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

Hope running dim for Maddie McCann

Van Zandt: In the case of missing Maddie McCann, both the police and the media appear to have fabricated certain aspects of this story to meet their own needs, with the police wanting the McCann’s to leave Portugal and take the story with them, while the local media continues to feed off the story, spinning theories that are entirely without any substance or grounding in reality. 

In the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz, Portuguese police were busy searching Our Lady of the Light Church for some trace of missing 4-year-old Madeleine McCann. Although there have been numerous alleged sightings of the young British girl across that part of the world, none of the leads has established what happened to Madeleine the warm spring night that she disappeared. 

On the evening of May 3, Gerry and Kate McCann met seven friends for dinner while leaving their daughter Madeleine and their 2-year-old twins alone in their hotel room. The nine adults gathered at the resort’s tapas bar, something they had done for six nights in a row; it was something that could have established a pattern that rendered the McCann children very vulnerable to a potential child abductor.

Sometime after 8 p.m., the McCanns went to dinner. The couple, or one of their dinner companions, occasionally checked on the children of the nine adults present at the meal. Kate McCann said that she checked on her three children at about 10 p.m., at which time she found Madeleine missing from her bed.

We are now 200 days past Madeleine’s disappearance and although police have conducted many interviews and spend thousands of investigative hours on the largest missing person investigation ever conducted in Portugal, they do not seem to be any closer to determining what happened to Madeleine the night she disappeared. 

Police considered the McCanns as suspects
We know that police originally considered Briton Robert Murat as a suspect, noting that he lived next door to the resort from which Madeleine disappeared. Next, police considered the McCanns as suspects, going so far as to offer the theory that Dr. Kate McCann had given a sedative to Madeline to keep her quiet so the parents could go to dinner without being disturbed. 

This theory contains many variations, including the idea that Madeleine was killed by an overdose of sedative and the parents hid her body, casually went to dinner, and then falsely reported the young girl’s disappearance. Another theory has Madeleine awake while alone, then falling down a flight of stairs in a vain search for her missing parents, dying from her fall and then her body being concealed by her parents as they attempted to cover up their supposed parental irresponsibility that night.

The problem with these and other theories that suggest the McCanns are directly responsible for their daughter’s death is that they do not seem to fit the time line needed to carry them out. Had Madeleine unintentionally been overdosed with a sedative or suffered some other accidental death, we would expect that her parents, both doctors, would have first exerted superhuman efforts to save their child.

Then they would have needed to agree on a cover-up, hid their daughter’s body so well that police and searchers couldn’t find it, casually went to dinner while their daughter’s body grew cold and their two other children slept alone, waited two or more agonizing hours to eventually report Madeleine missing, and later moved her body to a final resting place. All this supposedly happened while the eyes of the world were on them, while they continued their charade for all 200 days since reporting her missing. Could they have really carried this out to such a degree of perfection?

Unfortunately, we also know that the Portuguese police did not seem up to this investigation.  For example, the police unbelievably failed to seize Madeleine’s sheets, pillow, blanket and mattress for forensic examination. Investigators pursued other physical evidence such as fingerprints and footprints found at the crime scene that eventually turned out to have been left by other police officers, and some forensic samples gathered from the missing child’s hotel room were found to have been contaminated by ashes falling from the cigarettes in the mouths of investigators into evidence containers.

Many tips have poured in
Much attention has been paid to an alleged sighting of a man carrying a child in pajamas near the McCann’s room at 9:15 p.m. the night Madeleine disappeared. Neither this man nor this child have been identified, but a Spanish private investigator in the employment of the McCanns now says that he is "100 percent sure that Madeleine is alive," that he knows the identify of the believed kidnapper and will soon find both the missing child and her abductor. 

The investigator has also spoken of another alleged sighting of Madeleine two days after she disappeared, when someone who looked like her was seen in a car in Portugal in the company of three unknown adults. Every parent of every missing child hopes for an outcome like that achieved in the case of missing teenager Elizabeth Smart, who was found in the company of her kidnapper almost one year from the time she was taken from her bed. Police investigators know, however, that most cases don’t end with a happy ending. Statistically, if a kidnapped child is not found within 24 hours, the chance of finding that child alive grows smaller every day. 

In the case of Madeleine McCann, both the police and the media appear to have fabricated certain aspects of this story to meet their own needs, with the police wanting the McCanns to leave Portugal and take the story with them, while the local media continues to feed off the story, spinning theories that are entirely without substance. Candles are lit at Our Lady of the Light and at churches across the world as people continue to pray for a miracle. 

Whether this latest sighting and the boasting of the Spanish private investigator will result in the rescue of Madeleine is yet to be determined, and the disappearance of hundreds of other children across the world in the last 200 days has generated little to no attention to their plight. It is, apparently, the luck of the draw, and the appearance of the victim that determines which missing person gets the media’s attention. 

Meanwhile, the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, like Natalee Holloway before her, continues to be investigated without success. We hope both families finally learn what happened to their missing daughter and resolve the emotional limbo that the disappearances have plunged them into.

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.