It’s just after midnight on Oct. 28, 2018. Malcom Madsen, a 68-year-old snowbird from Sutton, Ontario, and his 43-year-old Mexican girlfriend, Marcela Acosta Ramos, are sitting at a table inside Andale’s Restaurant and Bar, a popular tourist spot in Puerto Vallarta.
The place is hopping. Customers in tank tops and shorts sip beers, down shots and sway to the music beneath a disco ball. A security camera, mounted on the ceiling, records the festivities, including what happens at Madsen’s table.
Madsen leaves to go to the washroom. When he’s out of sight, Ramos pulls what appears to be a white pill or powder from her purse and cradles it in her left hand. She scans the bar and then rests her hand beneath the table, out of sight, just before Madsen returns.
Madsen leans in close to speak into Ramos’s ear, and his sightline to his drink is momentarily cut off. Ramos brings her left hand up from beneath the table and appears to sprinkle the powder into Madsen’s drink. Then she stirs it.
About 20 minutes later when his glass is half empty, Madsen makes several attempts to take more sips but is stopped by Ramos. She gets the drinks put in to-go cups, and the couple leaves the bar.
Madsen hasn’t been heard from since.
It’s been more than a year, but Mexican police and Global Affairs Canada officials haven’t rushed to find the retired real-estate agent and jeweller. Madsen’s daughter and only child Brooke Mullins has pleaded with them to help find her dad.
Frustrated with their indifferent and sluggish responses, Mullins started investigating the case herself. She has taken multiple trips to Mexico and tried to retrace her dad’s steps. She, not the police, found the security video from Andale’s Bar. And she, not the police, found GPS co-ordinates that show the odd route Madsen’s van took during the wee hours after he left the bar.
Ramos has told Mexican police that she has done no wrong. Ramos did not respond to questions sent to her email address and Facebook account. A telephone number she had provided to Mexican police early in the investigation has been disconnected.
Since 2006, 374 Canadians died in Mexico in circumstances other than a natural death, including 59 who were murder victims, according to Global Affairs Canada. Roughly 2,600 foreigners have gone missing in Mexico since 2007.
On Nov. 1, 2018, Mullins was at home in Port Hope, Ont., when she received a troubling Facebook message.
Patti Kerr wrote to say that her partner Robb Stasyshyn was expecting to hear from Madsen but hadn’t. They were neighbours at Chonchos, a small beach community near Puerto Vallarta where they owned treehouses. Madsen was to update them on what was happening at Chonchos.
Stasyshyn was scheduled to fly to Mexico from New Jersey a few days later and was concerned.
Mullins tried to reach her dad through the usual channels – phone, Facebook, text, WhatsApp. No response. She reached Ramos who said she hadn’t heard from Madsen either.
Stasyshyn phoned to say he had heard Madsen still had not arrived at Chonchos.
Her anxiety growing, Mullins flew to Mexico in what would become the first of many trips. She has since logged thousands of kilometres and says she has burned through more than $100,000. She has encountered what she believes is ineptitude on the part of investigators in Puerto Vallarta, an unaccommodating public prosecutor in the state of Jalisco and endless bureaucratic delays.
She has hired lawyers and a private investigator, all trying to find out: Was Madsen drugged? What happened to the $9,000 (U.S.) he customarily took to Mexico to cover living expenses? Where were his luggage, laptop and iPhone?
On the last night Madsen was seen, GPS data show his van at four different locations nowhere near the bar. Who was driving? And why do the data show this when Ramos told investigators that the van had never left her garage?
Mexican and Canadian officials say the investigation continues. René Ortega, with the Jalisco Attorney General’s office, referred the Star to the media relations department, where multiple messages went unanswered.
In January, Pierre Alarie, the Canadian Ambassador to Mexico, wrote to Mullins that Canadian officials are working with the Mexican authorities but “local police have full responsibility and sole jurisdiction to investigate and make arrests.”
“While I understand your frustration with the pace and progress thus far, the Government of Canada unable [sic] to influence the decisions taken by local police in any investigation,” Alarie wrote.
Global Affairs Canada told the Star that its consular officials in Mexico are in contact with local authorities but offered no other details, citing privacy laws.
The Mexican Embassy in Canada told the Star that in January it sent a letter to the Jalisco Attorney General’s Office outlining Mullins’s concerns and also forwarded a letter from Mullins’s MPP.
“Most people believe that this would never happen to them, and hopefully it never will, but if it does, you are completely on your own,” said Mullins, who set up the Facebook page “Justice For Malcom” to raise awareness about the case and keep his friends updated.
“The Canadian government will not support you in any way, nor will Mexican authorities.”
Income from his father’s estate and an inheritance from the sale of his mother’s house provided Madsen with enough money to ensure he could live a comfortable life in Canada and Mexico.
Madsen’s father, Marius K. Madsen, was one of the most successful prospectors in Canada. In 1934, nine years after emigrating from Denmark, he staked a claim in Red Lake, Ont., about 450 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. The Madsen Mine, as it is still known, would become one of the most productive gold mines in Canada.
