One of the most famous cases of child abduction began with a not-so promising computer sketch of the possible kidnapper.
In the new docu-series streaming on Netflix, "The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann," archival news footage shows a shop owner describing the suspect sketch. The sketch had no definable features that could point residents to any specific human being. The head was ovular, and hair had also been drawn at the top, indicating the culprit may have had their hair combed into a side part. However, all facial features were missing - the sketch did not include anything: not a nose, not a mouth, not even eyes.
Many people, including major newspapers and an important case figure, questioned the use of such a generic sketch. All it really reflected was the struggle for the police to narrow down a suspect. Surveillance footage was not a reliable source because surveillance cameras, unless installed at a gas station, were not common in Portugal at this time.
“It’s particularly difficult for small police departments that haven’t worked these kinds of cases before,” said Ernie Allen, the former president and CEO of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. “The Portuguese Judicial Police were slow to implement things like checks on highways, roadblocks, looking for the possibility of a fleeing abductor.”
The police based their early drawing off of a description given by Jane Tanner, one of the people who was dining near the McCann apartment on May 3, the evening of McCann’s disappearance, according to the docu-series.
Watch Out Of Sight: The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann Friday, March 29 at 9/8c, only on Oxygen
“She describes the hair and the drawing ends up looking like an egg and it was even published, which was ridiculous,” said Gonçalo Amaral, the former chief investigating coordinator of the Polícia Judiciária in Portimão.“Why would you publish something like that?”
Twenty-two days after McCann’s abduction, police released a more detailed description of the suspect. In the documentary, Chief Inspector Olegário De Sousa made the description public, depicting the kidnapper to be a 5-foot-10-inch Caucasian with a medium build, projected to be around 35 to 40 years old.
A year after their daughter went missing and McCann’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, released two new artist impressions depicting a man who they believe was involved in their child’s abduction.
The police investigation is still ongoing, and while it has been over a decade since Madeleine McCann went missing, former head of Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre Jim Gamble said in the docu-series that he has hope the child is alive and can be found with today’s advances in technology.
“As we use that technology to revisit and review that which we captured in the past, there’s every likelihood that something we already know will slip into position,” Gamble said.
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