May 3, 2007: The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann


If you're a true crime fanatic like me, you know all about the Madeleine McCann disappearance case. On the evening of May 3, 2007, 3-year-old Madeleine McCann was abducted from her bed in an apartment her family was staying in while on vacation in Portugal. She has never been found, and the case became one of the most heavily reported disappearances in history.

The family, parents Kate and Gerry McCann, had brought Madeleine and her 2-year-old twin siblings on vacation to Portugal with a group of family friends and their children. The parents went to a restaurant a mere 160 feet away, leaving Madeleine and the twins asleep in the ground floor apartment. The parents checked on the kids throughout the evening, and found Madeleine missing at around 10:00 PM.

Originally, Portuguese police believed that an accident had happened in the apartment and her parents had covered it up. (A la Jon Benet Ramsey, no?) However, their suspect status was lifted a year later because of lack of evidence.

The senior investigator on the new Scotland Yard inquiry in 2011 believed that the disappearance was likely done by a stranger, either a pre-planned abduction or a burglary gone wrong. In 2013, images were released that showed a man carrying a young child toward the beach that night. The investigation turned up nothing, and though it was scaled back in 2015, detectives continue to investigate as inquiries come in.

The McCanns were heavily scrutinized for what the press reported as their involvement, though it was entirely baseless. They argued for tighter press regulations and eventually received damages from newspapers who reported that they were somehow to blame. The McCanns and their friends, even once cleared of suspicion, were still criticized for leaving their young children alone.


May 3, 2007 was the second to last day of vacation before the families headed home. The kids spent the morning at the resort's Kids' Club. Then, after lunch, they went to the pool. After swimming, they went back to the Kids' club, and then Kate took them to their room while Gerry went to a tennis lesson. Kate put the kids to bed at about 7:00 PM.

At about 8:30 PM, with all 3 kids asleep, the McCann's left their room to go to a tapas restaurant on the other side of the pool with their friends. Though said to be about 160 feet away from the room, that was if you could walk straight there, which you could not. Once you factored in walking down the public street, and walking through the resort to the other side of the pool, they were closer to 300 feet away. The top of the apartment was visible, but not the doors. The patio doors were left closed, but unlocked, with the curtains drawn for easy of checking up on the children.

The McCanns and their friends had requested the same table for the past 4 evenings. They told staff their children were sleeping in the apartments and wanted to be able to see them from their table. They got up every half hour to check on the kids. The McCanns believe that perhaps the abductor may have seen the note left for the staff.

The group became known as the "Tapas Seven". The group included 7 friends and 8 children, including the McCanns 3. Kate and Gerry McCann were obviously in the group, but Roman Catholic doctors. There was Fiona and David Payne, also both doctors, and their 2 children. They also brought along Fiona's mother, Dianne Webster. The two other couples that the Paynes had introduced to the McCanns, Jane Tanner, a marketing manager, and her partner, Russell O'Brien, a doctor, and their 2 children, as well as Matthew Oldfield, a doctor, his wife Rachel, a lawyer, and their daughter.

For the 9:30 check-in, Kate was going to go check on the children, but Matthew Oldfield offered to do it for her, as he was going to check on his kids and they were right next door. He saw the children's bedroom door wide open, but he left without looking all the way into the room to confirm all kids were there. (Police believed he may be involved, given his offer to check on the kids.)

Kate went on her own at 10:00 to check, and was alarmed by the kids' door being wide open. At this point, she noticed the window and shutter were open. She saw Madeleine's toy and blanket on the bed, but not her daughter. She ran back to the restaurant screaming that Madeleine was gone.

Gerry asked Matthew to ask the resort to call the police and activate missing-child protocol.

At 9:45, about 15 minutes before Kate's check in that revealed her daughter missing, Jane Tanner claimed she saw a man carrying a child. Though she claims to have seen Gerry and another man talking when she was walking to check on her child, neither man recalls seeing her. Police believed that she may have made up the sighting. (She didn't think anything of the sighting until after Madeleine was missing, which is why this part is not going in chronological order.)

