Madeleine Beth McCann, daughter of Kate and Gerry McCann, was a young British girl who disappeared on May 3, 2007, from a resort in Portugal. At the time of her disappearance, her parents were dining at a restaurant of the resort, and Madeleine was assumed to be sleeping in her bed along with her twin siblings. Her mother found out about her disappearance from her hotel room at 10:00 pm, and this eventually became one of the most talked-about cases of disappearance in modern history. The Portuguese police later hinted that Madeleine may have died in an accident and that her parents were probably trying to hide the fact from the authorities. Her parents were officially tagged as suspects, but the tag was lifted when the police officially closed the case. Her parents then took the help of private detectives. Sometime later, even ‘Scotland Yard’ opened the case and took over the investigations. The case is still unresolved, but private detectives have refused to give up. It has been 11 years since Madeleine’s disappearance, but there have been no traces about her whereabouts yet, making it one of the most complicated cases of its kind in modern times.
The Case Background
Madeleine Beth McCann was born on May 12, 2003, to British parents Kate and Gerry McCann, in Leicester, England. She was the eldest child in the family. Both her parents were doctors.
In May 2007, the McCann family was traveling to Portugal with all three of their children, along with some of their family friends. There were nine adults and eight children in the group. They stayed at the ‘Ocean Club’ resort in Praia da Luz, in Algarve. During their stay at the resort, they usually dined at the open-air tapas restaurant of the resort. The adults usually dined together every night, after putting their children to bed. On the May 3, the McCanns put their children to sleep in their apartment at the resort and went out to dine with their friends.
The parents kept checking on their children every half an hour, and hence, the chance of anything unfortunate happening was low. Besides, the rooms were children-friendly and safe. However, at around 10:00 pm, during one of her regular checks, Kate realized that Madeleine was missing. She panicked. Soon, search operations ensued in the resort, but to no avail.
Gerry then contacted the manager of the resort and asked him to file a missing person’s report with the local police. Within 15 minutes, the resort initiated its missing-child search protocol, and 60 staff members, along with the parents and their friends, searched for more than six hours until 4:30 in the morning.
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Two officers from a local police station arrived at the resort a few minutes after the complaint was made. The criminal police were alerted, and they brought two patrol dogs with them. By 8:00 am, the next day, the search party had four more search dogs. More policemen were called to the spot to look for Madeleine, and a heavy search party looked around the resort for several hours.
However, several mistakes were made during the “golden hours,” which is what the few hours immediately after a crime is reported are known as. The police were not given any physical description of Madeleine. They did not check the local houses either. The McCanns accused the police of taking the case lightly, as roadblocks were not put before 10:00 am, the next day. The police did not demand surveillance footage of the vehicles leaving town either.
They further accused the Portuguese police of causing delay in submitting a global missing-person report. In addition, the police did not deem it necessary to interview the resort staff or the occupants of the adjacent rooms. On June 1, 2007, it was reported that the DNA of an unknown person was found in the room where Madeleine had slept the night she disappeared, but it was later found out that almost 20 people had entered the room after the incident occurred, which made it difficult for the forensic team to determine the origins of that particular DNA sample.
Leicester police were involved, too, and a team was formed and then sent to Portugal, to work alongside the local team that was investigating the case. However, the two teams did not get along well, as a few officers from the Portuguese police team stated that the British team was trying to exercise its “colonial powers.” The case turned into a chaotic affair, with no pleasant result in sight.
The entire world was shocked upon hearing that the McCanns were to be investigated as the prime suspects in the case. This piece of news was first reported by a German newspaper, and later, several other Portuguese news outlets mentioned that the inconsistencies between the statements of the couple were striking. This led to a widespread media outcry. Some reports also suggested that Madeleine was killed in an accident and that the couple had buried her. Reports also suggested that the entire story of the “disappearance” was just her parents’ ploy to safeguard themselves from any investigation.
The Portuguese police were unable to find a solid lead about the case. Thus, under heavy pressure, in September 2007, the Portuguese police officially deemed the couple as the prime suspects. Kate even received a letter from the authorities, stating that if she accepted her involvement in the burial of Madeleine’s body, she would probably face just two years in prison. Their lawyer told them not to speak about the case in his absence.
On September 9, 2007, the McCanns moved back to England. A few days later, Tavares de Almeida, the head of investigation from Portugal, filed an official report, mentioning that Madeleine had died of an accident and that the couple had buried the body. The claim was later refuted by the court in the absence of solid evidence.
Another lead that the police tried to follow throughout the investigation was the sighting of a strange man by Jane Tanner, one of the McCanns’s friends on the holiday. She said that at around 9:15, on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance, she saw a strange man walking with a baby in his arms. Most of the early investigation was based around this man, but it led to nothing. Jane further claimed that the baby in the man’s arms was wearing the exact same clothes as Madeleine. The man was later identified, but it was proved that he was returning to his apartment after collecting his daughter from a crèche at the same resort.
A few other witnesses were found, but none of them led the police to any concrete conclusion, and a year later, the McCanns were relieved of the tag of suspects. The case was archived by Portugal’s attorney general in 2008.
The McCann family hired private investigators to look into the matter, and in order to raise funds for the same, ‘Madeleine’s Fund’ was founded. After a few years of private investigation, ‘Scotland Yard’ took over the case and formed a team. The case was now called ‘Operation Grange.’ The head of the team announced that he would consider the case as “a burglary gone wrong” or a “criminal act by a stranger.”
In 2013, ‘Scotland Yard’ decided to trace the manual workers who were present at the resort the night Madeleine disappeared. Encouraged by their enthusiasm, the Portuguese police reopened the case. In 2015, ‘Operation Grange’ was slowed down, but the private investigators kept looking for Madeleine McCann, without much success in sight.