travel mate, Helma Hermans, by putting his hands between her legs, and was allegedly able to secure Kuhnla’s room number by his contacts who still worked at the resort.
Yacullo, a fellow Long Islander who allegedly tried to impress Kuhnla and her friends that he was a former Club Med employee, was the last person seen with Kuhnla.
But he has maintained his innocence and pleaded the fifth when he was deposed last August, the Kuhnla family attorney Abe George said.
And when questioned by NBC 4 in 2019, Yacullo said he ‘had nothing to do with that. I had no interaction with her besides going to the pool.’
Club Med officials now say they are cooperating with the investigation into Kuhnla’s death.
‘The entire Club Med family is enormously saddened by the death of Ms Kuhnla,’ they said in a statement to FOX News, adding: ‘The safety, security and well-being of all of our guests remain our highest priority.
‘At this time, we are continuing to cooperate with the public inquiry and cannot comment any further on the active litigation.’