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It was an abduction that captivated the world: On May 3, 2007, a 3-year-old British girl seemingly vanished from the Praia da Luz, Portugal apartment she and her family were vacationing at. Madeleine McCann's face was plastered everywhere, but to this day she has yet to be found. Now, “The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann," an eight-part Netflix docu-series, delves even deeper into what exactly happened to McCann.
Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, had put their three kids to bed that night and gone out for a bite near where they were staying; they met up with seven friends and took shifts checking on their kids who were sleeping at their rental units. However, when Kate checked in at around 10 p.m., she found that her daughter Madeleine was nowhere to be found.
The Netflix docu-series explores “the most high-profile missing child case in British history” by compiling 120 hours of interviews with 40 contributors, as well as archival news footage and reenactments of the incident.
Among those contributors are some key individuals in the case, including members of the McCann family, Portuguese and Scotland Yard police officers, forensic researchers, potential suspects, and more. All of them play a role in the tangled web of leads, information, and misinformation that has kept Madeleine’s disappearance a mystery for all of these years.
Here’s a look at some of the main players in the Madeleine McCann case.
Madeleine’s mother was the first person to discover that her daughter was missing from their apartment on the night of May 3, 2007. She reportedly first became concerned when she noticed the open bedroom window and shutters when she entered; she then allegedly panicked and ran out of the unit yelling that somebody had kidnapped her daughter.
In September 2007, several months into the case’s investigation, Kate was named as a formal suspect in her daughter’s disappearance. She was allegedly offered a plea deal if she admitted to accidentally killing her daughter, according to reports.
When the case was archived by Portuguese authorities in 2008, Kate's suspect status was lifted.
In 2011, Kate wrote a book about her daughter’s case called “Madeleine: Our Daughter’s Disappearance and the Continuing Search for Her.” Kate wrote in the book’s foreword that she decided to publish the book “to set down a complete record of what happened to our family…it ultimately boils down to whether what we are doing could help us to find Madeleine.”
Along with his wife, Kate, Gerry McCann led a publicity tour across multiple cities in support of finding his missing daughter after she disappeared.
“Please, if you have Madeleine, let her come back to mummy, daddy and her brother and sister,” Gerry said in his first public appeal, according to Reuters.
But, as noted by Portuguese investigative journalists in the docu-series, Gerry’s inconsistent statements about the night of May 3 — which door he entered the apartment through, and whether or not they were locked — as well as the fact that the restaurant his group ate at the night Madeleine vanished did not have a direct line of sight to the apartment like he said it did, raised doubts about his and his wife’s accounts.
Gerry was eventually named a suspect in Madeleine’s case soon after his wife was, according to the BBC; in fact, Jim Gamble, a police officer interviewed in the Netflix docu-series, even says that he believes Gerry was initially involved in his daughter’s disappearance. However, both Gerry and Kate McCann were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.
Gonçalo Amaral is a former Portuguese detective and chief of police in the town of Portimão. He initially led the investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, but was removed from the case and demoted in October 2007 after criticizing British police’s handling of the case.
"[The British police] have only investigated tips and information developed and worked on for the McCanns [Gerry and Kate], forgetting that the couple are suspects in the death of their daughter Madeleine," Amaral said, according to a report by the Guardian newspaper at the time.
In 2008, Amaral wrote "A Verdade da Mentira" ("The Truth of the Lie"), a book that was subsequently adapted into a TV documentary that alleges the McCanns were involved in their daughter’s disappearance. The book was published after the McCanns were no longer suspects and the case was shut in 2008, according to British tabloid Daily Express.
The book’s publication led to a legal dispute with the McCanns; in 2017, Portugal’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling that Amaral’s book exercised his right to freedom of expression, according to Australian news site 9News.
Jane Tanner is one of the McCanns' friends who was at the restaurant with them the night Madeleine disappeared. She would eventually tell authorities that she witnessed a man walking near the McCanns’ apartment carrying what she believed to be a small, sleeping child who was dressed in pajamas. However, she didn’t get a close look at the child or the man’s face.
Robert Murat is a British-Portuguese real estate consultant who lived in Praia da Luz.
He volunteered as an interpreter translating witness statements for authorities since he spoke both English and Portuguese fluently. He also expressed sympathy for the McCann clan since he said he had a young daughter roughly the same age as Madeleine.
