As It Happens

A Canadian went to Mexico to investigate her father's disappearance. Here's what she found

Brooke Mullins was frustrated by what she calls a failure by Mexican and Canadian authorities to properly investigate her father's disappearance — so she decided to do it herself.

Security footage, obtained by daughter, appears to show woman slipping something into Malcom Madsen's drink

Malcom Madsen, 68, a Canadian snowbird from Port Hope, Ont., went missing in Mexico in October 2018 and is presumed dead. (Submitted by Brooke Mullins)
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Brooke Mullins was frustrated by what she calls a failure by Mexican and Canadian authorities to properly investigate her father's disappearance — so she decided to do it herself.

The Port Hope, Ont., woman has travelled thousands of kilometres and spent more than $100,000 to figure out what became of her father Malcom Madsen, a 68-year-old Canadian snowbird who hasn't been seen since October 2018. He was declared dead last week by an Ontario court.

Among her findings are GPS tracking data that shows his vehicle in a series of what she considers suspicious locations on the night of his disappearance, and video surveillance footage that appears to show a woman — whom she says is his Mexican girlfriend — slipping something into his drink earlier that evening.

But still, Mullins says authorities on both sides aren't taking her seriously. 

"I'm not satisfied with the help I received from Canada, and I've spoken to everyone you could possibly imagine," Mullins told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I am not content with the way the Mexican government has dealt with this. I do not feel like anyone is interested or cares." 

Mullins's story and her findings were first reported last week by Toronto Star investigative journalist Kenyon Wallace

'Full panic' 

For Mullins, the story begins on Nov. 1, 2018, when she received a Facebook message from her father's friend who said he couldn't reach him in Chonchos, the small beach town near Puerto Vallarta where her father spent his winters living in a treehouse. 

Mullins tried phoning, texting and Facebook messaging her dad to no avail. At first, she says she wasn't too worried. She knew he had shoddy reception and figured he would return her messages eventually. 

A few days later, she learned from friends and neighbours that her father had not been seen at home that week at all. 

"Then it was full panic."

Brooke Mullins, right, with her father Malcom. (Submitted by Brooke Mullins)

Her father was reported missing, but Mullins said local police didn't seem to take it seriously.

"They thought maybe he wandered off or was taking a break from his life," she said. "They were not interested at all."

She says Canadian authorities told her the investigation was under Mexican jurisdiction and there was little they could do.

In an email statement, Global Affairs Canada said it was "aware that a Canadian citizen is missing in Mexico," but could not comment on the specifics of the case for privacy reasons. 

"Consular services are being provided to the family in Canada," wrote Global Affairs spokesperson Marianne Goodwin. "Consular officials in Mexico are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information."

CBC Radio was unable to reach Mexican authorities for comment. The Star spoke to René Ortega with the Jalisco Attorney General's office, who referred them to the media relations department, where multiple messages went unanswered. Ortega did not return a request for comment from As It Happens

'I felt physically ill'

Frustrated by what she perceived as inaction by police, Mullins flew to Chonchos herself in search of answers. 

That led her to Andale's Restaurant and Bar, a popular tourist spot in Puerto Vallarta, and the last place her father was seen.

A week after her dad went missing, Mullins says the bar owner allowed her, her lawyer and a small group of her father's friends to review the surveillance footage from that night. What she saw shocked her.

  • Watch security footage from the night Malcom Madsen went missing:
Brooke Mullins recorded this video on her phone of surveillance footage from Andale's Restaurant and Bar in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She says it shows her father Malcolm Madsen and a woman she says is his girlfriend on Oct. 28, 2018, the night he went missing. In it, the woman appears to put something in his drink. 0:14

A security camera captured her father sitting at a table with a woman who Mullins identifies as his 43-year-old Mexican girlfriend.

A clip of the video shared by the Star shows Madsen getting up to go to the bathroom, and the woman pulling something out of her purse. When he returns, the woman leans in close to him, blocking his view of his drink. She then appears to slip something into his drink and gives it a little stir.

Twenty minutes later, they leave the bar together. Madsen was never seen again.

"I felt physically ill," Mullins said. "There was that physical reaction of realizing how serious this really was."

CBC Radio has not independently verified the authenticity of the video footage and has decided not to name the woman, who has not been criminally charged.

As It Happens has reached out to the woman through her Facebook account, but received no response. The Star reports that she did not respond to messages sent to her email address and Facebook account.

Mullins says she showed the video to Mexican police.

"One of the police officers there accused me of doctoring it."

Suspicious GPS data 

Mullins said her father's girlfriend told police that the pair left the bar early that night because Madsen was drunk. They crashed at his place, and the next morning, she said he got up, packed his bags, and left never to be seen again. 

She also reportedly told police they'd left his Toyota van in her garage all night. But Mullins says the data tells a different story.

Madsen had an account with the GPS provider Trackimo, which automatically sent co-ordinates to his email account every time the van turned on and started moving.

She said those emails show the van went to a shopping mall early in the evening, a remote jungle-like area north of Puerto Vallerta three hours later, then a marina in the early-morning hours before finally returning to Madsen's girlfriend's house.

As It Happens has seen emails from Trackimo, which show Madsen's van taking several trips on the night he went missing.

She brought this information, along with the bar security footage, to Mexican police. 

"I honestly felt like I was almost divinely guided. I just thought I had everything. You know, I thought how could they not see how damning this is and get involved?" 

Dead, not missing 

Last week, Mullins stood before an Ontario court and did something she never wanted to do. She requested that her father be declared dead. The court did so.

She and her lawyers are hoping that authorities will treat a suspicious death more seriously than a missing person.

"It was very hard. I've been holding on to that 15 per cent still that he might be alive somewhere out there being held," she said.

"The lawyer said, 'You know, Brooke, we know he's gone, don't we?' And there was a pause between us and it was very emotional. But I do know he's gone."

Mullins as a little girl with her father. (Submitted by Brooke Mullins)

Global Affairs estimates that 374 Canadians died in Mexico in circumstances other than a natural death and roughly 2,600 foreigners have gone missing in the country since 2007.

Mullins acknowledges not all of them have the means to do what she did.

"There are so many people that have reached out to me here in Canada. They're in the same situation with loved ones over there that are missing or found dead that have chosen not to go public because they're private or because [they] can't afford to, or they don't have the time to put this much effort into it," Mullins said.

"People say law, but they mean wealth."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Brooke Mullins produced by Jeanne Armstrong.