It’s been over 10 years since British three-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from the vacation home where was she was staying with her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, and two-year-old twin siblings in the resort town of Praia da Luz, Portugal. According to reports, Kate and Gerry tucked Madeleine and her siblings safely into bed on the evening of May 3rd, 2007, and then went out to dine with seven fellow vacationers to a tapas restaurant close by. Upon returning home at about 10PM, and despite regular checks on the children, they discovered that their daughter Madeleine had vanished without a trace.
The ensuing search for toddler Madeleine swept media worldwide and became one of the biggest news stories of the decade. McCann’s parents became a regular news presence and the subjects of intense public scrutiny, and accusations of police incompetence flew left and right. With a possible 2019 Netflix documentary reigniting public interest in the case, let’s go back and review what has come to light in the years since little Madeleine’s tragic disappearance.
There have been numerous unidentified ‘people of interest’
In the years since Madeleine seemingly vanished into thin air, a number of witnesses came forward to describe people of interest who, to this day, have yet to be identified. In October 2007, Scotland Yard released sketches of a man who witnesses claimed to have seen uncomfortably carrying a young girl close to the McCann’s vacation apartment around the time that the McCanns were out to dinner. (It was later announced in 2013 he was unlikely to be connected with the case.) Then in 2009, the police revealed drawings of a man, described as “very ugly,” who had been seen “acting suspiciously” in the days leading up to the disappearance.
In August 2009, a woman with an Australian accent became the focus of attention; she was described as a “Victoria Beckham lookalike. Likewise, she has never been located. The same can be said of unidentified “woman in purple,” who was announced as a person of interest as recently as May 2017. In November 2018, a source told the Daily Mail that Scotland Yard had recently informed the McCanns of “two specific and active leads” and that they were “they were confident and hopeful they could get a result.”
The case was a media sensation
Madeleine McCann’s disappearance generated what can only be deemed a media frenzy. As Vanity Fair detailed in an extensive 2008 article, tabloids worldwide picked up the case and covered it in exhaustive detail. A columnist for The Guardian even went so far as to compare the story to “the Second World War.” The public likewise scrambled for any available information, with a source telling Vanity Fair that “Panorama, a BBC newsmagazine show, bought the same five-month-old footage of the McCanns (shot by a family friend) as ABC’s 48 Hours and repackaged it” and “viewership rose by 2 million, to 5.3 million.”
The McCanns appeared on television multiple times to tell their story and pleaded for information that would lead to their daughter’s return. As Vanity Fair reported, these media efforts on the McCann’s behalf absolutely furthered public interest, with the “Find Madeleine Web site visited by more than 80 million people in three months after the disappearance.”
The McCanns also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009, having been the subject of a bidding war between Winfrey and Barbara Walters for their first public statements. Interest in the couple and the case continues, as of this writing, with the aforementioned possible Netflix documentary as perhaps the biggest sign, as well as other media outlets, which are also still eager to interview the McCanns.
The McCanns didn’t participate in the Netflix doc
As of this writing, Netflix hasn’t released any official materials regarding an alleged Madeleine McCann documentary. But according to the Daily Mail, the streaming service planned either a “one off, two parter or as originally intended an eight part series” to air in advance of the 12th anniversary of the toddler’s disappearance. An alleged source “close to the filmmakers” said they would have “welcomed the opportunity” to collaborate with the McCanns, who denied any involvement with the production on their official website. Similarly, close friends of the McCanns, including the infamous “Tapas Seven,” who dined with them on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance, also expressed that they “want nothing to do with it.”
In what they said will be their only comment on the matter, the McCann’s said in a statement, “We did not see and still do not see how this programme will help the search for Madeleine and, particularly given there is an active police investigation, could potentially hinder it. Consequently, our views and preferences are not reflected in the programme.”
Regardless, the anonymous source remained upbeat about the project, telling the Daily Mail, “We have interesting new interviews with people close to the inquiry and we believe we can give justice to this unbelievably tragic story.”