Watch Out Of Sight: The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann Friday, March 29 at 9/8c, only on Oxygen
However, as episode two of the docu-series notes, Murat was thought of as strange by those who interacted with him, and it was only a matter of time before people suspected him of involvement in the case. 12 days following Madeleine’s disappearance, Murat was named a suspect after a local reporter told police that Murat had been very curious about the case, according to the Guardian.
Additionally, the person Jane Tanner claimed to have seen carrying the pajama-clad girl the same night was reportedly walking in the same direction as the house Murat and his mother shared, which was only a short distance from the McCanns’ apartment. Murat, however, said he was at home with his mother when the McCanns found their daughter missing.
Murat’s suspect status would be lifted in July 2008, and he’d proceed to sue a slew of newspapers for implying that he was involved with the crime despite a complete lack of evidence.
Brian and Patrick Kennedy
Brian Kennedy is a Scottish businessman who offered to provide the McCanns with monetary support in order to kickstart a sluggish investigation that had narrowed its focus to the couple, while also providing legal protections.
"I was following the story like everyone else. I saw that the media and the world had turned against these people. I was thinking, 'No way. I will absolutely lose all faith in human nature if these parents are involved,'" he says in "The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann." "We were in the fortunate position in which we had the resources to be able to reach out and help them."
He helped finance PR management for the McCanns, met with their lawyer to map out what the best legal approach for the family was, and also funded costly private investigations into the case. He and his son, Patrick Kennedy, also traveled to Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in pursuit of a girl who looked like Madeleine who was photographed with a local family there (it turned it wasn’t her).
"If you can do something to help, you bloody better try and help,” Patrick says in the docu-series. “That's something that my dad is all about."
Sergey Malinka was linked to the Madeleine McCann case after his business associate Murat was named a suspect in the case. Malinka was a computer programmer who was making a property site for Murat at the time.
"I remember when I found out that Robert had been interviewed by police, I was like, 'Wow, this is the guy I'm doing a website for...' To me he was just a normal guy who lives with his mom," Malinka says in the docu-series.
Although police couldn’t connect Malinka to the case and he was never named a suspect, pornography found on seized hard drives led tabloids to make baseless accusations about him being a child molester or Russian mob affiliate. He says in the docu-series that he couldn’t live a normal life afterward because of all the hurtful rumors that had swirled around him.
Julian Peribañez was a private investigator hired by Brian Kennedy to go over the first steps of the investigation and look into initial suspects Murat and Malinka. A member of the Council of International Investigators, according to the organization’s webpage, Peribañez and Brian’s son, Patrick, used heavy-handed tactics such as bugging both Murat and Malinka’s vehicles, as well as following them for several days at a time.
In the docu-series, Peribañez speculates about whether Madeleine was a victim of sex trafficking, saying that she would probably be alive still if that was the case. “The value that Madeleine had was really high [as a white British girl],” he says. “If they took her it’s because they were going to get a lot of money.”
The Netflix docu-series also features the case of Joana Cipriano, an 8-year-old girl who left her home in a small Portuguese village one summer afternoon in 2004 to go to the store and was never seen again.
Authorities would go on to claim that Joana accidentally saw her uncle and mother having sex, who then dismembered her and fed her to pigs. The mother, Leonor Cipriano, was sentenced to 16 years, and her brother, João Cipriano, was also sentenced to prison for the crime, according to ABC News.
The McCann and Cipriano cases occurred in close proximity to one another in Portugal, while Amaral, the former lead detective on the McCann case, also oversaw the Cipriano case.
Melissa Little was the police forensic artist who drew the suspicious men witnesses said they saw near the resort the McCanns were staying at.
Kevin Halligen was part of Oakley International, a US-based team of private investigators that the McCanns hired after their first team came up short on results.
“Kevin had access to a dream team that would impress the daylights out of you, top in their field,” Richard Parton, a freelance voice analyst hired by Oakley International to help in the search effort, says in the docu-series. “They had skills.”
It turned out, however, that Halligen greatly exaggerated the sort of access he had: For instance, he claimed to have satellite photos of Portugal from the night Madeleine vanished, but really he only had printouts of Google Earth images.
Halligen eventually fled to Rome when it was discovered he was a fraud, and he died in 2018 of a brain hemorrhage. He reportedly denied that he had used any funds improperly before his death
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