IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Rumor vs. evidence in Madeleine McCann case

Van Zandt:   Many, like me, believe that the Portuguese Police investigation into the disappearance, what Madeleine’s parents drawing comparisons between this investigation and one conducted in the United States over a decade ago, that surrounding the death of Jon Benet Ramsey.
Van Zandt:  Is this just a botched police investigation or did the McCanns kill their daughter?Melanie Maps / AFP - Getty Images

Dr. Kate McCann stared out of the window of the plane flying her, her husband, and two of their three children from Portugal to their home in Great Britain.  According to the media, fellow passengers later that her expression indicated her sadness at having to leave Portugal without her precious daughter, Madeleine, while others cynically suggest she was happy to be escaping the pressures of being named as a police suspect in the disappearance of her daughter some four months ago.

One “investigative” tactic of the Portuguese police seems to be to leak information to the media in an attempt to put pressure on the McCanns and to suggest that the police were actually carrying out a professional investigation and not simply flailing their arms against two grieving parents, while they haven't targeted in the absence of other credible suspects.  Media sources in both Portugal and Great Britain have reported that with the help and assistance of British police, something the Portuguese seemed to have resisted in the initial stage of this case, significant physical evidence has been found to link the McCanns, especially Kate, to the disappearance and believed death of Madeleine. 

Their working theory
Police seem to have adopted a working theory that the McCanns, wanting to have a night out without being concerned with constantly caring for and checking on then 3-year-old Madeleine and her two-year-old twin brother and sister, intentionally sedated Madeleine with  her subsequently expiring due to an overdose of  sedative.  Everything after her death, the police seem to suggest through tabloid leaks, was a massive cover-up on the level of the JFK murder or the downing of TWA 800, or so many other conspiracy theories.

This working theory suggests that the McCanns, both medical doctors, found Madeleine dead, hid her body for almost a month, and them moved her body to some unknown disposal site.  This theory (according to the media from alleged police leaks), is supported by the finding of blood spatter in the resort apartment rented by the McCann family, the reactions of a British sniffer dog to the presence of blood the dog identified as Madeleine’s, and DNA examination of forensic evidence found in the trunk of an automobile the McCann’s rented some 25 days after Madeleine’s disappearance.  The theory goes on to suggest that Madeleine’s blood was found in the trunk, thereby indicating that sometime after renting the car the McCann’s used it to transport Madeleine’s long since dead body. Another sniffer dog allegedly reacted to “the presence of death” in the apartment used by the McCanns and had a similar reaction to clothing worn by Kate McCann and to a doll used by Madeleine.

Missing in this theory, of course, is some spokesperson from the DNA lab or British police confirming these reports and suggesting their belief of what such “evidence” may mean to this case.  Also missing is any suggestion as to why, if having died of an overdose of some type of sedative, that Madeleine’s blood would have been found in the apartment or the car, or of where the McCann’s could have concealed their daughter’s body for 25 plus days. Or any guess as to how they could have secretly retrieved Madeleine’s body, placed it in the trunk of the rented car, and drove unobserved to some secret, probably predetermined body disposal site where they may have unceremoniously dumped their oldest child’s body and just as stealthfully returned to their rented apartment, totally undetected by law enforcement, the media, the public or the ever watchful paparazzi.

Many, like me, see the similiarities drawn by Madeleine’s parents to the investigation conducted in the United States over a decade ago— the one surrounding the death of Jon Benet Ramsey. 

In both cases there is more than enough information to suggest that the investigators were either slow to respond, careless, or even inept in the way they investigated the reported the disappearance of both young girls. We know, of course, Jon Benet’s disappearance quickly became an unsolved murder investigation, while Madeleine’s disappearance is still a life or death mystery.

Motive, of course, is always important in such cases.  In the case of Jon Benet Ramsey, some believe her death was accidental, something done in anger, frustration, or rage that was the result of her contact with a member of her immediate family. In such a theory the Ramseys, and likewise the McCanns, would have had to have thought, “We’ve lost one child; we’re not going to lose another or even lose our entire family through this terrible accidental death.”  But why, in the case of Madeleine McCann, would two medical doctors concoct such a story, perpetuate such a lie, and go on to deceive millions of people in a faked quest to find their allegedly kidnapped child?  Again, if the ongoing tabloid theory— one apparently planted by the Portuguese police— was true, then the McCanns shared in the responsibility of sedating their daughter and believed they would have had their remaining two children taken away from them while they both went to prison for manslaughter.  "That's motive enough," some would say. 

