She's the missing 3-year-old who's been called "the most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history" by The Telegraph. The image of the little blonde girl with a distinctive dark stripe on her right eye has been burned into the psyche of people across the UK and beyond.
Madeleine McCann went missing more than a decade ago on May 3, 2007 while her family, along with family friends and their children, were vacationing in a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal.
According to BBC, Madeleine and her 2-year-old twin siblings, Sean and Amelie, were put to bed by their parents in their ground-floor bedroom that night at around 8:30 PM. With the shutters and window to the room closed, the McCanns and friends ate at a tapas restaurant just 70 meters away. The parents checked on their children periodically all evening.
Kate McCann says she discovered her daughter was missing at about 10 PM. She was reportedly first alarmed when she noticed that the window and its shutters were open. Kate then reportedly panicked, searched the apartment for Madeleine and ran out the apartment shouting that somebody had taken her daughter.
On May 14, 2007, 10 days after Madeleine was reported missing, police brought in British expat Robert Murat for questioning. His home, which was located just 100 yards from where Madeleine vanished, was searched. He was the first to be named an official suspect. He was later ruled out, but he said the allegations ruined his life.
“It didn't only lead to me being destroyed, it led to my whole family being destroyed, affected by those allegations. It was completely untrue,” he told BBC News.
In August 2007, Portuguese tabloid Tal & Qual published two articles saying "'police believe' Kate and Gerry McCann were responsible for the death of the 4-year-old, and put forward the theories that she was killed either in an accident or with a fatal dose of a drug," according to CNN.
That same month, cadaver dogs were brought in to search the McCanns' apartment. Both of the dogs reacted, and one reportedly grabbed Madeliene's favorite stuffed animal, "Cuddle Cat." The dogs were also taken to sniff a group of vehicles, and they allegedly only barked once they came to the McCanns' car, which they rented 25 days after their daughter went missing.
“There’s absolutely no way Kate and I are involved in this abduction,” Gerry said about their alleged role, as reported by Reuters.
Though the sniffer dog footage appeared to some to be damning, the validity of cadaver dogs has been long disputed. And in one interview, Kate and Gerry McCann even called cadaver dogs unreliable.
In the BBC documentary "Madeleine McCann: 10 Years On," Jim Gamble, the former head of the Child Protection Agency, explained: “Sniffer dogs are only as reliable as the evidence that’s found to corroborate their indications. So they’ll provide an indication, but a sniffer dog cannot talk. It’s not evidence; there needs to be corroboration.”
Once the Portugese police received the final forensic results from the investigation, they were “weak and incomplete." None of the DNA was a direct match to Madeleine.
The McCanns were officially ruled out as suspects.
In 2008, Portuguese detective Goncalo Amaral (who was reportedly taken off the McCann case in October 2007 for comments he made "criticizing British police for favoring Kate and Gerry McCann") wrote "A Verdade da Mentira" ("The Truth of the Lie"), a book and subsequent TV documentary that alleges Madeleine's parents were involved in her disappearance.
Kate told reporters at a 2008 press conference, “It's hard to describe how utterly despairing it was for us to be named arguidos [suspects] and to subsequently portrayed in the media as suspects in our own daughter's disappearance.”
The previous head of Portugal’s police, Alipio Ribeiro, admitted that detectives were too quick to name the parents as suspects. “There was a certain hastiness,” he said, according to Reuters.
Police in England also criticized how the police in Portugal handled the situation.
“I’ve been a detective at the most senior level for 30 years and have never seen such a witch-hunt, or one based on such flimsy evidence," said Lord Stevens, ex-London police chief, as reported by Reuters.
After being cleared as suspects, Kate and Gerry started using private detectives and opened the Find Madeleine Fund to investigate the disappearance of their daughter.
In May 2011, they also wrote an open letter to former Prime Minister David Cameron, asking him to open up a new review on the case, which was printed on the front page of British tabloid The Sun. That public pressure on the government appeared to have worked.
Shorly after publication, Scotland Yard, also known as London's Metropolitan Police, opened its own inquiry called Operation Grange. According to The Telegraph, Scotland Yard believed she may have possibly been stolen by child traffickers or during a burglary gone wrong.
According to the BBC documentary, Scotland Yard's former head of homicide Simon Foy said very early on in their investigation, “It was perfectly clear to us that the McCanns themselves had nothing at all to do with the actual disappearance. It was just obvious from everything stacked up that they were where they were when the child went missing.”
That contradicted what Portugal police originally theorized.
In 2013, Scotland Yard released Electronic Facial Identification Technique (also known as E-Fit) images of men they wanted to investigate, including a man who was possibly seen by a witness carrying a child to the beach the night Madeleine went missing.
In 2015, British police officers spent eight days searching three areas of Praia da Luz, not far from where the toddler went missing. They found nothing, according to the Independent.
The McCann family has received thousands of psychic tips over the past decade, with the most recent being from psychic Susan Kelly. Kelly claimed she saw what happened to the child in 2007 through three “visions," but she wanted the missing girl’s parents to make her offer before disclosing any of the details. She contacted Madeleine’s parents asking for a financial bid for each individual vision.
In turn, the McCanns reported Kelly to the police. Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for the McCanns, called the claim an "extortion scam" and "cruel hoax." Mitchell said that of the thousands of tips, none had any merit.
By March 2017, the inquiry into the toddler’s disappearance had cost £11.1 million (about $14.6 million), according to the Telegraph.
In April 2017, Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner told BBC, "I know we have a significant line of inquiry which is worth pursuing, and because it's worth pursuing it could provide an answer, but until we've gone through it I won't know whether we are going to get there or not."
In March 2019, police requested additional financial support to extend their investigation.
"We have received and are considering a request from the MPS to extend funding for Operation Grange until the end of March 2020," said a Home Office spokesperson, reported the UK's Metro.
According to police, there have been about 8,500 reported sightings of Madeleine McCann over the years, though none have led to Madeleine being found.
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