Everything That Happened The Night Madeleine McCann Went Missing

Madeleine McCann, a toddler with a distinctive marking on one of her eyes, vanished from a resort town in Portugal. She has never been found.

By Gina Tron
Kate and Gerry McCann

Netflix is dropping its newest docu-series this weekend on one of the most publicized and controversial missing persons case in the world: Madeleine McCann.

“The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann,” an eight-part series that delves into the mysterious case of the missing British toddler who vanished from a Portuguese resort town while on vacation with her parents, began streaming Friday.

Madeleine McCann, a toddler with a distinctive dark strip on the iris of her right, blue-green eye, went missing while on vacation with her family in Portugal’s Praia da Luz, only a few days before her 4th birthday. Called "the most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history” by The Telegraph in 2008, Madeleine still hasn't been found.

Her parents Kate and Gerry McCann believe she was abducted from her bed while they had dinner with friends nearby at a tapas restaurant with a group of friends on May 3, 2007. Kate and Gerry put their children to bed, leaving Madeleine with 2-year-old twin siblings as they ate just 75 yards away in the tapas restaurant. They reportedly checked on the children about every thirty minutes. They checked on them once around 9 p.m. and everything seemed fine, the parents recalled.

When they arrived home that evening about an hour later, Kate said she at first didn't realize that her daughter had vanished. 

During an interview for the 2017 BBC’s documentary “Madeleine McCann: 10 Years On,” the McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell explained, “[I]n the darkness, [she] didn’t immediately realize Madeleine wasn’t there. She realized the curtains were flapping in the window to the street, and it was open, which was not how they left it. They left the shutters down and the window closed.”

Kate reportedly panicked, searched the apartment for Madeleine and then ran out of the apartment and shouted that somebody had taken her daughter. The McCanns and their friends quickly searched the resort looking for her, and when they couldn’t find her Kate called the police.

Over the years, countless theories have been explored about what happened to Madeleine. In 2017, The Telegraph has summarized some of those theories: “[T]hat Madeleine was abducted by a pedophile; that she was killed during a bungled burglary and her body dumped; that she was abducted by traffickers and sold to a childless couple; that she wandered out of the apartment and died in a tragic accident.”

The Portuguese police, referred to as Polícia Judiciária (or simply PJ), were the first to investigate, and they initially had a different idea about what happened than later UK investigations. The PJ didn’t believe Madeleine could have been abducted through the apartment’s bedroom window as Kate had claimed. They said the window shutters could only be opened from the inside. There was also no forensic evidence of anyone climbing through the window.

However, a witness named Martin Smith claimed he saw a man carrying a child on his shoulder near Kate and Gerry McCann’s apartment the night Madeleine went missing. “Mary and Martin Smith, from Ireland, told police they saw a man carrying a child matching Madeleine's description at around 10 pm on Rua da Escola Primaria, 500 yards from the McCanns' apartment. He was heading towards the beach, did not look like a tourist and did not seem comfortable carrying the child, they said," according to The Telegraph.

Three months after Madeleine was reported missing, two cadaver dogs were also brought in to search the McCanns’ apartment and rental car, which they had rented 25 days after Madeleine’s disappearance. The dogs reacted in both locations, according to the BBC documentary.

As that film explained, based on the reactions of the dogs, the official PJ report concluded, “Kate and Gerry McCann are involved in the concealment of the body of their daughter Madeleine McCann.”

The Portuguese police came up with the theory that “Madeleine had been killed by her parents by accident, possibly by being given an overdose of a sedative to make her sleep, that they had hidden the body, faked her abduction and then used the hire car weeks later to move her body to a burial location," according to a 2007 Telegraph report. DNA tests on samples taken from the car proved inconclusive, but, according to The Telegraph, the Portuguese police wrongly told journalists they were a "100 percent match" for Madeleine. The parents then became fodder by British tabloids who accused them of having something to do with their daughter's disappearance. 

The McCanns were steadfast in maintaining their innocence.

The PJ shelved the investigation in 2008 and told the McCanns they were no longer suspects. The parents were rewarded £550,000 in libel damages after two British papers claimed they had something to do with their daughter's disappearance, CNN reported in 2008.

After setting up the Find Madeleine Fund to employ private detectives, the McCanns wrote an appeal that appeared on the front page of The Sun, which asked then-Prime Minister David Cameron to have Scotland Yard (the British police) review all Portuguese material from Madeleine's case. Shortly after, Scotland Yard launched Operation Grange to investigate the case.

According to the BBC documentary, Scotland Yard believed Madeleine McCann disappeared as part of a burglary went wrong. It was discovered that in the weeks leading up to the McCanns' arrival in Praia da Luz, three burglaries with the same modus operandi (the opening of a side window) occurred on the block of the McCanns’ apartment.


 Watch  Out Of Sight: The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann   Friday, March 29 at 9/8c, only on Oxygen


Though Scotland Yard questioned multiple local men who were regarded as burglary suspects, none of them were ever charged with Madeleine’s disappearance, according to the BBC documentary.

The U.K. Metropolitan Police's "Operation Grange" has spent more than $15 million on efforts to find her, according to the British news organization ITV.

The new series mashes together dozens of contributors and hours and hours of interviews, news footage and reenactments and promises new revelations in the case, according to Refinery29. Its release comes without the approval of the girl’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann, who put out a statement on their website stating that the production company asked them to participate.

“We did not see and still do not see how this programme will help the search for Madeleine and, particularly given there is an active police investigation, could potentially hinder it, “ they wrote. “Consequently, our views and preferences are not reflected in the programme.”

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