The Madeleine McCann Case: Here’s What We Know
The case of Madeleine McCann, a British girl who disappeared 16 years ago at the age of 3 from a vacation apartment in Portugal, returned this week to saturate media coverage as the Portuguese police resumed searching for her.
The police wrapped up their search after three days on Thursday in the Algarve region of Portugal, where the girl vanished in 2007 while on vacation with her parents and siblings.
The search “resulted in the collection of some material” that was turned over for analysis, but there was no indication that anything conclusive had been found. It was requested by the German authorities and was conducted in the presence of the British authorities, the police said.
Officers searched an area at the Arade Dam, about 30 miles from the seaside village of Praia da Luz, where the family had stayed on vacation.
According to local news media, the area used to be frequented by a German man who has been named as a suspect in the case. A German prosecutor, Hans Christian Wolters, told the broadcaster NDR, “we just have some indications that we might find evidence there.”
The searches have revived a case that has gripped Europe for years, prompting an international search effort and becoming the subject of books, front pages and a Netflix documentary series while generating infinite speculation, empty hopes and tips.
Here is what we know about the case:
Kate and Gerry McCann, Madeleine’s parents, said that they left Madeleine and her siblings, 2-year-old twins, in their vacation apartment while they dined at a nearby restaurant.
Madeleine’s father checked on the children at about 9 p.m., and all of them were there, but when his wife checked on them about an hour later, Madeleine was gone. A search started soon after, but it produced few significant leads.
The disappearance of the girl triggered an outpouring of public interest and grief that was compared to the British national mourning after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, with Madeleine’s face printed on “Missing” posters and T-shirts.
An initial investigation by the Portuguese police did not produce concrete results but drew widespread criticism after Madeleine’s parents were named as suspects. They were formally cleared in 2008.
In 2020, German prosecutors made clear that they did not expect to find Madeleine alive and that new evidence led them to conclude that the girl was probably the victim of a homicide.
Who is the suspect?
It was not clear why the new searches were begun, but in 2020, German authorities said that a German sex offender was under investigation on suspicion of murder. They did not name him, but German news outlets have identified him as a man named Christian B.
The suspect lived on and off in the Algarve region of Portugal from 1995 to 2007. He has a criminal record for sexual abuse of children, and at the time of his identification, he was already in a German prison because of an unrelated sexual crime and drug offenses. A German prosecutor said that the suspect had made a living through drug dealing but also working in restaurants, selling used cars and stealing from hotel rooms and vacation homes.
British detectives said that they received their first tip about the suspect after making a public appeal in 2017 on the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance. He has not been charged with crimes related to her disappearance, and he has always denied involvement. In 2022, the Portuguese police made him a formal suspect.
British newspapers have in the past years been filled with interviews with people who have known the suspect in the attempt to piece together useful information.
Has the area been searched before?
Overall, hundreds of volunteers have helped the family look for Madeleine around the world.
The coordinated operation by German and Portuguese authorities is the first formal search in the dam area, but in 2008, Marcos Aragão Correia, a Portuguese lawyer not connected to the case, hired specialist divers to check the area following some tips he said he had received.
In 2014, the British police, who also opened an investigation, known as Operation Grange, for several days examined scrubland near the resort where Madeleine disappeared but found no evidence.
On May 3, Madeleine’s family gathered to commemorate the 16th anniversary of her disappearance. “Still missing ……. still very much missed,” her family wrote in a statement. “We await a breakthrough,” it added.
What do we know about the search?
The British news media, galvanized by the announcement from the Portuguese police, avidly followed the search.
They reported that the police on Tuesday focused on a peninsula near a reservoir and that a police motorboat was sent into the water basin. According to The Guardian, officers used pickaxes, chain saws and rakes to search the peninsula and the surrounding woods.
The Mirror reported that German officers had loaded evidence into the back of a truck.
The BBC said that the police had deployed sniffer dogs along the bank of the reservoir and that they were expecting the operation to last a few more days. According to the Independent, police have cut down trees.
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