Tampa man, ‘local gigolo’ vanish in Costa Rica; lawmaker joins search efforts

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Each day is daunting for the family of Charlie Hughes as they search non-stop for their brother, a retired accountant from Tampa who disappeared suddenly while on a trip.

The 62-year-old vanished on vacation in Costa Rica as he visited a friend.

Right now, a massive search is taking place in Central America with teams scouring multiple areas, including the capital city of San Jose and nearby town, Puerto Jimenez.

It was in this rural town of Puerto Jimenez, Charlie was last seen alive in the company of a companion, police say.

The FBI is actively investigating the disappearance of the 62-year-old Tampa retiree, described by family and friends alike as a seasoned global traveler, both savvy and smart, someone who didn’t make foolish decisions while visiting foreign countries.

Charlie is highly adept at solo-traveling, his sister says, and never had a problem. Until now.

The family claims their brother preferred larger cities. “He’s a city boy, he hated the country. So, how did he end up in that area? How? We knew something was wrong when he didn’t call, text or email,” said Nancy.

When Charlie flew out of Tampa International a month ago, he was scheduled to return in several days. Sadly, he would never make his return flight home. He vanished without a trace.

It’s been more than a month since anyone has seen him alive. For his family in Clearwater, each day is agony.

Each moment without their brother is “heartbreaking,” they tell us. Despite these difficult circumstances, their resolve remains strong, even at their weakest time.

They want to remain positive, but practical.

It is a painful process, but one where family members must be vigilant and focused as they search for Charlie. They wake up each day hoping for the best, but also fearing the worst.

For this close-knit family which includes five siblings, They say there’s only one option.

Never give up.

“We’re not stopping,” said Nancy Steffens. “Our family is not going to stop. They don’t know our family. We’re hard-headed, we’re determined, we’re going to find out the truth, find out what happened.”

The retired accountant from Tampa disappeared when he returned to Costa Rica to visit someone he met three weeks prior. Turns out, that new man is a local hustler, police say. Someone they call “trouble.”

Police say this “gigolo” now plays a key role in this missing persons case. Authorities consider him a central figure, and here’s why.

He was the last person to see Charlie alive, say authorities

The two men were staying at a hotel in Puero Jimenez. Shortly after Charlie went missing, his rental car was found submerged in a river. It was certainly not what Charlie’s family in Clearwater wanted to hear.

Now, details in the case point to an odd, disturbing twist in this now-high profile, global mystery.

Charlie’ s companion is now also missing, too. Neither man has been located.

Two men. Two cases. Two mysteries

Nancy told 8 on your Side the search for the truth is nearly impossible.

“The stories that we’re getting. We know truth is out there, and we’re not getting it,” she said.

They contacted 8 On Your Side, searching for the truth and begging for answers as they search for their brother. Nancy says she feels fed up and frustrated, saying the police in Costa Rica have fed Charlie’s family bogus theories and stories regarding his disappearance.

“They’re lying when they say they don’t know what happened to him,” Nancy said. “They know, someone knows. We know, we’re convinced that the guy seen with Charlie, the last one to see him alive, we know he’s involved. We know it. He knows what happened to my brother.”

Nancy said she was hoping to get congressional leaders involved in the search.

As 8 On Your Side worked on the case, helping in the search for Charlie, we began contacting heavy hitters in Congress. We asked for their help, hoping their longtime political tenure would create an even-greater urgency in finding this missing Tampa man.

8 On Your Side asked Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor to join these efforts.

The congresswoman told 8 on your Side, “I’m glad we can help. I’m glad you called. I told the family we will do everything we can. We’re also going to lean heavily on our fellow congressional leaders, diplomats and consulates. We are going to help in every possible. We feel so heartbroken for the family. This retiree was trying to enjoy a vacation, he didn’t deserve this.”

Congresswoman Castor acted quickly and decisively as she joined the global search for this Tampa man. She knew exactly what needed to take place immediately. She contacted Charlie’s relatives in Clearwater.

As numerous calls were made to fellow lawmakers, the congresswoman also reached out to multiple enforcement agencies, hoping her actions and those of fellow Florida leaders, will make the difference. “It’s humbling to work on the family’s behalf,” said Congressman Castor. “We will work hard to help them.”

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