Newly released photo of missing British girl Madeleine McCann
David Moir  /  Reuters
A photo of missing British girl Madeleine McCann, which was made into a poster May, 2007.
NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/2/2008 5:55:04 PM ET 2008-03-02T22:55:04
TRANSCRIPT

This story originally aired Dateline NBC on March 2, 2008.

Portugal, the coastal edge of Europe, has always been about the sea.

Its great explorers sailed off into the mostly unknown centuries ago and brought back unimagined wealth to the tiny kingdom.

But history eclipsed Portugal. The colonies and trade routes lost to greater powers.

It was up to the humble sardine to pay the bills.

But in the last 40 years the sea has given the Portuguese its best catch since the glory days of Magellan: the British tourist.

It's the blustery off season now but in the spring and summer a million tourists every year -- about half of them British -- are disgorged onto the warm beaches, all inclusive resorts and villas, and cheap and cheerful pubs more English than the queen. The southern coastline the Brits call the Algarve has the reputation of being sedate, family-oriented, and safe.

After a gloomy English winter and dank spring, the prospect of a vacation week in sunny Portugal must have been especially appealing to the McCann family living in central England.

Gerry and Kate McCann are both doctors. Their daughter Madeleine three, about to turn four. The twins, Sean and Amelie, are two.

The resort they'd selected sounded ideal for a young family. The ocean club overlooks one of the best beaches on the Algarve -- Praia da Luz.

Praia da Luz is an old fishing port that has really become a tourist destination.

Richard Gaisford is the chief correspondent for one of Britain’s morning news programs. He spent weeks last summer reporting from the Portuguese village.

Richard Gaisford: It's a very warm welcoming friendly place.

Video: Why was Madeleine unattended? And it was a place the McCanns knew well. They'd been to the resort before.

The main attraction for the young parents was the resort's "award-winning childcare."

Richard Gaisford: They have qualified childcare looking after the kids during the day. That way the kids have fun, the parents get to relax and everyone is happy.

They were taking their holiday with friends, other couples in their doctor circle.

In a cell phone video of Madeleine, she’s  hand in hand with one of her friends as they board the plane to Portugal.

She was the child they'd long been waiting for.

Gerry and Kate met while training to be doctors -- two motivated young achievers from working class Catholic backgrounds. Kate was from Liverpool. Gerry from gritty Glasgow.

The couple’s often told story was love at first sight, at least from Gerry’s side...

The cardiologist and soccer-crazed ball player-- falling head over heels for the pretty, top-of-her class blonde.

But as much as the newly married couple wanted children they had trouble conceiving. After four years of marriage and in vitro treatments, Kate gave birth to Madeleine in 2003.

A beautiful wee girl. That’s how John McCann, Gerry’s older brother, thinks of her.

John McCann: She loves parties. She loves, you know, groups of-- her friends. She's always been a wee effervescent thing.

FindMadeleine.com
Could this be Madeleine's abductor? This is an investigators' sketch of a man in a droopy moustache seen in Praia de Luz at the time Madeleine disappeared.
The family had recently settled in Rothley, England, about 100 miles north of London.

That's where the twins were born -- again conceived in vitro.

Life inside their upper-middle class home is described as a happy balancing act between family and careers.

John McCann: So there's a big focus of getting the work done. Getting the work out of the way. And getting on with looking after the kids.

So the young family -- Kate and Gerry both are in their late-30's -- had reason to be happy last April as they rode the shuttle bus to their sunny Algarve getaway.

John McCann: They'd been working very hard and they were really looking forward to meeting up with their friends who had kids of the same age as theirs. So you know, it was going to be a win-win-win for everybody.

The ocean club resort turned out to be as good as advertised.

The McCanns settled into a ground level apartment with two bedrooms a kitchen and a patio. The only downside, perhaps: it's an end unit and some of the windows face onto the village street.

There were two swimming pools and two restaurants.

