“HEARST” for Borderland Beat

Three surfers – two from Australia and one from the US – went on a road trip from San Diego into Mexico, planning to hit up all the prime surf beaches in Baja California. But the surfers went missing after camping on a beach. When their camp was found, blood stains and a tooth were found, suggesting they had met with foul play. 

This week Mexican authorities have been insisting the murder of the three surfers is unrelated to the cartels which rule over the state, downplaying the fourth dead body that was found with the victims, which has its own set of unanswered questions.


Background Information on The Victims

Two brothers, Jake (born 1994) and Callum (born 1991) Robinson, grew up in Australia, raised by their parents, Martin and Debra Robinson. 

The brothers were both known to be highly athletic and Callum, in particular, excelled at lacrosse, which he played in high school.

When Callum reached college age, he attended the US college of Stevenson University, located in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Callum quickly made friends in America. Sam Furnish, who was one of these friends, told the Sydney Morning Herald that Callum “has the best heart of anyone I know. He makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the room regardless of who you are.”

Callum ended up playing on Stevenson University’s lacrosse team and he led the team to win the Division III National Championship in 2013 when he was a sophomore. 

Callum became a member of Australia’s National Lacrosse Team in 2014. Callum later said in a social media post that he was “beyond grateful and proud to be an Aussie”, writing that “as I continue to build my life abroad I become more and more appreciative for all the opportunities and resources that Australians are afforded. Privileged as always to don the green and gold, fly the flag and represent Australia on the international stage [by playing in the National Lacrosse Team].”


When he was a senior, Callum was named a 2015 USILA Academic All-American and the MAC Men’s Lacrosse Scholar Athlete of the Year. He graduated from Stevenson with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. 

In 2016, Callum was drafted into the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) to play for the Chesapeake Bayhawks. 


Then, in 2019, the first premier league for lacrosse (PLL) in the US was established and Callum was recruited by the New York team Atlas LC, where he played as a starting player.  His team eventually played in the Championship Series in Utah where Callum played all five games and he picked up three ground balls. 

In March 2021, Callum posted that he was moving to southern California and rooming there with his former college roommate. He showed photos of himself working out, snowboarding in the mountains, surfing, and motorcycling in Malibu. 

Meanwhile, Callum’s brother Jake Robinson, who is younger by three years, graduated college and then went on to earn his doctoral degree. Jake began working as doctor in the city of Perth, in Australia. 

Callum’s Instagram account shows that he still regularly visited Australia – taking trips back in at least 2019, 2020 and 2023. On these trips, he’d spend time with his parents and Jake, with the brothers sometimes surfing together. 

In 2023, Callum began working as a Regional Development Manager at Snap! Mobile, a mobile fundraising platform.

That same year, Callum’s parents visited him in California. Callum took them out on a boat trip, to the beach, and to a San Diego Padres baseball game. Callum and his father even went surf skiing together.

Now, in April 2024, it was Jake’s turn to visit Callum, so Jake flew out to the US and he went to the music festival Coahcella with Callum, according to the San Diego Tribune. After the festival, the brothers met up with their mutual friend Carter Rhoad.

Carter Rhoad is a US citizen who originally hails from Atlanta, Georgia. Carter founded Loma Apparel, a clothing company that is “committed to making fresh gear while giving back to the community” which is based out of San Diego, where Carter currently lives. Carter also worked as a Director at a cloud computing company called ITCO Solutions. Carter, much like the brothers, was athletic and he was known to love surfing.

Reconstructing Their Trip Through Their Posts


Jake, Callum and Carter met up together in San Diego and they drove down the US-Mexico border, likely crossing at the San Ysidro border crossing, embarking on a surfing trip they had planned together.

Images Posted April 26, 2024

Callum posted a photo dump of images taken from various locations. These photos had presumably been taken over the course of the last few days. 

The first photo shows two vehicles, which have their license plates visible. After a quick license plate look up online, the exact make and year of each vehicle can be found. The vehicle on the left is a 2005 Lexus GX SUV, dark silver in color and the second vehicle is a 2016 Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck, white in color. 

Both vehicles have California license plates. These vehicles are presumably what the three men were using on their surfing road trip. Callum captioned the post “so it begins” with the surfing and Mexican flag emojis.