As one of five children born to Marius K. Madsen and his wife Belle, Malcom never lacked for anything growing up.
“We could have whatever we wanted, it didn’t matter what it was, as long as we took care of it,” said Marcia Madsen, Malcom’s older sister.
As a kid, Malcom was fascinated by insects and always had some kind of critter around, which he treated as pets, said sister Marcia. As a young father, Malcom had a pet ferret, which his daughter remembers would shock people when its head popped out of his shirt.
After a career in real estate in Toronto, he became a silversmith making jewellery inspired by animal bones in his workshop at his home in Sutton. He toured Ontario to sell his wares at craft shows.
During the late 1970s, Marcia introduced Malcom to Dale Mullins, an Eaton’s and Sears catalogue model. Dale became pregnant, but Malcom was restless.
“Malcom never had that ability to want responsibility,” said Marcia. “Malcom really was that person that wanted to be with all his little bugs and creatures and do his own thing and have his own successes.”
Brooke was raised by her mother and only saw her dad periodically as he came in and out of her life.
“He’s like a Peter Pan. He’s just like the boy who never grew up,” Brooke said.
After Dale died in December 2007, of a brain aneurysm, Brooke, her two kids, and Malcom grew closer.
Brooke helped her dad find the Mexican treehouse he eventually bought to escape the Canadian winters.
The Chonchos treehouse appealed to Madsen’s love of nature. He kept pet scorpions in a glass terrarium, collected unique rocks and shells in a bowl, and displayed various animal skulls. On the wall hung a large tortoise shell. The balcony faced a secluded beach where Madsen fished.
A couple of years after moving into his treehouse, Mullins said, Madsen met Marcela Acosta Ramos, a single mother 25 years his junior, through some friends.
Emails between Madsen and Ramos show she asked him for money for things such as medication for herself and her father, hospital surgeries and a TV. Between October 2012 and October 2013, Madsen wired Ramos more than $4,000 (Canadian), according to Western Union receipts Mullins found at her dad’s home in Sutton.
He composed a letter to Ramos — Mullins found it in his computer but doesn’t know if it was sent — asking her how it was that she never seemed to have any money: “How did you ever manage before you met me? For you have being [sic] paying the rent a long time before you met me, and you did pay rent! Why since I have shown up, you do not have the money to pay the rent?”
Get more stories like this one in your inbox
Take your time with the Star’s biggest and best features with our Weekend Long Reads email newsletter.
Madsen gave Ramos a Bank of Montreal debit card for one of his accounts. In 2015, he bought a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house in an upscale Puerto Vallarta neighbourhood for Ramos and her family. He outfitted it with big-screen TVs, new appliances, air conditioning, furniture, gym equipment and solar panels. He also bought a van, which, Mullins alleges, Ramos’s family would drive when Madsen wasn’t around.
“I think he was afraid not to have that family to help him in Mexico with things. He didn’t have the language. He was an older man. I think he felt secure,” Mullins said.
Then in April 2018, Madsen sent Ramos an email saying that he was considering selling the house in Puerto Vallarta and buying a condo.
About that time, Madsen confided in Stasyshyn that his relationship with Ramos was in trouble. But just before he was scheduled to return to Canada it was “all worked out, it’s all patched up,” said Stasyshyn.
Mullins grew frustrated with her dad because she said he seemed unable to see that he was being taken advantage of. During a trip to Denmark that summer to celebrate Mullins’s 40th birthday, Madsen said he was contemplating marrying Ramos.
This triggered an argument that ended with Mullins crying in the bar’s washroom.
After hearing from Stasyshyn that her dad hadn’t arrived at Chonchos, Mullins called the Port Hope Police Service, which sent an officer to take a statement. A few days later, the police reported that someone was using a Mexican ATM to withdraw increments of nearly $700 from Madsen’s CIBC account. A total of more than $4,100 was taken out in the four days after Madsen disappeared.
Ramos reported Madsen missing to police five days after he disappeared, according to a text message from one of Ramos’s brothers to Mullins. On the phone, Ramos told Mullins that Madsen had left for Chonchos in a taxi the day after their night out, a detail she also gave to police.
Ramos gave four police statements and told investigators she and Madsen took a taxi home from the bar and that Madsen was drunk. She said she carried Madsen, with the help of her son Carlitos, from the taxi to Madsen’s bedroom where she fell asleep beside him. The next day, she said, Madsen gathered his luggage, including three suitcases, a bag full of beer and a cooler, and left the house around 2 p.m. She said Madsen told her he would be back Nov. 3. Ramos claimed not to have seen Madsen leave because she was looking after her elderly father at the time, but she described what Madsen was wearing: beige shorts with a floral print, a black shirt and black rubber sandals.
She told police she knew Madsen for seven years and that he suffered from asthma, smoked marijuana and spent most of his time on his iPad and cell phone while staying at the house.
Ramos’s other son, Andres, told police he saw Madsen the next morning at the house too. Andres said he woke up at 11 and saw Madsen sitting “shirtless” on the bed holding his iPad and that he had a “blow” to his forehead.