One of them, the tapas bar, had a pleasant open air patio where guests could dine under the stars.

By May 3, 2007, the McCanns have been soaking up the sun and lush evenings for a few days.

Richard Gaisford: The family was settled, they were relaxed, they were into their holiday routine.

At 2:29pm Madeleine has just returned from a family picnic by the beach when this snapshot is taken of her by the pool.

She is clearly an adorable child. Do her appealing looks partly explain why this is the last photo known to have been taken of her?

By 10:00pm, she'd vanished. Gone as though she'd stepped off the face of the earth.

A holiday getaway abruptly becomes a criminal investigation. Carefree, happy snaps now part of a critical timeline.

The sun was dipping over the Atlantic on the Portuguese coast. May 3 had a been a day out of the tourist brochures: a family picnic for the McCanns at the beach, Gerry had played tennis in the afternoon, and by 6:00pm at the ocean club, the mostly British guests were getting ready for the evening.

Gerry and Kate had made plans to meet seven of their friends from England -- three of them fellow doctors --at the resort's tapas bar.

What happened in the next four hours --between 6pm and 10pm that night -- is the heart of the mystery of Madeleine McCann.

It's a crucial timeline as told by the McCanns and their friends from dinner, virtually all of it given to the police in confidential statements that were later leaked to the press.

It's been that way with so much in this sensational case.

If you're inclined to play detective, keep in mind that a great many of the published reports about the missing child are a hopeless muddle of facts, rumors, off-the-record-sources and flat-out speculation.

What we believe was happening inside the McCann’s ground floor apartment was familiar to parents of young children: getting them settled for the night so mom and dad could enjoy their evening out.

John McCann: Bedtime was all about getting bath, settled for bed, put to bed with -- after their story. The cuddly toys.

Three-year old Madeleine -- days away from her birthday -- had spent the day by the pool and playing in the child-care center.

Later that evening, at 8:30pm, when it was time for the grownups to have dinner, the McCanns chose not to drop the kids off back at the baby sitting service.

Rather, they say they did what they'd done on previous nights.

They tucked in Madeleine and the two-year old twins in one of the bedrooms and left them alone, heading out to the tapas bar -- about 50 yards from their front door.

John McCann: The kids were safely in bed. And it had all gone smoothly that week. And it was all going smoothly until that Thursday night.

This graphic view of the resort complex shows the relationship of the buildings.

Madeleine and her brother and sister here in the McCann apartment on the end next to the street.

And inside the resort's walled perimeter, past the pool, is the tapas restaurant where the dinner was underway by 8:45pm.

At 9 o'clock, with food and bottles of wine are arriving, Gerry McCann says he left the restaurant and came back here to the apartment to look in on the children. He saw Madeleine and the twins asleep in bed and returned to the dinner.

Half-an-hour later, another of the parents got up from the table to look in on his own child who hadn't been feeling well.

He stopped by here too, but reportedly didn't go inside where the McCann children were asleep.

All seemed quiet and he return to the dinner.

Then at 10:00pm, Kate McCann walks back to the apartment to check on the children.

Video: A personal plea for Madeleine The twins are fast asleep, but Madeleine is not in her bed.

A window shutter is open, apparently forced from the inside. Her child is gone.

Gaisford: And from that point on, of course, the happy relaxed evening just stops dead. And then they start searching for their daughter.

The twins remain asleep as some close by say. Kate McCann screams, "They've taken her."

A frantic search of the resort begins.

The McCanns and their friends calling out for Madeleine.

They're joined by other guests and resort staff.

Police arrive -- too slowly, some would later say.

Gaisford: This is not a hotbed of crime, it doesn't have whole teams of search officers just there ready and waiting.

The search goes into the night. Spilling out from the resort into the village itself.

By midnight, a distraught Gerry McCann phones home.

John McCann: The-- the whole-- the whole night was hellish. You know? I've got crying for help from my brother and I’m stuck couple of thousand miles away from him. I can't do anything concrete. And then eventually he just said, "I don't know what to think. I think some pedophile or some other swine has taken Madeleine."

