Her father went missing in Mexico in 2018. Five years later, she still doesn't know what happened to him

The documentary Malcom is Missing follows Brooke Mullins’ journey through one of the most corrupt justice systems in the world.

Canadian Brooke Mullins has spent roughly $300,000 on flights to Mexico, legal help, informants and bribes

On the left sits Malcom Madsen, a white man wearing black sunglasses and a blue t-shirt. His daughter Brooke Mullins sits next to him, she is wearing hoop earrings with white tassels on them and a black dress. They're sitting on a patio in a summer day.
Malcom Madsen and his daughter Brooke Mullins sit on a patio in Denmark in July 2018. Madsen went missing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, three months later and Brooke has been trying to find out what happened ever since. (Courtesy of Brooke Mullins)

68-year-old Malcom Madsen flew to Mexico in October 2018. His family hasn't seen him since.

Almost five years later, following a privately funded investigation, three arrests, a trial, guilty verdicts and 56-year sentences for all accused, Madsen is still missing.

Brooke Mullins, Madsen's daughter, spent the last half-decade as an amateur sleuth, uncovering clues and details about his disappearance in an effort to piece together what happened. Mullins, who is from Port Hope, Ont., spent an estimated $300,000 on flights to Mexico, legal help, informants and even bribes as she searched for her father.

The documentary Malcom is Missing follows Mullins' journey through a corrupt system of disinterested Mexican authorities, ignored and erased evidence and a shocking "smoking gun" video of her father being drugged that didn't seem to move the official investigation an inch. 

When her father first disappeared, Mullins flew to Mexico to find him, unaware it would launch a years-long battle full of legal and emotional challenges. 

A bittersweet final chapter

In April 2023, 48-year-old Marcela Acosta Ramos, Madsen's girlfriend of six years, was sentenced to 56 years and three months in a Mexican prison after being found guilty for "disappearance committed by individuals," a charge handed down when a body has not been found. 

At the time of his disappearance, Madsen had been in the process of severing the relationship with his much younger girlfriend — a relationship, the documentary shows, that was marked by her frequent requests for money. 

Security footage shows the moment something was slipped into Malcom Madsen's drink | Malcom is Missing

1 month ago
Duration 1:52
Shortly after Malcom Madsen went missing in Mexico in October 2018, his daughter Brooke Mullins packed a bag and flew to Mexico to try and find him. Her amateur sleuthing revealed this “smoking gun” video of her father being drugged by his then-girlfriend. Watch Malcom is Missing on CBC Gem.

Marcela's son, Andrés Javier Romero Acosta, 30, and brother, Martin Alejandro Acosta Ramos, 51, were also convicted. They received the same sentence as Marcela. 

Mullins flew to Mexico to testify at the trial. She was escorted by armed guards and told to stay in her hotel between courtroom appearances. Even with protection, Mullins said she was threatened by a person who later showed up at court several times: "I was definitely shaking in court, for sure," she said from her home in Port Hope.

The defendants showed no signs of remorse, Mullins said. At one point, Marcela even turned and looked at her.

"Clearly it was threatening," Mullins said of the look. "It was a lot of anger.… I just looked back at her, I would like to think, with sad eyes, because I'm very sad that we all found ourselves in that situation."

Malcom is Missing explores how 95 per cent of violent crimes in Mexico go unpunished, and more than 100,000 people are listed as "missing" or "disappeared" in the country. It's likely Marcela and her family would have never faced trial if not for Mullins' years of work.

"They chose to get where they are," she said. "But it doesn't sit that easy with me knowing that I've played a part in the fact that they'll probably spend the rest of their lives in prison. It's just sad."

Mullins didn't stay in Mexico for the verdict — instead, a "guilty" text came through on her phone as she was flying home. She texted friends and family, and then shared the news with the 2,000-plus members of a Facebook group she created about her father.

The success at trial, however, marks a bittersweet end to a grim journey.

"Well, it's been four and a half years," Mullins said. "I've had some years of up and downs of how I felt. But at this point, you know, I'm kind of older, I'm more mature. I've been through more. I'm calmer about it all. I need my own personal peace."

The story behind the story

Filmmaker Robert Osborne first read about Mullins and her missing father in a short newspaper item, just a couple paragraphs long, in 2020. He sensed there was a bigger story and looked Mullins up on Facebook, where he noticed they knew someone in common. Osborne asked that person to connect him with Mullins; an hour later, he was on the phone with her.

After several COVID-19 delays, Osborne was able to join Mullins on her journey to find her father — or confirm his fate. He even contributed to the case by unearthing cellphone data in 4,000 pages of documents from the Mexican authorities. Sifting through the pages using Google Translate, he noticed cellphone tracking that lined up perfectly with the GPS in Madsen's car — a crucial detail that proved the three accused were lying about their whereabouts on the night of Madsen's disappearance.

Although the documents had been provided to Mullins' lawyer in Mexico, her lawyer never told her the final piece had been there all along. It is unclear whether the lawyer hid this information, Osborne said, or simply missed it.

It was one example, among many, of a troubled case that could not rely on those who'd been entrusted to help.

"I tell you, the tenacity that Brooke showed in this is just staggering to me," Osborne said. "Even today, I look back on … what she accomplished, and I'm so impressed."

Although Malcom is Missing shows her many struggles to achieve justice, Mullins instead focuses on those who reached out with support. Through her father's disappearance, she's connected to many others going through similar losses, and she follows their stories just as they have followed hers.

"I have to say that I've seen much more good than evil," Mullins said. "And the amount of amazing people that have stepped forward to help me — the new friends, incredible individuals — it just blows my mind."

Mullins hopes the outcome of the trial sets a precedent in Mexico. She's already heard of another missing person's case being investigated shortly after Madsen's case concluded.

"If my father's death ends up not being in vain," she said, "I think that my father would be very proud of that."

Watch Malcom is Missing on CBC Gem. 


Nina Dragicevic is a freelance writer with bylines in the CBC, Toronto Star, Storeys and The Globe and Mail. She also publishes fiction, with her first two books scheduled for release in 2023 and 2025.

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