Rosarito

Later, he posted a photo from Rosarito Beach, in the Mexican state of Baja California, which shows a man crouched down to pet a stray dog outside of a blue house with a palm tree and sandy ground in view. This blue house may be Robert’s K38 Surf Motel, see the image comparison below.


Callum captioned the story post with the location, citing Kilometer 38 Surf Point, Rosarito Beach.

Kilometer 38, or “K-38” as it is often called by surfers, is a very popular surfing location. There are a number of businesses nearby like K-38 Surf Shop, K38 Club Marina, K38 Surf House, and the aforementioned Robert’s K38 Surf Motel which specifically cater to foreign surfers who flock to the spot.

The english-language website MexaAdventure writes that “anyone who has surfed northern Baja knows K-38. It is famous because it is almost always surfable, and when it gets big, it is really good.”

The brothers reportedly stopped in a local surf shop at K38 and Rodrigo Leal Bravo, a worker at the shop, told Australia’s ABC that he remembers them coming in to buy wax. “They were excited about their surf trip and they were on their way south.” 

Rodigo said he noticed the strong bond between the Australian brothers. “Their fraternity was so admirable,” he said. 

ABC writes that “Callum told Rodrigo they were heading to Punta San Jose, a remote spot which was about three hours drive from the surf shop. It’s only accessible by unsealed roads and the mobile tower coverage is patchy at best, but Rodrigo says he wasn’t concerned for their safety ‘I did not think anything should happen to those big strong guys, right?’ he said.” 

Later on in his Instagram story, Callum posted an image of the group driving by (or rather, what a little Googling revealed to be) Castillo Del Diablo in Rosarito – a bizarre “devil’s castle”, which is actually a private home that was built by the American real estate developer Tony Wells (who looks exactly like you imagine). 


Tony, who is native to California, had originally intended to build this project in the US but he found the American building code restrictions wouldn’t allow him to carry out his vision for the home, so he built it in Mexico due to its less restrictive building codes. (You can read more about Castillo Del Diablo and see images of the inside here.) The eccentric location is frequently photographed by tourists driving between Rosarito and Ensenada.

Ensenada

Next, Callum posted a photo from Ensenada, Baja California. The photo shows two men with their legs kicked up on a table, with two Tecate beer cans and a light blue lighter. Carter can be seen in the background, looking over the small wall of the rooftop. 


Next, Callum posted a photo of a smiling Carter holding a boombox on his shoulders, with an electric cord plugged into an electrical outlet in the wall. He captioned it “Mexican bluetooth”. 


Next image was taken at a bar & grill named La Hoguera – Cocina a la Lena, which is located in Ensenada. 



Images Posted April 27, 2024

The next day, on April 27, Callum posted a photo of the three men in a hot tub on a rooftop, tagging the instagram accounts of  Jake Robinson and Carter Rhoad

He then posted a video (embedded below) showing a chef preparing food near a trompo, which is a vertical rotisserie of meat, at what is clearly a taco shop with both indoor and outdoor covered seating.

Callum pans across plates full of tacos. He pauses to show a sticker for “OB Beans Coffee Roasters”, then turns to show his brother Jake smiling and talking with someone (presumably Carter). A gray lifted SUV can be seen parked outside the taco stand. 


Note that OB Beans Coffee Roasters is a micro coffee roaster with three shops located in southern California. It was founded by a surfer named Mark Bell. Carter can be seen wearing a OB Beans Coffee t-shirt in the earlier boombox photo. It seems likely that the group runs in a similar circle to Mark Bell and supports his business. 


Callum ends the video by showing another man who says something to the camera, but the audio is replaced with a spanish song so it’s unclear what the man said. It’s likely this man is another friend of the group who came to join them.

This same man was tagged in the next photo Callum posted with the handle @jt_fitz. This photo shows Callum and the three friends sitting on a beach, coffee in hand. Callum labeled the photo with the location Playa San Miguel, Ensenada, Baja California. 

JT’s account is currently set to private but his profile lists out SD, presumably indicating that he lives in San Diego, which would make a quick day trip out to visit the three friends in Ensenada more than possible.

Then, comes the last photo that Callum ever posted, a simple photo of that same beach, showing the undulating waves cresting in frothy white streaks across the ocean.


Timeline of the Homicides & Investigation

Saturday, April 27, 2024


The Los Angeles Times reports that “according to a social media post made by the Robinsons’ mother, Debra Robinson, the group was supposed to check into an Airbnb in Rosarito Beach last weekend [April 27 & 28] after camping for several days on a remote stretch of beach south of Ensenada.”