And the next day, the first of what would become a familiar and poignant ritual for the McCanns: facing the cameras and pleading for any scrap of information.

Gerry McCann: Words cannot describe the anguish and despair that we are feeling as the parents of our beautiful daughter Madeleine ... please, if you have Madeleine let her come home to her mummy, daddy, brother and sister.

A pretty English child abducted from her holiday bed becomes the electrifying international storyline.

With their reputation as a safe family tourist destination on the line, the pressure is on the Portuguese authorities to solve the case quickly.

Gaisford: The police start their searches, but they don't treat the house as a crime scene, and that means a lot of evidence is lost straightaway.

Portuguese national police, the rough equivalent of the FBI, are brought in to take over the investigation from the overwhelmed local village cops.

For days, police continue to comb the area around the resort for any trace of the girl, but to some their effort seems amateurish.

Andrew Forrester, search volunteer from Wales: In the U.K., the presence would be massive. You are only a mile and half from where it happened and there's nothing going on. It's strange, very strange.

Official updates are scare-- -Portuguese law prohibits the police from disclosing details about an on-going investigation.

But cops do assure the press that they have a working theory: the child has been kidnapped.

The photos of Madeleine issued to the media and police throughout Europe -- one in particular -- point out an anomaly in the child's right eye, something that can be used to identify her.

Her parents -- the two doctors -- observant Catholics, find solace in the church nearby the resort.

Kate McCann: Gerry and I would like to express our sincere gratitude and thanks to everybody but particularly to the local community here who have offered so much support...

With no immediate break in the case, reporters and photographers swarmed the seaside village. And the educated parents -- especially the cool, elegant mother -- were trailed ceaselessly by cameras, recording their every move.

A sophisticated British public relations apparatus was put in place around the McCanns. The goal in part: to keep the pressure on the Portuguese. The parents vowed not to leave the country without their daughter.

Kate McCann: I mean at this, at this moment in time I cannot think about going home without Madeleine.

But, at least to southern Mediterranean temperaments, the parents seemed so controlled, so English and rational about their devastating loss. Why didn't Kate wail?

A cultural divide of northern and southern Europe was opening and it later would have consequences for the McCanns.

But for now, world-wide sympathy for the McCanns was building.

Gerry McCann press conference:  As we have said before we are positive and focused on the investigation....

Gaisford: The media was effectively being used by the McCanns, and they were able to keep the message alive.

The McCanns stayed on at the resort, Kate McCann rarely seen in public without her daughter's stuffed toy cuddle cat.

Gerry McCann supportive of the police -- publicly, anyway.

Gerry McCann: There is a huge amount of work going on in the background. You may not know the details and we don't them not but we know there is a systematic approach to this.

On the eleventh day after Madeleine disappeared, there was suddenly real news to report -- an investigative breakthrough.

The cops had a suspect.

A half-British local man in his 30's who lived with his mother in a villa just down the road from the resort.

The cadaver dogs and crime-scene technicians were enroute to turn the home upside down looking for traces of Madeleine.

Portuguese authorities swarmed a private villa just blocks from the resort where Madeleine McCann had gone missing 11 days before.

Crime-scene technicians and dogs worked over the home belonging to the mother of a local man named Robert Murat.

Reporter: He has worked in many different jobs in Portugal, most recently in real estate and is described by various people as an affable chap.

But also, perhaps, too friendly. Fluent in English and Portuguese, he had volunteered to translate for the police the day after Madeleine disappeared.

Gaisford: He would appear for the first few days to have been going in and out of the apartment ducking under the police tape, being helpful to the police, to the family, acting as some sort of translator but also being incredibly helpful to the press.

Finally, a reporter for one of the British tabloids thought his interest was so off-the-charts that she brought her suspicions to the police.

