Video: Potential breakthrough in McCann case

By Clint Van Zandt
msnbc.com
updated 1/22/2008 4:36:04 PM ET 2008-01-22T21:36:04
COMMENTARY

The parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann have released a new artist’s impression of a man they believe could be involved in their daughter’s May 2007 disappearance from a Portuguese ocean front vacation resort.  In one of the most publicized missing cases in the world, an unknown person is believed to have kidnapped 4-year-old Madeleine as she slept while her parents, doctors Gerry and Kate McCann, ate dinner in a restaurant some 100 yards from the family’s hotel room.

Initially Portuguese police believed that Madeleine had been kidnapped by an unknown child predator.  Their investigation then turned to Robert Murat, a local British ex-pat who had inserted himself into the probe.  Gradually, however, police began to focus on the missing child’s parents, eventually going so far as to naming them as formal suspects in their daughter’s disappearance and suspected death.

It was Kate, however, whom authorities appeared to center their attention on, suggesting, at times, their belief that Kate had over-sedated her hyperactive child and then faked the kidnapping to cover up the “crime,” or that both parents had simply been neglect in leaving their three children alone in their bedroom, something agreed to by many, and that Maddie awoke, walked out the door, fell down a flight of stairs, died, and again the parents had covered up their neglect that may have led to their oldest child’s death. Police went so far as to suggest that the parents had hid their daughter’s body for about three weeks and then used a rental car to transport her remains to an unknown burial site.

In September authorities allegedly threatened Kate with taking her other two children from her if she did not “confess” to her suspected wrongdoing.  Shortly thereafter the McCann family left Portugal and returned to their home in the U.K. Due to the international publicity given to this case, many possible sightings of Madeleine have been reported around the world, but none have proven to be the missing girl with a unique mark in her right eye, something that changing her clothing and even changing her hair color and style could never hide. 

Police and Metodo 3, a highly paid private detective agency in Spain working for the McCanns, have come full circle in their investigation, now reverting to the original theory that an unidentified child predator kidnapped Madeleine, probably after watching the family and learning that night after night the McCanns would leave their three children alone in the hotel room while they ate dinner with seven friends in the nearby tapas restaurant.

'Suspicious' man seen
Jane Tanner, one of the McCann’s dinner partners, would later report and then help develop a sketch of a strange man she allegedly saw carrying a child in pink pajamas near the McCanns' room the night Madeleine disappeared.  A second suspect sketch has now been provided with the assistance of Gail Cooper, another hotel guest who reported seeing a “suspicious” man hanging around the resort some two weeks prior to Madeleine’s disappearance. 

Cooper’s recall of the man she said “made her blood run cold and gave her the creeps” was confirmed by her husband and another child who had seen the mysterious, “strange and creepy” man.  Cooper indicated that he had come to her door just minutes after her husband had left who stated that he was collecting money for a nearby orphanage and was caring for three children who had recently lost their parents in a tragic car accident.

Cooper believed the man, described as first rambling and later agitated, was trying to scam her and sent him away. Police later confirmed there was no such orphanage or fatal car accident in the local area. Cooper later saw the man staring at local children at play at the resort.  Tanner would tell investigators that the man she saw carrying the child near the McCann’s room resembled the sketch provided by Cooper. Now authorities have multiple independent sightings of a possible stalker or child predator, or was he just an otherwise innocent, out-on-his-luck scam artist?

Creating a visual
The new suspect is described as non-Portuguese, perhaps North African, either Tunisian or Moroccan male who spoke broken English.  He is 38-45 years old with “sallow” (sickly yellowish hue) skin, lank dark hair, a droopy, “Spanish” style mustache, and large teeth.  It’s interesting that although Cooper had provided this information to Portuguese investigators months ago, it was the McCann family that found it suspicious enough to commission the facial sketch that is now being circulated around the world.

It would appear that Portuguese investigators might like this case to just go away, returning their nation, or at least the small resort community of Praia da Luz, to a happy, family-oriented vacation spot without the suspected kidnapping of a young child hanging over their collective heads, impacting on the money spent by internationals who were seeking a quiet, picturesque and safe spot for a family vacation.

Whether grasping at straws or perhaps revealing the picture of a kidnapper and suspected member of some pedophile gang, over one million posters bearing the suspect’s believed likeness are being distributed across Morocco and other nearby countries where private investigators working for the McCanns believe their daughter may have been smuggled into.

With the new suspect’s face plastered across a wide swath of the world, investigators hope that should he be innocent, he will recognize his picture and come forward to clear himself from suspicion in Madeleine’s disappearance.  No matter what he is, he is a scam artist and likely local criminal, not someone to willingly bring himself to police attention.  Should, however, this man be somehow linked to Madeleine McCann’s kidnapping, the release of this sketch and his description could be the break the McCanns, and the authorities need to solve this terrible mystery.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His Web site, www.LiveSecure.org, provides readers with security-related information.

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