Ramos also told police that she took Madsen’s CIBC card to pay for a washing machine being delivered to her home. It is not clear from her statement if police asked her if she knew about the cash withdrawals from that account.
“There’s no way my dad would have ever given her that card,” said Mullins, especially since Madsen had already given Ramos a BMO card.
She also wondered why, during that first call, Ramos allegedly asked for Madsen’s parents’ full names, where Madsen had grown up and what school he went to.
“I knew they were password questions,” Mullins said.
Ramos told police that Madsen’s Toyota van had sat in her garage that night. Yet a GPS tracking device on the van recorded the vehicle traveling to four locations.
Madsen had set up his account with GPS provider Trackimo, which automatically sent co-ordinates to his email account every time the van turned on and started moving. Mullins and her lawyer used them to reconstruct the vehicle’s meandering journey. That night, the van went to a shopping mall early in the evening, then three hours later to a neighbourhood about half an hour north of Puerto Vallarta close to a jungle-like area. Then, in the early hours of the morning, a marina, before returning to the neighbourhood of Marcela’s house.
Mullins provided the Mexican investigators with the password for the Trackimo account. When she later logged in, all the data was gone. She contacted Trackimo, which told her someone had gone into the account and manually deleted the GPS co-ordinates recorded the last night Madsen was seen.
It’s not clear what, if anything, the police have done with the Trackimo data.
In Ramos’s fourth statement to police, given in December 2018, she said that while at Andale’s bar Madsen had returned to their table with a small “hit” on his forehead that was bleeding, but he said he was okay. She said that when Madsen drank he “regularly” lost control of himself and on “several occasions” had hit his head. Ramos told police Madsen began to nod off at the table so she paid for their margaritas and asked for some disposable cups and “combined” the drinks.
She told police in December it is her wish for the investigation to continue, handed over the keys to the van Malcom bought for her and gave permission for investigators to perform tests on the vehicle.
During her first trip to Mexico, Mullins met with some of Madsen’s friends from Chonchos — a group she calls “Team Malcom” — and reported her dad’s disappearance to the Canadian consulate in Puerto Vallarta. She also made a missing person’s report with state investigators and provided a DNA sample to the local morgue in case her father’s body was found.
At Andale’s bar, Mullins asked the manager to let her view security video footage. In a cramped office at the top of a narrow staircase, Team Malcom watched the footage from a week earlier.
Mullins saw her dad sitting with Ramos around midnight but did not at first scrutinize the 30 minutes of footage. When her private investigator later pointed out the moment when Ramos appeared to have put something in Madsen’s drink, Mullins said she was “physically ill.”
The private investigator sent copies of the tape to the Jalisco’s Missing Persons unit and police later obtained their own copy. When she sat with investigators during her second trip to Mexico in late November 2018, Mullins said it was clear that they had not watched it closely. They expressed shock at seeing Ramos appear to sprinkle something into Madsen’s drink. One officer was skeptical: “How do we know she (Mullins) didn’t doctor (the video)?”
Soon after Madsen’s disappearance, the house in Puerto Vallarta went up for sale. After Mullins’s lawyer Ricardo Loaiza complained to the realtors selling the house, it was taken off the market. But Loaiza suspects it may have been sold this past October because it now appears empty and newly painted, according to his contacts. He is trying to figure out what happened, but is getting no help from local police, he said. A recent letter to Mullins from Global Affairs Canada said the agency is waiting for Mexican officials to confirm if the house has sold.
Loaiza said he had to file 17 motions with the Jalisco attorney general to try to force police to take basic investigative measures, such as dusting Madsen’s van for fingerprints, searching Ramos’s house, conducting luminol tests for blood traces and checking Ramos’s bank account. Some of these measures were completed months after Madsen disappeared, he said.
Loaiza said it took police two months to seize the van and when they did, they said there were no fingerprints whatsoever inside Madsen’s van. When Loaiza pointed out that this would be highly unlikely, police revised that conclusion, he said, disclosing that they did find fingerprints belonging to an unknown person.
Global Affairs Canada recently told Mullins that Ramos is asking police to return the vehicle.
Thirteen motions asking for police help remain outstanding, Loaiza said. He wants police to check the pink dress Ramos was wearing on the night of Oct. 28 for blood. He wants them to visit the four locations Madsen’s van was driven to. He wants them to seize Ramos’s phone.
“Everything is done so late and without much effort,” Loaiza said.
Loaiza said he does not know if police asked Ramos about the bar video footage or the GPS data.
Mullins last saw her father at his home in Sutton on Oct. 12, 2018, the day before he left for his annual fall migration to Mexico. She said she had a premonition that she wouldn’t see her father again.
“I just had this sad feeling in my heart,” she recalled. “And as I turned to pull away, and this was the part that really freaked me out, this sob erupted out of me out of nowhere. And I thought ‘I don’t have my mom, I need my dad.’ Then I thought, ‘Geez, talk about some serious dad issues. Pull it together.’ Then I drove away.”