German prosecutors who are investigating the 2007 disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann have announced that she is likely no longer alive.
"We are assuming that the girl is dead,” Prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters, of the Braunschweig Public Prosecutor's Office, said Thursday, the BBC reports.
The grim assumption comes shortly after officials announced that a German sex offender has been pinpointed as a suspect in McCann’s disappearance. The suspect, identified in German papers only as Christian B., is currently incarcerated.
“We are talking about a sexual predator who has already been convicted of crimes against little girls and he's already serving a long sentence,” Wolters said Thursday.
McCann vanished on May 3, 2007 while on vacation with her family in Portugal’s Praia da Luz on the Algarve coast, only a few days before her 4th birthday. Her disappearance is called "the most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history” by The Telegraph in 2008.
This week’s developments in the case seemingly signal hope to her family that they can finally find out what happened to their child.
Clarence Mitchell, who has represented McCann’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, since the toddler’s disappearance, told the BBC he couldn't "recall an instance when the police had been so specific about an individual.”
McCann’s parents were initially targeted as suspects by the Portuguese police — making both them and the case tabloid fodder — but the parents were cleared of any suspicion in 2008. They have actively been trying to find their daughter’s abductor for 13 years.
"Of all the thousands of leads and potential suspects that have been mentioned in the past, there has never been something as clear cut as that from not just one, but three police forces,” Mitchell told the BBC.
The Metropolitan Police, also known as Scotland Yard, who are working with German and Portuguese police are still classifying the case — known as Operation Grange — as a missing persons investigation, despite Wolters’ assumption that she is dead.
The suspect was reportedly living in and around the Praia da Luz resort area from 1995 to 2007. Wolters alleged that the man committed burglaries in hotels and dealt drugs. He had multiple jobs in the area including catering, but mostly lived a transient lifestyle. He reportedly drove a camper van and a Jaguar at the time. He transferred the Jaguar into someone else's name the day after McCann vanished, the BBC reported Wednesday.
Scotland Yard has asked the public for more information about both vehicles. They are also releasing the phone numbers (+351 912 730 680 and +351 916 510 683) of a person who called the McCanns’ vacation home the night the child vanished. Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who is in charge of Operation Grange, called the caller a “key witness,” the BBC reports.
Investigators were tipped off about the German suspect in 2017 after fresh information was discovered about him, despite the fact that he was one of 600 people previously looked at by detectives on the case. He’s described as white with short, blond hair and a slim build. He would have been 30 at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.
Anyone with information on the caller, the suspect, or the suspect’s vehicles is urged to call the Operation Grange incident room at 020 7321 9251. A £20,000 reward is available for anyone who provides information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for the toddler’s disappearance.
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