They further added that “the last time the mens’ relatives heard from them was on April 27.”

Callum’s last post to his Instagram story was made this same day. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024


Riodoce writes that the men were last spotted [presumably by locals] on April 28, in an area known as La Bocana within the Santo Tomás region. 

ABC interviewed a woman who may be the witness who reported seeing the surfers on the 28th. They write

“Ana Cristina Heym Cárdenas works in a cafe about an hour north of Punta San Jose. She believes one of the men — probably Callum — came in the afternoon of April 28 to ask if she could break a 100-peso note so he could buy a taco from the stand outside. She was shocked to later hear that they disappeared.” 

According to the San Diego Tribune, the men failed to check in to their AirBnB and Callum did not show up to work on the day he was scheduled to return to San Diego (date unspecified). 


Tuesday, April 30, 2024


The Mexican authorities were notified of the disappearance 48 hours after the disappearance (possibly meaning April 30) and authorities began searching the region.


Riodoce writes that officials quickly found an abandoned camp near La Bocana, in Santo Tomas. 


The state’s Attorney General, Maria Elena Andrade Ramirez, says they found three tents at the camp. Riodoce adds that authorities also found “blood and dental parts”, which suggests a violent struggle occurred at the camp site. 

The Australian news source 7News later reported that the “dental parts” referred to was a tooth. 


A white pickup truck, which matches the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado the surfers were driving, was found near the camp. The truck had been incinerated, likely burned by the perpetrators in an attempt to destroy evidence. 



Wednesday, May 1, 2024 


On Wednesday, the missing Australians’ mother, Debra Robinson, posted an appeal for help on a local community Facebook page. Debra Robinson pleaded with the public, saying that one of her sons, Callum, was diabetic and he needed to have access to insulin to survive.

The Sydney Morning Herald writes that they got access to an internal law enforcement briefing which stated that “police on Wednesday spotted the woman carrying a black cloth bag while she was walking in the town of Maneadero.” 


This woman, we now know, is 23 year old Ari Gisel García Cota. “As officers approached the 23-year-old, she allegedly threw the bag to the ground and tried to run. She was arrested by police a few meters down the road.”


“Inside the bag [that she had thrown], police allegedly found a transparent plastic bag filled with a substance believed to be crystal meth and a grey iPhone with a picture of a man matching the description of one of the missing men.” Some publications report the Iphone belonged to one of the victims


What’s left unsaid is how exactly this woman was identified by law enforcement. The quotes from the Herald are careful to avoid hinting at why the woman was suspected and approached by police officers in the first place. It’s possible that certain tracking features like “Find my Iphone” were enabled on the victim’s phone, which law enforcement may have gained access to.

Thursday, May 2, 2024


On Thursday, May 2, Mexican officials told the press that three Mexican citizens had been detained in connection with the homicides. The other two people who were detained were Ari García Cota’s boyfriend, Jesús Gerardo Garica Cota, alias “El Kekas”, and Jesús’s brother Cristian Alejandro García. 

(It is odd that the boyfriend and girlfriend pair of Ari García Cota and Jesús Gerardo Garica Cota share the same last names but there are many explanations as to why that might happen.)


Investigators told the press they were questioning the three about the missing surfers. They did not give details about where the two men had been detained, how they were tracked, or when they were detained. They did say, however, that the three were connected to evidence found at the abandoned campsite. 


Zeta Tijuana reports that El Kekas and Cristian Alejandro García were both found to be in possession of drugs when they were apprehended.

Friday, May 3, 2024


Mexican officials announced that three bodies had been found near the abandoned camp. 

The bodies were found inside a well, which was “about 15m deep, about 6km from the camping site where the foreigners were killed,” according to The Guardian


The well was reportedly “atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”

Mexico said it was performing DNA testing in order to confirm the identity of the remains matches the three missing surfers.


Saturday, May 4, 2024

The state Attorney General told the press that “there is a high likelihood that the bodies are those of the three tourists.” 

She also added that at the same location that the three bodies were found, “a fourth body was located. It is not related to the three foreigners. The fourth body had been there for a long time,” the official added. 

The fourth body was identified as the property owner, who was reported missing two weeks earlier. 