Lori Campbell, reporter for Sunday Mirror: Well, it was just his over-eagerness to help, really, his constant being at the scene and speaking to the media.

The police named the 33-year-old half-English, half-Portuguese man as a formal suspect in the child's disappearance.

During this search, several items belonging to the house owner were seized and they are now being examined...

Olegario de Sousa, police inspector: During this search several items belonging to the house owner were seized and they are now being examined...

But it would appear that nothing of forensic value was found in his home.

Murat's aunt, sally Eveleigh, jumped to his defense.

Sally Eveleigh: They have no evidence against him. Absolutely nothing. They have nothing at all. It's all speculation. All we know about the investigation is what has been written.

And the case against him -- the neighborhood man who lived with his mother -- was dissolving even though the Portuguese would not officially dismiss him as a suspect.

Murat: I’ve got no comment.

Reporter: Suddenly it all goes quiet, Robert Murat isn't mentioned. He keeps his official status, and yet no-one's talking about him anymore.

The authorities were now more than two weeks into the investigation and they still had little more than a missing child flyer for Madeleine McCann.

Gerry and Kate McCann, meanwhile, were stepping up their campaign for the cameras.

Three weeks after her daughter's disappearance, Kate, who's described as shy, spoke about that evening and its aftermath.

Kate McCann (May 25): We are doing OK. The first 48, 72-hours in particular were, as you can imagine, very difficult. Quite dark and it was quite difficult to function.

The mother explained the seemingly unexplainable: why she had felt comfortable leaving three children under four-years-old, not with the resort baby-sitting service, but home alone with the door unlocked.

Kate McCann: I think that the diagrams that were shown at the beginning of all this don't really portray how really close it actually is. And we have said before it was a little bit I think it's quite similar to on a summer's evening at home eating in your garden while your children are in your bed. You know it's that close.

Dateline made the walk between the tapas bar and the apartment --it took 52 seconds. We also sat down at the restaurant to check out the view and had trouble seeing into the McCann’s ground-level unit.

Still, Madeleine’s parents say they felt a sense of security on the night of May 3.

Gerry McCann: But it will not take away the feeling of guilt that we will have with us forever that at the moment Madeleine was abducted, we were not there.

Even though the McCanns were taking some hits for what they did -- or didn't do -- that night, support for them remained strong.

The Find Madeline Web page was getting millions of hits. Gerry McCann’s blog became one of the most widely read on the Web.

Money was pouring into the family's fund -- $2 million by summer's end.

And a who's who of Britain had lined up behind the McCanns: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, tycoon Richard Branson, and football idol David Beckham:

Beckham: Please could you go to your local authorities or police and give any information that you have...

The Catholic McCanns were even flown to Rome on a private jet for an audience with the Pope, who blessed a picture of the little girl.

John McCann is Madeleine’s uncle.

John McCann: Every single action, from-- you know, from celebrities, from ordinary people, it does-- it keeps your morale up to some extent.

The goal was to get Madeleine back or get information about her fate.

Gerry McCann: We've come here to ask the German public for help.

The McCanns made personal appeals in Berlin and in Amsterdam, both tourist markets for the Algarve.

Had anyone seen anything? Was there a vacation snapshot perhaps with a clue in the background?

As the child's story went global, tips came pouring in.

Was she seen at a restaurant in Belgium, or had she been put on a ferry to morocco?

The Madeleine sightings stretched across Europe and north Africa.

So it went for the rest of the summer: leads that went nowhere.

A letter sent to a Dutch newspaper claimed that Madeleine’s body would be found in a shallow grave near the resort. It wasn't.

Psychics had visions, but Madeleine remained gone.

John McCann: We always knew that there would be bogus reports amongst them. But of course there's a bit of you that every time something is focused on, that may be a sighting or a lead, that your heart does flutter.

The find-Madeleine McCann machine was in full throttle: a well-oiled, well-funded operation complete with its own pop anthem: "Don't you forget about me."

