LONDON -- Detectives searching for new leads in the case of missing British girl Madeleine McCann have "identified a potential linked series of 12 crimes" that may be related to her 2007 disappearance.
London's Metropolitan Police revealed on Wednesday that a male intruder had sexually assaulted five girls in their beds between 2004 and 2006 near Portugal's Praia da Luz resort, where McCann was staying when she vanished.
"Officers have identified a potential linked series of 12 crimes which occurred between 2004 and 2010, mostly in low season, whereby a male intruder has gained access to mainly holiday villas occupied by U.K. families on holiday in the western Algarve," police said in a statement.
While the circumstances are "not identical" to the Madeleine McCann case, police said "there are many similar aspects to each of the incidents."
The statement added: "Witnesses describe the man as having dark (as in tanned) skin with short dark unkempt hair. He spoke in English with a foreign accent, his voice was described as slow, or possibly slurred.
"He was sometimes bare chested, some describe him as having a pot belly, and three victims said that he had a noticeable odor."
DCI Andy Redwood, the senior investigating officer, appealed for information about the culprit.
"We need to establish the identity of this man,” he added. "These offences are very serious and no one has been charged in connection with them. We also need to eliminate this man from our inquiries and ascertain whether these offences are linked to Madeleine's disappearance.”
Madeleine was three-years-old when she disappeared between the hours or 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., after her parents Kate and Gerry McCann left her with younger twin siblings in their ground-floor apartment to dine at a restaurant around 150 feet away.
Portuguese police closed the original investigation in 2008. But after two years of reviewing case documents, the Metropolitan Police reopened the case in July 2013, saying there was a good chance Madeleine was still alive. Portuguese detectives followed suit in October.
Police also released a new computer-generated image of a suspect in October, described by police as being white, aged in his 30s, clean-shaven with short brown hair, and of medium build and height.
The Metropolitan Police have offered a $33,000 reward for information on the case.
First published March 19 2014, 5:19 AM