How the Attorney General determined that the discovery of a fourth person – someone who was involved in tourism – who had mysteriously gone missing and ended up being found in the same well as the surfers “is not related”…

Outsiders might question if the people who killed the surfers had chosen to dispose of their latest murder victims in the same body disposal location they had used two weeks earlier. But maybe considering a pattern or link between the bodies found on top of each other flies far too close to the suggestion of organized crime being involved.

That same day El Kekas was officially arrested and charged with kidnapping. The other two suspects were arrested and charged with drug possession but the Attorney General stated that “they are sure more people [than just Kekas] participated.”

Sunday, May 4, 2024

The bodies have still not officially been confirmed to be the surfers, although the Attorney General continues to say that “the probability that it’s them is very high.”

Authorities have revealed that the surfers died from gunshot wounds to the head, “execution style” .


The Potential Motive Behind The Homicides

The Guardian reports that 

The preliminary hypothesis of the investigation is that the missing men were attacked by people who wanted to steal their car, partly because they wanted the tires.

“The attackers drove by [the travellers’ campsite] in their vehicle,” Andrade Ramírez said. “They approached, with the intention of stealing their vehicle and taking the tires and other parts to put them on the older-model pickup they were driving.

“Upon approaching and surprising [the missing men], there was surely resistance and these people, the attackers, took out a firearm they had and took their lives.

“When what was meant to be a robbery had got out of control, they tried to dispose of the bodies by throwing them into a well.

“They were not attacked because they were tourists, the intent was to steal their vehicle.”

The attackers had burned the tents and covered the well with boards, she said.

It’s also interesting to note that Mexican authorities seem willing to acknowledge that the surfers were likely targeted for their vehicles, but choose to caveat it with it being that the perpetrators were after parts. 

It’s worth noting that cartel territory wars require a constant supply of certain types of vehicles, namely SUVs and pickup trucks – the exact type of vehicles that the surfers. These types of vehicles are used in large-scale vehicle cartel battles (examples here and here) and often customized to resemble more military-like vehicles.


Sometimes people in the US are advised to not drive their SUVs and pick up trucks into Nuevo Laredo, because a particular stretch of highway after the border crossing is patrolled by the cartel group Cartel de Noroeste, who rob foreigners of vehicles which match their needs. 

White pickup trucks, in particular, are the vehicle of choice for cartel groups, most especially because they resemble the vehicles used by Mexican law enforcement. Sometimes cartel groups imitate the insignias and siren lights of law enforcement agencies. 

As an example of this preference, when Chapitos-associated Sinaloa Cartel members rolled into a town to kill a rival cartel figure called El Ruso, they were said to have arrived in a convoy of white pickup trucks (and SUVs). 

Just this year, a group of cartel hitmen drove a convoy of white pickup trucks through Tarecuato, Michoacan, on February 18, 2024, as seen in the video above.

The Context and The Politics

The state Attorney General also stated that the murder of the surfers was “atypical, an exceptional case”, saying that Baja California has had “an influx of tourists and a similar case has not occurred.” 

The Attorney General is, of course, trying to prevent Baja California from gaining (or further gaining) a reputation as a place that is unsafe for foreign tourists. The state’s economy is dependent on tourism and Baja California announced that it expected to host 30 million tourists during the course of 2023, with similar numbers expected in 2024. 

It’s interesting to note that the Four Seasons officially opened a Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Cabo San Lucas, located in Baja California, on May 1, 2024 – in the middle of the search for the murdered surfers.

As stated earlier, one of the perpetrators (Ari) was found to be in possession of methamphetamine when she was arrested. 

Cartel groups often fight each other for drug sale territory. This is especially true in Baja California and anywhere that foreign tourists visit. Ari, therefore, had likely bought meth from a cartel-affiliated drug dealer. 

Whether the amount of meth found in her possession is indicative of her, or her boyfriend being a dealer, versus being simply a meth user is open to speculation, but if they were – in fact – dealers, then they would have to be working under some cartel affiliation. 

Despite this, the state Attorney General was insistent on May 4, 2024, that “they did not currently believe” the perpetrators had any link to cartel groups.

Her statements are reminiscent of statements made just one week earlier by the President of Mexico, Andres Lopez Obrador, who claimed that under his administration cartel groups are now “respectful” and “respect the citizenry”, going on to claim that “in this country, attacks generally occur between cartel groups [and not uninvolved civilians].”