Gaisford: They released new pictures of Madeleine; they released little video clips; new posters; new ideas.

It was a very good campaign in terms of keeping the story alive.

Yet the parents with their posters and media entourage were also becoming a major thorn in the side of the Portuguese police, keeping the pressure on, silently implying the back-home belief that the Portuguese weren't up to the job.

Case in point: news that one of the McCann’s holiday companions had seen a man near the apartment the night Madeleine disappeared. In his arms, wrapped in a blanket, he carried a child wearing pink pajamas, like the ones Madeleine had been wearing.

Why hadn't police immediately released a description?

Gaisford: The story of the girl being carried away in pink pajamas makes more sense than any other story we've heard, and yet it's perhaps the one line that we know so little about in terms of the way that police have pursued it.

A bias about the Portuguese, southerners in general, raised its ugly head. And back in England the tabloids, the blogs, ate it up: the cops down there were hopelessly inept. What they needed was Scotland Yard -- London’s metropolitan police -- to come in and sort things out.

Gaisford: It became a media battle in a way between the Portuguese press and the British press. The British press were very critical of the Portuguese police system, the way the case was being investigated.

By the early August, it seemed that Kate and Gerry McCann --- who'd vowed not to leave without their daughter --- had become the guests that had overstayed their welcome in Portugal.

Reporter: There was an element that they wanted them to go home so life could get back to normal.

But the McCanns seemed oblivious to the slights, and showed a brave face, even when grim news was leaked to the media: that police had found traces of blood in their resort apartment.

Gerry McCann: Kate and I strongly believe that Madeleine was alive when she was taken from the apartment. Obviously what we don't know is what happened to her afterwards, who has taken her and what their motive is. And we are desperate to find that out.

Kate McCann: And as Gerry’s just said there, even last week when we met with the police they said, we are looking for a living child.

But that's not what the Portuguese police were leaking to favorite local reporters by mid-August, three months into the investigation.

According to those reports, the Madeleine McCann investigation hadn't stalled at all. The police it seemed had mounds of new evidence and a bombshell new theory of the case -- one that didn't involve a mysterious abductor.

The McCanns were now the target of the police investigation.

Three-and-a-half months after she went missing, the Portuguese media reported a whiplash of a new lead: the cops believed that Madeleine McCann was, in fact, dead and her parents were responsible.

(BBC news clip)

Kate McCann is declared a formal suspect in the disappearance of her daughter Madeleine...

In the span of a news cycle-- in England and around the world-- the couple had morphed from the cruelly heartbroken parents of a missing child to suspects. It was a very dark turn of events.

Richard Gaisford , British correspondent: It was only really once, you know, the police brought the McCanns in for questioning. That perhaps it became clear that the Portuguese press weren't making things up.

Kate and Gerry McCann were grilled separately by police inspectors.

They were declared "arguidos"-- a Portuguese legal term that roughly means person of interest -- with the right to remain silent and lawyer up.

John McCann: The pressure on Gerry and Kate, the stress, went skyrocketing up.

According to news reports, the case against the McCann’s consisted of the following:

Bodily fluids and hair, reportedly lab-tested as a DNA match to Madeleine, were recovered from the trunk of a car the McCanns had rented 25 days after the child went missing. The implication?

The McCanns had concealed their daughter's body somewhere and used the rental car to dispose of it almost a month later.

What's more, when so-called cadaver dogs -- animals with a nose for death -- sniffed that rental car they sent up a howl.

And there was another, unsubstantiated but widely reported detail -- something psychological. The cops had supposedly read parts of a diary that Kate McCann had been keeping.

In it, she reportedly complained that Madeleine was "hyperactive" -- an exhausting, demanding child -- and that her husband Gerry wasn't helping out as much as he should.

Did that explain why a stressed-out mother might have given her child a sleeping pill so she could have a relaxing evening out?

A sedative that brought on cardiac arrest, theorized the police, causing a death that the parents then had to cover up before going out to dinner.

