Anna Laura Costa Porsborg flew to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, planning to spend a week taking in the sights with her boyfriend.
She sent her mother in Brazil photographs from Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Then the messages stopped. After hearing nothing from her daughter for two days, Costa Porsborg’s mother went to the Brazilian federal police, who contacted the FBI.
Law enforcement agents never found the 22-year-old. Her remains, they suspect, are somewhere in the Angeles National Forest.
The absence of her body has not stopped prosecutors from charging Costa Porsborg’s boyfriend with her murder. The rare “no body” homicide prosecution was put to the test at a preliminary hearing Monday.
Two detectives described the evidence that led them to conclude her boyfriend killed Costa Porsborg, left her body in their hotel room for two days, then buried her somewhere in the mountains above Los Angeles.
The night of Christmas Eve, Costa Porsborg flew out of Newark with Luis Gomes Akay.
She had met Gomes Akay more than a year earlier at her cousin’s home in Elizabeth, N.J., where he rented the basement for $600 a month, her mother, Erbena Costa, said in an interview.
Surveillance footage that police later obtained showed Costa Porsborg and Gomes Akay wheeling three suitcases, including a large blue one, into a Doubletree by Hilton hotel in El Segundo that night.
Costa Porsborg had always wanted to see Los Angeles, her mother said. Over the next three days, she sent her mother photographs from the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame and Beverly Hills.
Costa heard nothing from her daughter on Dec. 28, she said. This had never happened before. “Everything she did,” Costa said in Portuguese, “she told me three or four times a day.”
On New Year’s Eve, Det. Jeremy Glunt of the El Segundo Police Department knocked on the door of Room 638 at the Doubletree. Gomes Akay let Glunt and his partner into the room, which was strewn with women’s clothing and smelled of urine, Glunt testified Monday.
Over the course of a three-hour, 50-minute interview in the hotel room, Gomes Akay recounted the last time he saw Costa Porsborg: The night of Dec. 27, Gomes Akay said, when he and Costa Porsborg went bowling, played pool and had a few drinks before returning to their hotel room around 9:30 p.m.
They had argued in the car, Gomes Akay said. Costa Porsborg yelled that he was always on his phone, messaging in a group chat with his video gaming friends. The argument continued up to the room, where, Gomes Akay said, Costa Porsborg announced she was leaving and told him never to contact her again. Before she walked out, he said, she left her engagement ring on the nightstand.
Gomes Akay said he went looking for Costa Porsborg in the Angeles National Forest the next day. They’d planned to hike in the mountains that day and noted it in an itinerary, Gomes Akay said. But when he showed the document to Glunt, the detective testified, it showed they’d planned to travel to Napa Valley instead.
Glunt said during the preliminary hearing that he had noticed “small abrasions that appeared to be fresh in nature” on Gomes Akay’s hands and “what appeared to be rug burns” near his elbows.
Raised in the city of Santarem in the northern Brazilian state of Para, Costa Porsborg fell in love with the United States on an exchange program during her final year of high school, Costa said.
She enrolled at a private school in Everett, Mass., where she played on the basketball team, joined the cheerleading program and made many friends, her mother said. “Her personality was extremely happy, very full of life.”
Wanting to make a life for herself in the United States, Costa Porsborg enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., studying business administration and marketing, her mother said. After graduation, she got a job in New Jersey as an assistant manager at an Abercrombie & Fitch store, and later, at Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Rhode Island, Costa said.
Although she had a green card, Costa Porsborg dreamed of becoming a U.S. citizen. She saw military service as a path to that goal, her mother said.
When she told her mother she was going to enlist in the U.S. Army, Costa couldn’t believe it. “She was a girl who appeared to be delicate, always had her hair brushed, nails well done,” she said. “Very vain. Always had the best clothes, the best shoes, the best purses.”
Yet last summer, Costa Porsborg reported to basic training at Ft. Jackson, S.C. She sent her mother a selfie from boot camp, wearing an olive T-shirt tucked into camouflage pants.
At Ft. Jackson, Costa Porsborg learned to shoot, throw a grenade and run carrying a heavy pack, Costa said. She graduated from basic training in November and was assigned to an Army post in Virginia for more specialized training, Costa said.
