It has been 14 long months for the parents, brother and sister of missing 4-year-old Madeleine McCann. During a family vacation at a resort on the Portuguese sea coast town of Praia Da Luz, the pretty young girl disappeared from a bedroom shared with her siblings, and she has not been heard from since. In an investigation that generated more attention than the March 1932 kidnapping of the infant son of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh and the May 2005 disappearance of teenager Natalee Holloway, the face of Maddie McCann has been seen by millions of people across the world and millions have donated to help find her. The case and the trail have both gone ice cold and the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria, the lead agency in this investigation, has written their final report. Apparently, like in the case of missing Natalee Holloway, the Portuguese police came to the determination that without a body, they have no case.
This investigation has seen many suspects come and go under the scrutiny of local investigators, to include a British ex-pat who lived next door to the resort that Maddie disappeared from who came to the media’s attention when he appeared to insert himself into the investigation; strangers who were knocking on the doors of rooms at the resort prior to her disappearance; and Drs. Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of the victim who were tireless in their efforts to bring their daughter’s disappearance to the attention of the world. Most know that the McCanns put their three children to bed the night of May 3, 2007, and, as they had done for six nights before, joined seven other friends for drinks and dinner at a small restaurant at the resort some 100 yards from the bedroom where the McCann children slept. According to the story told by the McCanns and their seven friends, either one of the McCanns or another member of their dinner party would leave every 15-30 minutes and check on the sleeping children of the group, to include Maddie and her twin brother and sister, usually by simply listening outside of the hotel bedroom door of the children. No noise evidently was interpreted as meaning no problem.
Police have considered various scenarios to explain the young girl’s disappearance: Maybe she woke up and wandered off, perhaps she was the victim of an accident, or maybe one or more pedophiles had, in a way just like the McCanns, identified this particular resort as one specializing in childcare, code for pedophiles for a “target-rich environment,” and then targeted and carried away the child for their own terrible purposes, or perhaps she had been kidnapped and sold to someone who wanted a pretty child to raise as their own (perhaps the McCanns best hope at this time), or that Maddie’s parents “did it.” “It,” in this case, was the police suggesting that Maddie, a child who Kate McCann admitted was rambunctious and challenging at times, was given a sedative by her mother, who is a doctor, to ensure that she slept while her parents dined that evening.
Parents in the spotlight
This theory continued that Maddie was accidentally overdosed on the sedative and her parents somehow hid her body, put their other two children to bed, went to dinner and engaged in small talk for almost two hours, and then pretended to find the little girl missing and sounded the alarm that their child had been kidnapped. This last theory, one that police seemed to like best at times, would, of course, suggest that the McCanns, as doctors, would not make every effort to revive their daughter on site and at a hospital, then had the emotional and psychological wherewithal to hide Maddie’s body, stage the crime scene, and later dispose of her body while hundreds of reporters and police watched their every move.
Many believe the investigation, like that for murdered JonBenet Ramsey, was doomed from the start. The police apparently were slow to start their investigation and missed so many crucial steps in a missing person case that it was easy for her abductor to take her out of that country without detection. The national border was not sealed off; ships, boats, planes, buses and cars weren't stopped and searched; and the crime scene was so badly botched that any “CSI” follower could point out the holes in the investigation. Holes, for example, like when evidence collected from Maddie’s hotel room was found to have cigarette ashes included in the evidence bag, “evidence” that the detective collecting the bits of this and that from the bedroom had continued to smoke at the scene with his ashes carelessly falling into the evidence bag.
In their attempt to solve this case and apparently support their theory that the McCanns were responsible for their daughter’s disappearance, the Portuguese police practiced their own form of “bad cop/bad cop” on Kate McCann. Police allegedly told Kate they believed she was responsible for the death of her daughter, somehow later moving the body in a rental car to its final resting place, and if Kate did not confess the police would send her to jail and take her remaining two children away and place them in foster care in Portugal. This was probably the way police thought they’d scare the McCanns into returning to England, which they did, thereby removing the media microscope that the police were under.
Police claimed they had found physical evidence, probably hair and DNA from Maddie, in the rear section of the car rented by the McCanns, a car they rented weeks after Maddie’s disappearance. Then there were the dozens, maybe hundreds of sightings of pretty European girls of Maddie’s age that were seen across that part of the world, coupled with outrageous claims by private investigators hired by the McCanns that these investigators were somehow about to break the case and had even identified the kidnapper(s) of young Maddie. Then there is the story about local reporters sitting in restaurants around Praia Da Luz swapping and literally making up salacious stories that had nothing to do with reality.
As time went on, police began to look at a composite drawing of a suspicious man seen at the hotel around the time of Madeleine’s disappearance. By one witness account, he was collecting money for what was later proven to be a nonexistent charity, this while “peering” into the various rooms whose door had been opened to him. Perhaps he was looking for the right child to kidnap.
The police say they have written their final report on Maddie's fate; case closed. After thousands of leads, millions of hits on her Web site and the blessing of Pope Benedict XVI, the golden-haired little girl with the infectious smile is nowhere to be found. Do the McCann’ share some level of responsibility in her disappearance?
They must spend the rest of their lives wondering why they didn’t get a baby sitter to sit outside their hotel door when they went to dinner six nights in a row, establishing a pattern of leaving their three children unprotected for periods of time each night that any potential predator could figure out. But the final responsibility belongs, of course, to whoever carried Maddie out of the bedroom, away from her family, and into the hearts of the world. We will all keep our “emotional porch light” turned on in the hopes of Maddie’s return, but officially, the police have given up the search. Maddie is gone and that’s about the only fact we know for sure, little comfort to a brother and sister that go to sleep every night dreaming of their sister.
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.