The family of a Long Island woman found strangled to death at a Club Med on Turks and Caicos in 2018 has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit, the I-Team has exclusively learned.
The son and husband of Marie Kuhnla filed the lawsuit after hiring private investigator Eddie Dowd, who looked into the mysterious death. He said that it didn’t appear that Kuhnla had walked to the location where her body was found, bruised in a clump of bushes away from the resort. The medical examiner later determined she had been manually strangled.
“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 said. He was brought on by the family after they said they were stonewalled from the very beginning by Club Med and Turks and Caicos Island Police.
Rick Kuhnla, Marie’s husband, said it didn’t seem like anyone was taking the investigation very seriously, or were doing much to find his wife’s killer.
“They just wanted to sweep it under the rug. It’s the easiest way to answer that,” Kuhnla said.
“We want to know what happened, and we want justice for my mom,” said the couple’s son, Rick Kuhnla Jr., who lives in California. “We couldn’t get her body back for two months and by then, it was so decomposed, we couldn’t view it.”
Kuhnla had been on vacation with two coworkers in the fall of 2018. The women she was with previously told the I-Team they were suspicious of a fellow guest who had latched on to the group. One of the women, Helma Hermans, said the guest sexually groped her in the pool. Her claim is included in the wrongful death lawsuit.
The women say they became increasingly concerned when Kuhnla disappeared after a day of drinking at the pool, adding that Club Med and local police seemed unconcerned.
“I didn’t see any police, I didn’t see any resort staff looking for anyone,” said Hermans.
Kuhnla’s body was found a day later. The I-Team visited the crime scene in 2019, freely able to walk the Club Med grounds without being questioned by security. Upon visiting the local police station, the lead detective said the investigation was still open, with it still considered a murder. No arrests have been made.
Abe George, the family’s attorney, said that Club Med “failed to take the requisite action to keep Marie safe,” and said that it “absolutely” was a murder.
The lawsuit also names the hotel guest Kuhnla’s friends said was last seen with her, Frank Yacullo – a former Club Med employee. The court papers accuse Yacullo of killing Kuhnla, and Club Med of covering up the crime.
“I had nothing to do with this,” Yacullo, who lives on Long Island, told the I-team when reached by phone. “I had no interaction with her besides going to the pool.”
A spokesperson for Club Med said they can’t comment on pending legal matters, but added that “the safety and security of all of our guests and staff is our highest priority.”
Kuhnla’s husband said it seems like someone has “so far” gotten away with murder, and isn’t entirely confident that’s going to change any time soon.
“We’re not totally convinced that will ever happen,” Kuhnla said, while admitting he knows the legal process will be lengthy. The husband and father has decided to move on with his life and sell his Long Island home, moving to California to be closer with his son, and hope for justice together.