Netflix's new documentary series The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann explores the evidence and suspects of one of the most high-profile true crime mysteries of the 21st century - as well as the worldwide fascination with it. On the evening of May 3, 2007, British 3 year-old Madeleine McCann vanished from her family's vacation apartment at the Ocean Club resort, in the village of Praia da Luz in Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal. Despite exhaustive investigation by police forces and private firms, she has yet to be found.
The Madeleine McCann case is particularly notable because of the media frenzy that surrounded it, clouding the facts with endless speculation and nonsense rumors invented by the tabloid press. With all the wild claims and theories and controversies, it's actually quite hard to drill down into the hard facts and evidence, and The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann falls down a lot of the same rabbit holes as the original news coverage. Over the course of eight hour-long episodes, the docuseries veers off into discussions about the history of the Algarve and the holiday resort, unrelated missing children cases, and leads that ended up going nowhere.
So, for viewers who aren't interested in the tabloid drama, the in-fighting, or the wider cultural context of Madeleine McCann's disappearance, and instead just want to get down to the nitty-gritty of evidence and suspects, we've assembled the biggest leads that were found during their investigation.
- This Page: The Key Pieces of Evidence
- Page 2: The Main Suspects
The Events of May 3rd, 2007
On the evening of May 3rd, Madeleine McCann was put into bed and left in the apartment with her two younger siblings. Her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, went out to dinner at a nearby tapas restaurant with their friends at 8:30pm. The table they ate at had been block-booked four nights in a row, with a note saying that the families' children would be sleeping in their apartments while the parents dined (it was later speculated that the kidnapper may have seen this note). The McCanns and their friends had arranged to take it in turns to go and check on their children periodically throughout the night. Gerry McCann checked on the children at 9:05pm and found them sleeping, and a friend checked on the apartment at 9:30pm - though notably did not actually look into the bedroom to confirm that the children were still there.
At 10pm, Kate McCann went to the apartment to check on the children and found that Madeleine was missing. She said that the window was open and the outside shutter had been lifted all the way up. After a quick look around, Kate McCann ran back to the restaurant shouting, "Madeleine's gone! Someone's taken her!" The local police were called at 10:10pm and arrived at 11:10pm, with the Polícia Judiciária arriving at about 1am. Staff and guests spent the night searching the area around the resort for the missing child.
Gerry and Kate McCann declined to be interviewed for The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, strongly condemning the documentary. As a result, neither they nor any of their closest friends or family members appear in the series except in archive footage.
Possible Sightings of Madeleine's Abduction
Easily the most important pieces of evidence in the Madeleine McCann case are two possible sightings of her being carried away from the apartment. At 9:15pm on the night of the disappearance, Jane Tanner - a friend of the McCanns who was dining with them - went to check on her own children. On the way, she saw a man carrying what appeared to be a bundle of clothes or a small child in light-colored pyjamas, walking away from the direction of the McCanns' apartment. This sighting formed the basis of two sketches that were released to the public (above left), with the man said to be 5'7" or 5'8" with dark hair.
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Jane Tanner's description of the sighting grew less vague and more detailed over time (for example, specifying that the man was definitely carrying a child wearing Madeleine's floral pink pyjamas), leading some to believe that it was being embellished by her imagination. However, a man carrying a child was also spotted by a tourist called Martin Smith and his family, shortly before 10pm on the night of Madeleine's disappearance. Smith also described the child as wearing light-colored or pink pyjamas, and his description of the man was used to create an identikit sketch (seen above, along with the two sketches created from Tanner's description).
The Cadaver and Blood Dogs
One of the most shocking moments in The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is footage of two dogs, trained by expert dog handler Martin Grime, alerting to traces of human corpse and blood odors in the McCanns' vacation apartment. Eddie, the dog trained to sniff cadavers, was highly alert upon entering the apartment and barked in two spots: a cupboard in Gerry and Kate McCann's room, and a spot behind the couch in the living room. Keela, a dog trained to sniff human blood, was then brought into the apartment, and indicated by pointing with her nose a spot behind the couch - the same place that Eddie had alerted to.
Later, Eddie was taken into a garage with a dozen cars potentially linked to the disappearance, and alerted to human cadaver odors in the McCanns' rental car - hired 25 days after Madeleine's disappearance. He was also shown an assortment of clothing and other items belonging to the McCanns, and alerted to several items of Kate McCann's clothing. When taken to the villa where the McCanns were staying following the disappearance, Eddie began barking near a cupboard, which was opened to find Madeleine's stuffed toy, Cuddle Cat, which Kate McCann had been carrying around.
The DNA Evidence
Based on the response of the blood and cadaver dogs, forensic samples were taken from the indicated spots in the McCanns' apartment and rental car. These samples were sent to the United Kingdom for testing, and a report was then sent back to the Polícia Judiciária in Portugal. Following a crude translation of the report that stripped it of caveats and nuance, the Portuguese police allegedly leaked claims to the press that the DNA was anything from an 80% to a 100% match for Madeleine McCann. In fact, the DNA tests proved to be inconclusive. Some of the DNA taken from the rental car provided a partial match for Madeleine, but since the car was being used by her parents and siblings it could very easily have been their DNA that was detected.