Now people thought back to what Kate reportedly first blurted out when she discovered Madeleine gone: "They've taken her."

Was that the start of a cover-up, the secretly guilty mother misdirecting the hunt to phantom abductors? Or, in those frantic moments, were her words lost in translation between English and Portuguese?

The parents stopped their almost daily news briefings. Portuguese law forbids them from talking about their interrogation, but back in England friends and family lined up to voice outrage:

Brian Kennedy, uncle: The notion that either or one of them would or could harm one of their children is ludicrous.

John McCann, uncle: To implicate them in any way is ridiculous.

Even though they bore the official stigma of suspects in a whole-world's-watching murder investigation, the McCanns were allowed to leave Portugal.

With the twins, Sean and Amelie, in arms, the couple did what they said they would never do and went back to England without Madeleine.

(at the airport)

Gerry: While it is heartbreaking to return to the U.K. without Madeleine, it does not mean we have given up our search for her. As parents, we cannot give up on our daughter until we know what has happened.

Gerry McCann may have been forbidden by Portuguese law from talking about details of the case, but he was clear when he knocked down the police's new theory of a crime.

(Gerry at airport)

We have played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter Madeleine.

Kate and Gerry McCann, who'd sought the cameras out at every availability to keep their daughter's case alive, now had become victims of the same media beast.

They were hounded from the plane that brought them back to northern England to the front door of their home in Rothley, Leicestershire.

The McCanns would be staked out in the coming days as a Portuguese judge read through some 4,000 pages of police reports turned over to him for a finding.

The judge could require the McCanns to come back to Portugal for more questioning, perhaps even order their arrest on formal charges.

But could it be true? Had the parents themselves killed their child, perhaps accidentally, and then covered it all up with a monstrous PR campaign?

Or was it an abductor -- a little girl stolen from her holiday bed in the night?

Clint Van Zandt: The only thing we know in this case is there is a little girl missing, and we don't know why. That's what we know. Everything else is rumor, innuendo, fabrication.

We asked NBC News analyst Clint Van Zandt, a 25-year veteran of the FBI and a former criminal profiler there, for his read on the case.

For starters, he thinks the Portuguese police botched the investigation with a slow response.

Clint Van Zandt: Statistically, if you don't find that missing child in four hours and it's an unknown predator, you may not get that child back. So you really have to move quick. I am putting her description out to the airport, to the bus stations. I'm going to all the 7-11's. I’m pulling the surveillance tape, I’m interviewing every person in that apartment complex.

Dennis Murphy: In fact, in Portugal, did any of those things happen?

Clint Van Zandt: No. No they didn't. The first responder was slow in getting there. They came and I think treated it like a child who might have wandered away.

Murphy: What does, does this apartment, now a scene tell about itself?

Clint Van Zandt: We're told the Portuguese police went in. They may have thrown some fingerprint dust around or something like that … If that was in the United States or Great Britain we would take the carpet out, we'd take the bed out, we would go in with luminol and go over every wall...

Murphy: Just light the place up, huh?

Clint Van Zandt: Oh, we would. I mean, you know, it would be “CSI” squared.

Video: Kids think they'll see Madeleine soon Van Zandt says it's important for investigators to work every scenario.

First, the simplest: Did Madeleine wander out of the unlocked apartment and get into trouble of an unknown nature?

Clint Van Zandt: No one can say she didn't go through a front door, a back door, find a way to climb through a window. I don't think anyone can say that didn't happen.

On the other hand, for hours a large search party had combed the resort, the town, the beach, calling out Madeleine’s name and did not find her.

Which makes him think an abduction a more likely scenario.

Murphy: What does experience tell us about predators who steal for their own pleasure?

Clint Van Zandt: The child is usually killed.

But Van Zandt sees another possibility in the abduction theory: a child stolen to be sold as goods to a customer somewhere.

