The murder of surfers Jake, Callum and Jack: The latest crime that’s sparked fears over tourism to Mexico

The families of the victims have identified the bodies, which had gunshot wounds. The Baja California Prosecutor’s Office believes that the assailants wanted to steal their vehicle, but ended up killing them

Protesters carry photos of the three murdered surfers, on May 5 in Ensenada (Baja California)
Beatriz Guillén

Jack Road, Callum Robinson and Jake Robinson were only alive in Mexico for one day. The three young men crossed into Baja California from the United States on April 26, and 36 hours later they had disappeared. Eight days passed before authorities found their bodies and their families identified them. The crime has renewed fears about violence in Mexico. The U.S. government has issued new warnings about travel to Mexico, while Australia said it was shocked by the “absolutely horrendous experience.” Mexican Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena has expressed her condolences to the victims’ families.

“It begins…” That’s the caption Callum Robinson, 30, used on April 26, when he posted an image of two vans with surfboards and waves in the background. Robinson lived in San Diego, where he was a lacrosse player. His brother Jake had flown to see him from Australia, where he worked as a doctor. Both were originally from Perth in Western Australia. The brothers regularly shared photos of their trips on Instagram. The photo in Mexico was their last.

The two were traveling with Jack Road, 30, from the U.S. The three shared snapshots of their vacation in Baja California on social media: they are seen at the popular surf spot KM 38, in Rosarito, petting a puppy and in Ensenada, having a beer. There is a photo in a jacuzzi and a video of a taco stand. The reel ends on April 27, with an image of the three young men with a coffee in front of the ocean, on San Miguel beach. The social media silence was one of the changes that alarmed their friends. As did the fact that the surfers did not arrive that night at their accommodation near Rosarito. They didn’t arrive later, either.

On April 30, a friend of the surfers filed a missing person’s report with the Baja California Prosecutor’s Office. However, it was not until a day later that the case made the news. On May 1, Callum and Jake’s mother, Debra Robinson, asked for help. The Australian woman posted a message on a popular English-speaking Facebook group, called Talk Baja, which has more than 120,000 members. She was looking for any clue to find her children. The post quickly went viral. Soon, U.S. and Australian media were reporting on her search for the surfers, along with data on the level of violence in Mexico. The level of international scrutiny forced the State Prosecutor’s Office to act quickly.

Surfers throw flowers during a tribute to the three victims.
Surfers throw flowers during a tribute to the three victims.Karen Castaneda (AP)

On May 2, about nine miles from Punta San José, another popular surf spot in Baja California, authorities found the victims’ camp on an off-track road in the community of Santo Tomás, in Ensenada. The place, called La Bocana, was described by the Prosecutor’s Office as an unpopulated area, very far from the town, that does not have either telephone or internet signal. This is where the young surfers camped out and where their burned tents were found. “Rods belonging to tents, a firearm casing, some plastic bottles, blood stains and traces of dragging, something like heavy packages, were found” said Baja California Attorney General Elena Andrade, “which made us suspect that they were violently assaulted, and we doubted that they were alive.”

The fears came true a day later, when the surfers’ bodies were found in a deep well, about 3.7 miles from the camp. The Prosecutor’s Office described the discovery of the well, which was 15 meters deep and filled with water, as like finding “a needle in a haystack,” given the terrain was very difficult to access and that the well was covered with wooden planks. Andrade explained that it took hours to extract the bodies, which were identified by the families.

Violent assault

The preliminary hypothesis of the Prosecutor’s Office is that it was a robbery that turned into a murder. According to the authorities, the surfers decided to camp in the coastal area, when the assailants passed by aboard a white Ford Ranger vehicle. “When they spotted the white Colorado pickup vehicle, owned by the victims, they approached with the intention of taking the vehicle, removing the tires or other parts, to put them in their own pickup, an older model. When they approached and surprised these people, they probably resisted, and the aggressors took out a firearm and killed them,” said the attorney general.

Based on the opinion of the experts, Mexican authorities believe that the assailants first shot one of the young men, as he tried to stop them from stealing the vehicle, and then the other two who came out to defend their friend. “When they see that what was originally a robbery is getting out of control, they try to get rid of the bodies by throwing them into the well,” said Elena Andrade. All three bodies had a gunshot wound to the head.

Experts work at the site where the bodies were found, on May 5 in the town of Santo Tomás, near Ensenada.
Experts work at the site where the bodies were found, on May 5 in the town of Santo Tomás, near Ensenada.Alejandro Zepeda (EFE)

So far, three people have been arrested for the murders. The main suspect is Jesús Gerardo ‘N’, alias El Kekas, who has a criminal record and is accused of forced disappearance. His girlfriend and brother have also been arrested, and police are trying to determine their involvement in the murders. The woman was discovered with one of the victim’s cell phones. In the white Ford Ranger, police also found the firearm that was allegedly used to shoot the surfers. The victims’ Chevrolet Colorado truck was found about 37 miles from the crime scene. It has been torched.

International alarm

The case has raised international alarm. Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the identification of the bodies was “frankly horrendous news.” “I think the whole country’s heart goes out to all of their loved ones. It has been an absolutely horrendous, absolutely horrific ordeal, and our thoughts are with all of them today,” he said.

Roger Cook, the premier of Western Australia, also expressed his concern about the case. “Everyone in Western Australia is suffering as we hear about more aspects of this story, the violence they were exposed to and of course the loss of life,” he said.

On Sunday, around 500 people, most of them surfers, protested in Ensenada to call for more security. In the Facebook group, Talk Baja, safety tips and suggestions for safe camping sites are being shared. The governor of Baja California, Marina del Pilar Ávila, has tried to ease concern about violence in the state: “Baja California is and will continue to be a state with safe tourism for the thousands of people who visit us from the rest of the country and the world. I send my condolences and solidarity to the families at this difficult time.”

“They were not attacked for being tourists, it was with the intention of stealing a vehicle, they surely did not know the origin of these people,” said prosecutor Elena Andrade.

The case has also highlighted the difference in investigations into disappearances in Mexico. In just over a week, the Baja California Prosecutor’s Office found the bodies of the young surfers, identified the suspects and provided a hypothesis as to why the attack occurred. Meanwhile, in Baja California, more than 2,700 people remain missing, according to the Interior Ministry’s registry. In fact, in the well, where Jack Road, Callum and Jake Robinson were found, there was a fourth body. It had been there longer. Authorities still haven’t identified it.

Surfers march in Ensenada in Baja California, on Sunday.
Surfers march in Ensenada in Baja California, on Sunday.Karen Castaneda (AP)

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