Though the lead was taken seriously and drawings were done of Jane's description of the man, Scotland Yard eventually said they did not believe that he had anything to do with it. In 2013, the man was identified. He was just returning to his own apartment after getting his daughter from the Ocean Club. They became nearly certain that Jane's sighting (or "The Tanner Sighting, as it was dubbed) had nothing to do with Madeleine's abduction.


Despite thousands of tips and hundreds of potential sightings, nobody can say for sure what happened to 3-year-old Madeleine McCann. So many disappearances have a good suspect that probably had something to do with it, but it has just never been proven. But with this case, she just up and vanished. And because of that, there are so many more believable theories about where she may have gone.

One of the most prominent theories is that Maddie was abducted by a stranger for sex trafficking. It is, of course, unproven, but if there is any hope in finding her alive, this is the theory to believe in. (However, I think I would rather believe my young daughter had died long ago than believe she has been sold throughout sex trafficking rings since she was 3. I think. That's a heartbreaking and horrifying either-or.)

Other theories involve the parents. They were suspected by police from the get-go, but eventually were cleared of suspicion. But that hasn't stopped many people from believing that the seemingly doting parents were involved in the kidnap and potentially subsequent murder of their child. One of these theories is that Kate and Gerry organized the abduction and sold her to the traffickers. (Though being 2 physicians on an extravagant vacation Portugal makes it difficult for me to believe that they were strapped for cash enough that they'd sell their kid.)

Another more plausible theory for the parents involvement is an accidental death, which the parents were originally suspects for. Some believe that they had given the child Calpol to sleep and accidentally overdosed her. Then, they either disposed of her body or otherwise hid it and staged an abduction to cover up the child's accidental death.

The theory of the Portuguese predator is another popular one. Around the time of Maddie's disappearance, a man was wanted in connection to the sexual assaults of 5 young girls at Portuguese holiday resorts. 2 of the young girls were attacked in their beds in the resort the McCanns were staying at. Though he had not been killing the girls, certainly, something could have gone amiss.

There is another theory that floats about that Maddie was abducted by a childless couple, or abducted by a criminal who had been hired on behalf of a childless couple. It certainly wouldn't be the first young child abducted and raised by a new family (though, and I say this without any research, I would imagine that is more common for really young babies, because randomly having a 3-year-old may be more alarming than randomly having a newborn baby.) "Suspicious characters" were seen around the resort in the days before her disappearance, who may have been looking for the right kid to snatch. They see the parents leave the kids alone every night and decide to make their move.

Another fairly believable theory is that, unsupervised, she woke up and just wandered away on her own free will, and died in some tragic accident. They were close to the ocean: a 3-year-old who loves water may have just wandered to the beach and drowned. Though this theory also states that she may have been met with some other misadventure: getting hit by a car, etc., since her body wasn't found, the ocean makes the most sense. (Some also believe she wasn't abducted from her room, but she got up to wander around and someone took it as an opportunity to take her.)

There are a few other theories that are possible, but not probable. They fall more into the "conspiracy theory" realm than actually realistic theories about what may have happened to her. One is "The Enigma Theory" which states that Madeleine McCann never existed and her high-profile disappearance was just to raise money for the country and distract from other news stories. A fun theory to ponder, but she was 3 years old, not a newborn... There would have been 3 years before her disappearance for people to meet her and know her, and most certainly someone would have come out and said something.

Another more believable but still probably incorrect theory is that Maddie was found alive already, but because of the immense media attention of her case, everyone has chosen to uphold the lie that she is still missing so she could live a normal life. She may have been given a new identity, and because the general public still believes she is missing, she could go about her normal life without being hounded by the press.

One final theory is less of a theory as to what happened, but a theory as to why some people believe the parents were involved. It has been theorized that Portuguese police tried to pin the disappearance on the McCanns because they wanted tourists to believe that Portugal was a safe place for children, and if they could just say "oh, well the parents did it", other parents wouldn't be afraid to vacation there.

Whatever happened to the sweet 3-year-old girl on her family vacation, we may never know, but it is a case I truly hope gets solved one day. If the parents were in any way involved, I hope that comes to light. But if they were not (and honestly, they probably weren't), I hope they get closure one day. To go on vacation as a family of 5 and return as a family of 4 is a fate nobody should have to experience.




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