Clint Van Zandt: Unfortunately, it's one of the dirty secrets in this world that children are kidnapped, usually they're put into sexual bondage. And sometimes there are individuals who say, you know, I want a child, not for nefarious purposes but I just want to raise a kid ... and I want a pretty, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, little European girl.

Murphy: Stolen to custom order?

Van Zandt: Stolen to customers' order.

Murphy: And that happens?

Van Zandt: And that happens.

But what about the big bombshell - the parents did it.

This is, sadly, the one that seasoned detectives have the most experience with.

Van Zandt: The McCanns should have been looked at from day one ...

Murphy: Everything in your experience says, look at the parents?

Van Zandt: Look at the parents. I mean, they would have been bulls eye, dead-center for at least one of my investigative teams to rule them in or rule them out.

Murphy: They look good on camera, the stuffed toy, but...

Van Zandt: Doesn't mean a thing. We have to investigate not speculate. And all we've seen is speculation in this case so far.

Two theories of a crime:

Clint Van Zandt: This is a mystery within a mystery right now.

Madeleine is either abducted from her bed by person or persons unknown, or her parents kill her and then somehow dispose of her body.

In both theories there's a problem with the clock, the timing almost impossibly tight.

Clint Van Zandt: My challenge is this very small window of opportunity...

Take another look: the McCann family's apartment -- the large open pool and patio -- and the restaurant over here where the McCann friends are gathered outside.

Gerry McCann says he made the short walk to check on Madeleine and the twins at about 9:00pm.

Another member of the dinner party reportedly stops to listen at the McCann door while he's up from the table about 9:30.

At ten o'clock, when Kate McCann checks on the kids, Madeleine is gone.

Dennis Murphy: As an investigator, what's the problem for you with the abductor theory?

Van Zandt: The abductor was either awful lucky or he, or they, had really planned this. It was like, you know, 'OK, we're going to set our watches. It's 9:32. Go!'

The abductor presumably would have had to watch for several nights, monitoring the parents' dinner routine. Still it was a risky grab.

Van Zandt: All the surveillances, all the stalking, would have still left them with probably no more than an hour, a half hour, window of opportunity to get in, steal that child, be gone and never be seen again.

Likewise, for the parents to have killed their child and hidden her body, Van Zandt points to another narrow window of opportunity: from 6:00pm, when Madeleine is last seen apparently by hotel staff, to 10:00pm, when her mother shrieks that her child is gone.

A brief window, says Van Zandt, and a ludicrous series of suppositions.

Van Zandt: We'll say, 'OK cops, you're right' they gave her a sedative. She expired. The parents said, 'Oh my God we'll try to bring her back to life, we can't do it. We're supposed to be at dinner tonight. We've got our other two kids. Okay. We're cool. We'll put our other two kids down asleep. Now we have to conceal the body somewhere in 10, 15, 20 minutes where that body cannot be found in this massive search effort that's going to take place.

Dennis Murphy: You're trained to look at body language: what do you see in the McCanns?

Van Zandt: You know, I’ve watched the McCanns. I've watched where Gerry was being interviewed and Kate was sitting next to him listening to him tell his story, and I was really watching her. Show me some eye movement. Show me body language. But they've been able to keep their story pretty well wired together. Neither one has broke down. Neither one has given any indication.

Murphy: There are difficulties with both theories?

Van Zandt: Absolutely. But what I’m looking for is the physical evidence that'll link an offender or the McCanns to the disappearance and or death of their child. That's what I’ve not seen.

And in Portugal by mid-September, a judge was saying almost those very words to the police. Their case against the McCanns was collapsing before their eyes.

The supposed DNA in the rental car now more ambiguous and less damning.

Traces of blood in the apartment not from Madeleine.

And a mother's diary about an active child and a sometimes less-than-helpful husband, were words that could have been written by millions of women around the world.

It had all come back to May 3 at 10:00pm.

Madeleine was missing and no one had a clue.

So few certainties.

A little girl caught in a picture on a day in May -- and then vanished. All we really know.

