Missing in Mexico: Callum and Jake Robinson’s disappearance underscores the dark side of Baja surf coast

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
6 Min Read
At the end of last week Callum and Jake Robinson were heading between two coastal cities on the surf trip of a lifetime. But they did it in a Mexican region known as a place where people disappear.
At the end of last week Callum and Jake Robinson were heading between two coastal cities on the surf trip of a lifetime. But they did it in a Mexican region known as a place where people disappear. Credit: The Nightly, Supplied

The rugged coastline of Mexico’s Baja California draws adventurous surfers from across the globe to its camp-ready beaches and world-renowned breaks.

Just 45 minutes south of the US border city of San Diego, the regional centre of Rosarito and Ensenada, which is further south, heave with clubs and cantinas, markets and beachside bars.

At the end of last week, Australian brothers Callum and Jake Robinson and their American friend Jack Carter Rhoad were travelling between the two coastal cities on a surf “trip of a lifetime”, joining the throngs who flock there to chill by day and party at night.

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As a tightly contested pathway north into the US for some of Mexico’s most notorious and ruthless cartels, the region is notorious as a place where people disappear.

And now, after they failed to check into their Airbnb over the weekend, there are extremely grave concerns that the trio of surfing mates have joined that roster of the missing.

While there are no answers yet to the fate of the brothers and their friend, three people have been arrested by Mexican authorities, including a woman who was detained late on Thursday after she turned on one of the men’s mobile phones. Police found a picture of one of the missing men on the handset and arrested another two men early Friday.

All three of those arrested were carrying a quantity of drugs on them, including methamphetamine.

As they wound their way along the coast for the first two days of their surfing trip, Jake 30, and US-based lacrosse player Callum, 33, shared updates regularly on social media.

When their posts stopped on Saturday, their mother Debra posted on Facebook with an appeal for help finding them.

“They have not contacted us since April 27 … they are travelling with another friend; an American citizen,” Debra wrote from Perth on a local Baja Facebook group.

“Callum is a Type 1 diabetic so there is also a medical concern.

“Please contact me if you have seen them or know their whereabouts.”

The wide sharing of this post was what prompted local police to begin looking for the men and a 48 hour delay in them being reported missing had caused complications with the search, according to Baja Attorney General María Elena Andrade Ramírez.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the last few days that they were reported missing. So, that meant that important hours or time was lost,” Andrade Ramirez told reporters.

A 23-year-old Mexican woman and two men were arrested after the men’s burnt out truck and abandoned campsite were discovered. Local media said blood was discovered at three abandoned tents at the site.

With a US citizen among the missing, the FBI has joined the hunt for the trio and their case is making headlines in America.

Robinson brothers - missing in Mexico.
Pictured is Jake Robinson (right) and brother Callum (2nd from left)
Callum, second from left, and Jake Robinson. Credit: Instagram/Instagram

Describing it as a “really concerning situation”, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday said Australia was working with local authorities “to try to ascertain what has happened here”.

“We certainly hope that these brothers are found safely but there is real concern about the fact that they’ve gone missing,” Mr Albanese said on Sunrise.

“Their mother is obviously very distressed about this and we just hope for a positive outcome.”

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia’s embassy in Mexico and the AFP were working to support local authorities.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is also providing consular support to the men’s families.

“My first and most important point is I want to emphasise that my personal thoughts and the thoughts of all of us are with the families of the missing men,” she said.

“We are obviously deeply concerned, deeply worried.”

Local media, Patrulla 646, has reported that a truck belonging to one of the brothers has been found burnt out at a nearby ranch.
Local media, Patrulla 646, has reported that a truck belonging to one of the brothers has been found burnt out at a nearby ranch. Credit: Facebook/Supplied

Mrs Robinson said the family was deeply distressed by the situation.

“We sincerely appreciate everyone’s concern and thoughts,” Mrs Robinson said in a statement to The Nightly.

“We continue to have hope that our two beautiful sons are found.”

She was reported to be preparing to fly to Mexico on Friday.

Her husband Martin joined her on another statement to Australian media, which revealed that the duo had attended the Coachella festival the week before they drove across the border from San Diego to Mexico to surf.

“Surfing is a passion they both share. Our only comfort right now is that they were together doing something they passionately love,” Mr and Mrs Robinson wrote, adding that Jake, a doctor, had planned to make the trip before starting a new job.

“Jake only let Australia two weeks ago to visit Callum. It was a trip of a lifetime to see his brother, shortly before taking up a new position at Geelong Hospital in Victoria.

“This follows his recent roles working in regional hospitals around Australia - always with a surf beach located nearby. Jake is such a soul and would want no harm.”

Decades of brutal cartel activity has seen more than 120,000 people disappear in Mexico, with almost 22,000 reporting missing last year alone.

The most well-known gangs, such as the Sinaloa, Juarez and Tijuana cartels, have been operating for so long there are now multi-generational offshoots including the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Los Juniors, and all vie with extreme violence for the billion dollar drug, weapon and human trafficking trade between Mexico and the US.

Kidnappings for ransom, violent robberies and mass killings are so common that one of Andrade Ramírez’s election promises before she was sworn in last year as Attorney General for Baja state was to establish a special prosecutor’s office for missing people.

Robinson brothers - missing in Mexico.
Pictured is Callum Robinson (left) with brother Jake (right)
Robinson brothers - missing in Mexico. Pictured is Callum Robinson (left) with brother Jake (right) Credit: Instagram/Instagram

She said on Thursday, local time, that it was not yet clear what had happened to the missing men.

“A working team (of investigators) is at the site where they were last seen, where tents and other evidence was found that could be linked to these three people we have under investigation,” she said.

“There is a lot of important information that we can’t make public. We do not know what condition they are in.”

Asked about drug cartel activity in the area, she said “all lines of investigation are open at this time. We cannot rule anything out until we find them”.

Ensenada Mayor Carlos Ibarra Aguiar said police were conducting searches in several areas, including La Bocana in Santo Tomás, a beach area, and the small town of Maneadero.

Former FBI agent Phil Andrew said the fact no ransom demand had yet been made meant kidnapping was a less likely explanation for the men’s disappearance.

“Given the amount of time here we have to assume something has happened and if it was a kidnapping we may have already heard something,” he said on Sunrise.

Robinson brothers - missing in Mexico.
Pictured posts on social media on the missing men Callum and Jake Robinson
Robinson brothers - missing in Mexico. Pictured posts on social media on the missing men Callum and Jake Robinson Credit: Instagram/Instagram

He said the fact an American was missing would bring more firepower to the search, which now also involved the Mexican Navy.

“It’s certainly helpful to have American law enforcement, particularly the FBI, working the case,” he said.

But the fact that the phone was found “in a third person’s hands, that creates concern”.

“They’re in an area that is difficult to police and very remote, and there are reports of increased level of crime there,” he said.

This is not the first time that Australian surfers have met with trouble in northern Mexico.

In 2015, Adam Coleman and Dean Lucas, were killed by highway robbers in western Sinaloa state, which is across the Gulf of California from the Baja peninsula. Three people were arrested after their bodies were found in their burnt out car.

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