Six days before Christmas, recruits were allowed to return home for the holidays. Costa Porsborg made plans to see Los Angeles.
Gomes Akay did not know it, but Costa Porsborg was married. Nor did her husband, a college classmate who lived in Rhode Island, know about Gomes Akay.
Costa Porsborg told her mother about Gomes Akay, how he’d taken her skydiving and celebrated her 21st birthday with her in Las Vegas. She even introduced him to Costa, who noted how much older he was — 15 years older than her daughter — and how he “had something like — I don’t even know the word,” she said. “He was powerful, his own man.”
Costa told her daughter that if her husband learned of the affair, he would be devastated, she recalled, but he “wouldn’t do anything extreme to you.”
But she worried, she told her daughter, about the boyfriend. “If he found out about [your husband], I don’t know what he would do to you. I swear I said this to her the first day I met him. She said, ‘Relax, Mom. He won’t find out.’”
After interviewing Gomes Akay in his hotel room, Glunt reviewed surveillance video from a nearby building. The footage showed the couple returning to the Doubletree the night of Dec. 27. Although Gomes Akay said the two were embroiled in an argument, in the video “there is no evidence of a verbal altercation,” Glunt testified.
The footage showed that two days later, at 6:09 a.m., Gomes Akay walked out of the hotel, struggling to drag a blue suitcase with one hand while carrying a trash bag in the other, the detective testified. The suitcase, Glunt said, appeared to be “bulging.”
Gomes Akay was arrested on suspicion of murder on Jan. 1. Questioned at the Hawthorne police station, he at first denied killing Costa Porsborg, said Det. Joseph Iberri of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Later in the interview, Iberri testified, Gomes Akay took his notebook from him and wrote, “Speak only you.”
After two El Segundo policemen left the interview room, Gomes Akay said he and Costa Porsborg had argued the night of Dec. 27 and that after she struck him twice in the face, he grabbed her wrists, pulled her to the ground and put her in a chokehold, the detective testified.
Gomes Akay, who had martial arts training, said he was used to people “tapping out” when they were close to losing consciousness. But when Costa Porsborg “ceased to struggle, she was not just unconscious,” Iberri testified. “She was dead.”
According to Iberri, Gomes Akay said he left her body inside a suitcase until the morning of Dec. 29, when he drove into the mountains. As he was climbing down an embankment, the heavy bag slipped out of his grasp and her body tumbled out.
“He said because he’s Catholic, he decided to bury her under some rocks,” Iberri testified.
Gomes Akay has never told detectives where he left the body, Iberri said. Using his phone location data, authorities have identified a large swath of the Angeles National Forest within which her remains might have been buried. Glunt testified that he, an FBI agent and two investigators from the U.S. Army have searched for Costa Porsborg’s body without success.
After the arrest, Iberri interviewed a friend of Gomes Akay. The friend said he had been a suspect in the disappearance of a woman in Brazil. She recalled Gomes Akay saying that “if he ever needed to kill someone, he would be able to — in essence, they would never find the body,” the detective testified.
Brazilian media have reported that Gomes Akay was suspected — but never charged — in the case of a woman who vanished in 2017.
Gomes Akay, who appeared in court wearing a white rosary over his blue jail jumpsuit, has pleaded not guilty. He did not present a defense Monday, which would be unusual at a preliminary hearing.
At the end of the two-hour hearing, Judge Cathryn Brougham ruled that she’d heard enough evidence for Gomes Akay to stand trial for murder. The fact that Costa Porsborg’s family has not heard from her in seven months and “circumstantial clues,” such as her personal effects being left behind in the hotel room, indicate she is dead, Brougham said.
Costa said she prays Gomes Akay will say where he left her daughter’s body so she can give her a proper burial. She believes he is holding back because “he thinks the United States is the same as Brazil. No body, no crime.”
Costa flew to Los Angeles for the hearing. She chose to stay at the Doubletree in El Segundo. “I came here to see where my daughter spent the last day of her life,” she said.
When she arrived a few days ago, she sat in the lobby for a while, watching people come and go, she said. Then she approached the front desk, showed the clerk a photograph of her daughter, and began to cry.