The investigation was controversial from the beginning
Accusations of mismanagement and incompetence have flown since the search for Madeleine began. From the start of the investigation, Portuguese police came under intense international scrutiny; according to Vanity Fair, they were dubbed “the Keystone Cops” and “Butt Heads” by reporters. As Vanity Fair reported in 2008, the leader of the investigation had been “accused of covering up a beating by his subordinates of a Portuguese woman who was ultimately convicted of killing her own child.”
Additionally, per Vanity Fair, there were no dogs trained in tracking missing people available in the small vacation town of Praia da Luz, so “local residents actually used household pets under the guidance of police with drug-sniffing dogs.” The Telegraph also reported in 2007 that the police had failed to gather crucial DNA evidence from blankets, sheets and pillows from Madeleine’s bed. And as recently as 2017, sources were still coming forward to criticize what they saw as failings on the part of the Portuguese police.
The McCanns themselves were suspects
Shortly after Madeleine’s disappearance, rumors started to swirl that Kate and Gerry were involved in their toddler’s disappearance; specifically, that she had been accidentally killed and that the two were attempting to cover it up, a charge that the couple have always vehemently denied. According to Vanity Fair in 2008, the Portuguese police told the McCanns in September 2007 that they were “arguidos” or “formal suspects” in Madeleine’s disappearance, though no charges have ever been filed and the status was revoked in July 2008.
Portuguese ex-police officer Goncarlo Amaral has been extremely public about his theory that the McCanns themselves accidentally killed their young daughter, and that British intelligence agency MI5 assisted them in covering up the accidental death. Amaral, who was one of the original investigators of Madeleine’s disappearance, even released a book in 2008 accusing the McCanns of faking their daughter’s abduction to hide their involvement in her demise. In 2015, the McCanns sued Amaral for libel and won, though the decision was later overturned.
As of November 2018, the McCanns were back in court, “battling [Amaral] at the European Court of Human Rights,” according to the Daily Mail. At stake is a fund set up for the continued search for Madeleine, which is said to be in the range of £750,000 due to donations and proceeds from the sale of the McCanns own book. Should the McCanns get ordered to pay Amaral compensation and court costs, the fund could reportedly be depleted.
Additional conspiracy theories abound
In addition to the controversial rumors about the McCann’s own involvement in the disappearance, numerous conspiracy theories have proliferated in the years since Madeleine went missing.
These various theories include: that Madeleine was taken by a human-trafficking ring; that she was abducted after wandering out of the apartment to look for her parents; that she was kidnapped as part of a botched burlgary; and that she was the victim of a targeted kidnapping by a family wanting a child.
David Edgar, a former Detective Investigator, who was hired privately by the McCanns to investigate Madeleine’s disappearance, told The Sun in October 2018 that the case will likely be solved when the culprit gives “a deathbed confession.” He also theorized, “There is every possibility that Madeleine is still alive and could be being hidden somewhere and having no idea that she is at the centre of a worldwide hunt for her.”
Despite ongoing speculation, however, none of these theories has ever been proven conclusively.
There have been multiple sightings
In October 2016, The Sun announced that there have been a staggering 8,685 sightings of Madeleine McCann across 101 countries since her 2007 disappearance. Many of the sightings were totally unsubstantiated, or were later ruled out by police.
As early as September 2007, CNN reported that a young girl resembling Madeleine was spotted in Morocco by a Spanish couple who vacationed there several months after her disappearance. And the Morocco connections don’t stop there. According to an April 2017 report by Express, an unidentified English man, and a woman “who now lives in Spain” said they saw Madeleine in Marrakesh on the same day in May 2007, just days after she went missing. Additionally, Express reported, “There were also other sightings in Zaio, a town in north Morocco, later that month and on June 15.”
Celebrities got involved to help…
As media attention exploded, a number of high-profile people lent their time and reputations to helping the McCanns locate their daughter. Some notable names included David Beckham, who filmed an appeal for help, Portuguese soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, and bestselling author of the Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling, who donated money to help locate Madeleine and reportedly advised Kate McCann while she was writing her 2011 book Madeleine: Our Daughter’s Disappearance and the Continuing Search for Her.