All of us like to have stories with beginnings, middles and ends. But in this story there is no conclusion and there is no one conclusion in sight.

John McCann: There's no evidence that she's dead. And that's what gives us hope.

Hope kept alive by not forgetting. At six months missing, a mass in Madeleine’s honor was said in the Portuguese church where the McCanns had looked for solace months before.

Home in England, the couple went to church to mark the sad occasion.

At Christmas, the child not at the hearth was the subject of a McCann family appeal.

Video: A stranger in the night Through the early fall, meanwhile, the Portuguese authorities had continued to leak theories about how Madeleine McCann had died. Now it wasn't a sleeping pill overdose. It was a tumble down the stairs leading from the couple's apartment that had killed the child.

The cops were looking desperate.

Clint Van Zandt: What they don't want to do is say we don't know where to look. Anybody else got any ideas? They have they have to solve this and some would say they have to pin this on somebody.

On October second, the chief detective of the Madeleine McCann search was removed from the investigation and reassigned to another district. He had reportedly been the driving force behind the case against the McCanns.

The Portuguese investigation appeared to be back where it started-- with the new chief detective going back to the resort complex, re-interviewing old witnesses and searching again for lost clues.

Some would say it's been a total bust: from the botched crime-scene investigation, to the resources spent in pursuit of the helpful translator who lived a few blocks away, to the squeeze put on the McCanns themselves that fizzled when a Portuguese judge looked at the hundreds of hours of police work and mountains of documents and said, in effect, you have nothing.

Madeleine: dead or alive?

No one could say.

Kate McCann: I feel-- I feel sad. And I feel lonely. And-- and life obviously not as happy without Madeleine.

Speaking to a Spanish television network last fall, the normally cool and controlled Kate appeared fragile, on the verge of tears.

And Gerry, always the diplomat, betrayed his mounting frustration when asked about speculation that Madeleine had been drugged.

Gerry McCann: I mean it's ludicrous. These sort of questions and the publishing of them are nonsense. And we shouldn't be giving them the time of day. There is absolutely no suggestion-- that Madeleine, or the children were drugged. And it's outrageous.

Kate McCann: All I’m going to say is I’m Madeleine’s mommy. I know she was taken from that apartment and she's out there. And I want her back. I mean, that-- that is all. I mean, everything else, I’m sorry, I-- is rubbish.

With money from the find Madeleine fund, the McCanns have hired a private detective agency to aggressively chase down leads around the globe.

In January, they released their investigators' sketch of a man in a droopy moustache seen in Praia de Luz at the time Madeleine disappeared.

A tourist remembered him acting in a suspicious manner and belatedly came forward with his description.

Clarence Mitchell, McCann family spokesperson: We want to know who he is and we want to know where he is, and we want to know that as soon as we can.

FindMadeleine.com
Could this be Madeleine's abductor? This is an investigators' sketch of a man in a droopy moustache seen in Praia de Luz at the time Madeleine disappeared.
Just two weeks ago, there were reports that Madeleine had been spotted with a man who looked not unlike the person in that sketch at a restaurant in southern France.

But the glimmer of hope was quickly extinguished when -- once again -- it wasn't her.

Also in February, the Portuguese authorities quietly amended their theory of the case, admitting the police had been "hasty" in making the McCanns that word--"arguidos," suspects.

It's back to abduction by person or persons unknown.

Kate McCann: Madeleine, it seems unlikely you will hear this…

Kate McCann spoke directly to her daughter in her Christmas message.

Kate McCann: It's mummy and daddy here. Just know how much we love you, Madeleine. We all miss you so much. We're doing everything we can, Madeleine, to find you and there are so many good and very kind people helping us. Be brave sweetheart...

The rainy season has settled into the sunny Algarve.

The child missing in the spring is still missing in the dead of winter.

Kate and Gerry McCann are still officially listed as suspects in the case. They have asked a judge to change that status.

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