It’s worth noting that President Lopez Obrador said this just days after an innocent, uninvolved woman was burned to death inside a bus by cartel members in the Mexican state of Tabasco. The woman managed to fling her son outside of the bus, to safety, before the flames consumed both her and the vehicle. The son survived but the woman died of her injuries. 

Cartel members had burned random vehicles indiscriminately in order to sow chaos and “protest” that their cartel leader had been killed by state police during a raid. 

There are some online which seek to confirm the President’s narrative that innocent civilians aren’t harmed, so they will cast aspersions upon the victims and find implausible ways to blame the victims for the crimes which were perpetrated against them. 

Some online have tried to claim that the perpetrator’s possession of meth somehow proves that the victims were buying meth from the perpetrators when they were attacked. 

There is no evidence to support this claim and the victim profiles don’t line up with what you’d expect to see in a meth addict. Keep in mind that meth is a highly addictive drug. It is not a drug that people manage to use every once in a while, in a recreational manner. 

Jake Robinson was a doctor and very much in shape.

His brother Callum was an athlete who spent most of his life being regularly drug tested. Callum had developed a physique that can really only be accomplished through rigorous consumption of protein and regular weight lifting.

Carter was a director at a cloud computing company and he started a clothing company which was “committed to making fresh gear while giving back to the community.”

None of the victims fit the profile of a meth addict. It is far more likely that the perpetrators themselves were meth addicts and that their dose escalation led them to do increasingly irrational and erratic schemes, like trying to rob the surfers.


Remembering the Human Impact



As mentioned earlier, Callum had Type 1 diabetes. Callum often went out of his way to reach out to young athletes with diabetes, telling them about his own experiences with managing his insulin while playing lacrosse and encouraging them to keep going. 


Callum wrote in a January 2021 post that: 


“Ethan has been a Type 1 Diabetic (T1D) for most of his life, just like me. He uses an insulin pump coupled with a glucose sensor (pictured) to regulate his blood sugar levels, just like me. Ethan is also a lacrosse player, just like me.  […]

I met Ethan at the Rabil Overnight Camp in November and watched him dominate on and off the lacrosse field that weekend. Ethan managed his diabetes independently and away from his family for the course of the event with no hiccups. […]

Ethan is not defined by his diabetes nor does he allow it to hold him back. He has learned to ‘play the cards he was dealt’ and not make excuses for things he can’t control… @ethanlax24 I want to be JUST LIKE YOU!”


A video from May 2021 shows the moment when some of Callum’s friends from the east coast surprised him by secretly flying into California to celebrate his 30th birthday.


The friends rushed Callum as soon as he stepped in.  Callum thanked his friends in the post saying

“It was the surprise of a lifetime with an elite group of humans making the trip from the east coast to tear it up and celebrate the milestone with me. You guys know that I love you all unconditionally and that your presence alone was the best gift I could’ve ever imagined.”

“Thank you to everyone who joined the festivities, everyone who sent some bday love and everyone/anyone who helped me make it to 30 years on this beautiful planet. The best years are still yet to come!” 

Just three years later, Callum Robinson would be found dead.

He still had many of his best years ahead of him. 

In Conclusion

The victims were likely killed in a botched robbery – a desperate move made by people who either bought meth from, or sold on meth on behalf of, a cartel group. 

Callum, Jake, and Carter may have been targeted for their vehicles, which matched the type of vehicles that cartel groups often steal and use in their turf wars, or they may have been targeted for car parts.


No matter how much Mexican officials claim otherwise, the disease of cartel violence is indiscriminate in its reach. Cartel violence does affect innocent, uninvolved civilians, even the foreign tourists who used to be shielded from it.

But whether this incident is an example of this or not has not yet been determined.



Jake Robinson’s Instagram


Callum Robinson’s Instagram


Carter Rhoad’s Instagram


JT Fitz’s Instagram

Sources: ABC.net.au, The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald. CBS News, Riodoce, Times Now News, Premier Lacrosse League, Review Journal, The Nightly, EZ Check In, The Sun, San Diego Tribune, Linked In, MexaAdventure, Vehicle History, Vehicle History, Zeta Tijuana, 7NewsAP, The Guardian

Further Reading

American Grandmother Kidnapped by Masked Men in Mexican State of Colima