Pope Benedict briefly met with the McCanns in 2007 to bless a photo of their daughter, and Virgin Airlines magnate Sir Richard Branson contributed greatly to a multimillion dollar reward fund. During a 2007 appearance on Today (via The Telegraph), Branson also revealed that he secured “the top Portuguese and British lawyer” to help the McCanns fight what he viewed as a misinformation campaign by the Portuguese police.
“Imagine your child gets stolen from you, you go through all the hell that comes with that,” Branson told the morning show, adding, “Then when the Portuguese police cannot find the person who has stolen it they (sources) start placing stories in the press, each one of which is shown to be unfounded a week or two later but by then they have spread around the world.”
… and to cast blame on the McCanns
However, some celebrities haven’t been so kind to the McCanns.
In May 2016, Sharon Osbourne made some ungenerous remarks about the McCanns on her show The Talk (via Express), specifically noting that she felt it was “insane” that they had left their children sleeping while they went to dinner close by. A close friend of the McCanns responded to Osbourne’s off-the-cuff comments, telling Irish Mirror, “Kate and Gerry have never forgiven themselves and this should not have been aired in a random way, as it apparently was. It’s based on ignorance of the true facts. While she’s entitled to her view she should keep it to herself.”
Later in May, controversial British tabloid celebrity Katie Price endorsed Osbourne’s hurtful remarks during an interview on Loose Women (via the Daily Mail), saying, “It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t leave your children… I’m on Sharon’s side. If you are on holiday, your kids sleep in buggies, why in your right mind would you leave your kids in a room? I don’t care if it is a safe place or if you can see them or not.”
The case created tension between the U.K. and Portugal
Relations between the Portuguese police, who were the initial investigators on the case, and the British police became incredibly tense over the years.
Portuguese police accused the U.K.’s forces of acting like “a colonial power” in their country. Pedro do Carma, deputy director of the Policia Judiciaria and a leading detective on the case, expressed his outrage in May 2017 to the BBC’s Panaroma series that four local men in Portugal had been made suspects by the British police without any proof. For their part, members of the British police force (and much of the media) felt that the Portuguese police had done an insufficient investigation.
Meanwhile, the McCanns had a testy relationship with both Portuguese and British detectives, with claims that the Portuguese Police treated them inhumanely and that they were “left for long periods without any updates or communication with the investigators.” In 2008, Vanity Fair reported that the McCanns were horrified to learn that “without [their] knowledge or consent, the [Portuguese] police had photocopied Kate’s diary, examined her borrowed Bible, and removed Gerry’s laptop.”
The McCanns also worked with private investigators and reportedly refused to share information with British detectives.
One prime suspect died in 2009
In November 2013, the The Mirror reported that a prime suspect in the case had died in 2009. Euclides Monteiro had been an employee at a resort near where the McCanns were staying in Praia da Luz, until he was fired in 2006. The outlet suggested that Monteiro may have kidnapped Madeleine as an act of revenge.
Monteiro’s friends and family were shocked at the allegation. His wife told The Mirror that the accusation was “disgusting,” and that her late spouse “would never be capable of committing such a crime.” A friend described him as a petty thief who was unfortunately “a slave” to his heroin addicting, but insisted he was no kidnapper.
The McCanns even had their doubts. “We are aware of reports in the Portuguese press,” they said through a representative. “They are pure speculation and the McCanns are not going to give a running commentary on every new report.”
The investigation is ongoing
Additionally, CNN reported in May 2017 that “London’s Metropolitan Police still has a dedicated team of four detectives working the case, in conjunction with their Portuguese police counterparts.” Scotland Yard’s efforts, deemed “Operation Grange,” have been ongoing for six years, and according to CNN, “around $15.7 million has already been spent on the search for Madeleine. In March, the UK’s Home Office approved $103,000 to fund the inquiry through September 2017.” However, to date, no one has been charged.
And despite the many years that have gone by, Kate and Gerry McCann continue to hold onto hope that their daughter will be found and returned. During an interview to mark the anniversary of the disappearance, Kate McCann explained, “I do all the [birthday] present buying. I think about what age she is and buy something that, whenever we find her, will still be appropriate. A lot of thought goes into it.”