by Chris Brook

“Soccer Star Brutally Murdered” ran the headline in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle after Ted Robledo’s disappearance from a ship on 6th December 1970.  The accused German captain walked free after the judge said, “there was grave suspicion against him, but the case could not be proved”. As the family approach 50 years of mourning they are convinced that Ted was murdered.

Ted played in the 1952 FA Cup final for Newcastle United in which his brother, George, scored the winner. This was the first time two foreign players had played in the same team in an FA Cup final.

Previously, Ted and George had played together at Barnsley. They went on to play together in Chile for Colo Colo and the national team. Ted generally played as a defender and became a regular during the 1951/52 season.

The Robledo’s are a close family. Ted’s English mother, Elsie, and other brother, Walter, followed them for each of their transfers.  However, their Chilean father failed to join them on the 1932 sailing from South America to England.

Walter is the now the only surviving brother. Chris Waugh from The Athletic went to visit him at his family home in Surrey in 2019.

Extract from Newcastle’s greatest brothers: Robledo family tell the tale of triumph and tragedy from Chile to Tyneside

Walter is sitting with one of Ted’s match-worn Newcastle shirts. It is made of heavy material, with a red No 6 stitched on to the back, while it has the Umbro mark inside the collar, above a tag for Seymour’s Sports Outfitters shop on Market Street in Newcastle. We have reached a topic we all knew was coming, but that does not make discussing it any easier. His eyes remain fixated on the shirt.

“It’s not something I talk about too often,” Walter says.

In December 1970, a day after a ship called the Al Sahn set sail from Dubai, Ted went missing. It was claimed that he had been invited on board by the German captain Hans Bessenich, but he never returned and his body was never found. A trial was held, during which it was suggested that Ted had dined with the captain and played cards with him and the crew, while Bessenich is said to have changed his story, initially stating the Robledo brother had not boarded. Charged with “wilfully and unlawfully causing the death of Robledo in a brutal and savage manner,” Bessenich was eventually acquitted.

In 1981, George told The Journal that he believed Ted’s death “shortened” his mother’s own life, while it certainly affected both of his brothers. Walter went out to Dubai three times with a solicitor to try and uncover what had happened — he learned of the news while on holiday in Paris and cut his honeymoon short – but George was too distraught to join him. Although they are unsure as to exactly what happened, the family are convinced Ted was “murdered by someone,” as they simply do not believe he would have gone overboard of his own accord. Helen, Walter’s wife, describes Ted as a “wonderful person”. She also recalls a “pretty girl” visiting their house in the weeks after Ted’s death.

The trial took place in 1971 and was overseen by a British Agency Court just months before the territory became part of the United Arab Emirates.  42-year-old Ted had been working on an oil rig in the Persian Gulf and was on a week’s shore leave with two colleagues when Bessenich invited him to join him on the Al Sahn.

Ship steward, Luis Fernandes, told the trial that he had served the two men supper and left them drinking and talking. He made up a bed for Ted in the captain’s office.  The following morning, Fernandes found that the bed had been slept in and Ted’s clothes and watch were on the floor.  He also noticed that one of two ornamental daggers were missing in the morning.

Ted was never seen again.

Vic Aubrey of the Dubai police charged Bessenich with “unlawfully causing the death of Ted Robledo in a brutal and savage manner”. The prosecution alleged that Bessenich failed to attempt a proper search, did not attempt radio nor SOS signal and also failed to report the incident to the authourities.  It is also said that at one stage Bessenich instructed a crew member to say that they had no passengers on board. In his defence, Bessenich said it must have been suicide.  The ship’s owner, Edwin Robinson, explained how an accidental death was possible….

“It is possible for a man to lose balance leaning over the vessel’s rail and fall into the sea.  This possibility is heightened if a man had drunk a couple of whiskies and had one foot on the pipe running beside the rail.  A stranger could fall into the sea through an open gate” The three assessors (West German, French and British) gave a not guilty verdict on 12th April 1971.

A blue plaque to commemorate the Robledo family is set to be unveiled on their former South Yorkshire home.  George’s daughter, Elizabeth, was due to fly over from Chile for the ceremony in April 2019.  The Covid-19 pandemic forced this to be postponed and a new date is yet to be arranged.

To keep up to date with this follow @robledobrothers on Facebook.

A history of the brothers is at robledobrothers.wordpress.com

Andrew Trimble was a journalist with the Gulf Mirror when the story broke in 1970. Here is an extract from his book about the trial.

Chris Brook @brookchrisbrook