But if this theory is wrong; if the McCanns had nothing to do with Madeleine’s disappearance, nothing other than an unhealthy dose of parental neglect for leaving their three children unattended while they dined and drink with friends the night Madeleine disappeared, then Gerry McCann and Kate, like John and Patsy before them, may have suffered a double loss: that of losing a child and being accused of the loss of that child.  In the case of Jon Benet, forensic evidence linking any offender to her death was either never found, or was lost, or was subsequently proven to be of no consequence in linking the person or persons responsible with the death of young Jon Benet. 

Physical evidence, if any, that links anyone with the disappearance and possible death of Madeleine has yet to be officially disclosed.  We know that some such evidence was allegedly found weeks or months later; this in the apartment that was originally rented by the McCanns and one that Madeleine may have died in (the suggested police theory). Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people had been in and out this apartment since it was vacated by the McCanns and prior to the finding of the suggested evidence, therefore this “evidence” may be questionable at best.  Kate McCann has indicated that as a medical doctor, she has had contact with a number of deceased individuals, perhaps accounting for the “smell of death” on her clothing.  The blood evidence in the trunk of their rented car?  Some believe that it could have been planted by the Portuguese police, noting that agency is under investigation for allegedly beating a confession out of a mother who was a suspect in her daughter’s disappearance, a woman later imprisoned although her daughter was never found.  Others believe it could be evidence of Madeleine’s presence, thereby suggesting her parents ability to hide, retrieve, move and dispose of her body almost a month into this investigation, something that would challenge the skills of fellow Brit James Bond.

Other evidence, however, is also believed to exist. Again the tabloids report that police have had the McCanns under 24/7 surveillance for over a month, and that these same police have secretly recorded intimate conservations between the McCanns, suggesting, perhaps the presence of recording devices in their apartment, their bedroom, and possibly in their vehicle. No transcripts have yet been released, so again we know of only rumor and conjecture, and nothing concrete that says that during pillow talk, the McCanns discussed their suggested role in the disappearance and death of their daughter.

I don’t see a sniffer dog raising its right paw to testify in any type of legal proceeding against the McCanns (although the dog handler could interpret the dog’s reaction to various stimulants).

As they have now been officially named as the only two current suspects in this case, certain legal rights, including the right to review the evidence against them, should be afforded the McCanns. Gerry, Kate and their two children are now back in the U.K. and away from the questions of Portuguese police and the ever present media and the mocking local public. We know that Portuguese tourism and the credibility of both the Portuguese police and of the country itself were under daily scrutiny. Most locals want this case and the parents of the missing child, like in the case of missing Natalee Holloway from Aruba some two years ago, to just go away. Could the Portuguese, in their frustration to solve this case and their desire to otherwise make it “go away” have zeroed in on Madeleine’s parents as a means of forcing them to leave Portugal and take the embarrassment of this unsolved, and perhaps botched investigation home with them so life could go on in Portugal?  If so, it appears that the Portuguese have at least succeeded in this phase of their investigation.

But what if Gerry and Kate actually had something to do with the disappearance and the suspected death of their daughter? Can the rumors about physical evidence really prove beyond a “CSI” style doubt that they, to the exclusion of some international child theft ring, or some local pedophile, were ultimately responsible for the loss of their pretty-eyed, now 4-year-old daughter? Time will tell. Eventually, fact and reality will replace the rumors, speculation and lies that abound in this tragic case.

If the McCanns had anything to do with Madeleine’s disappearance and ultimate demise, they will have dampened the human spirit and compassion of millions around the world in their attempt to spare themselves from responsibility. This is a story that may not have any kind of happy ending, short of the miraculous return of Madeleine like in the recovery of kidnapped Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart.  We hope for just such a miracle.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI Agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC Analyst. His web site provides readers with security related information.