September 24, 2007
The Madeleine McCann Mystery
By Bill Hewitt
Could Kate and Gerry McCann Have Had a Hand in Their Own Child's Disappearance? In a Shocking Twist, the Portuguese Police Now Consider Them SuspectsFrom PEOPLE Magazine
For the past four months Gerry and Kate McCann repeatedly insisted on one thing: They would not be leaving Portugal without their daughter Madeleine, 3, who vanished on the night of May 3 from their rented holiday apartment. But by the early morning hours of Sept. 9 that brave front lay in ruins, as the McCanns, trailed by reporters, exited to England from the town Praia da Luz without their child—and suddenly and stunningly under suspicion that they might be responsible for her disappearance and death. To the couple and their many supporters around the world it was a turn of events that defied belief. "We're entirely innocent," Gerry told a British paper. "We thought we were in our worst nightmare, but now it just keeps getting worse and worse."
And far worse may be coming in the weeks and months ahead. Aside from formally naming the McCanns as suspects, Portuguese officials have declined to lay out their case. But now, according to numerous reports, they believe the McCanns may have sedated their daughter, that she died, perhaps accidentally, and that the British couple, both 39 and physicians, hid the body for weeks before disposing of it. Gerry McCann's sister Philomena told PEOPLE that in an extraordinary two days of interrogation, Portuguese investigators offered Kate a deal: Admit to killing your daughter and receive a sentence of no more than two years. Said Philomena: "They tried to get her to confess." According to police sources, the McCanns, who were free to leave the country as long as they promised to stay at their home in Rothley, England, could soon be formally charged in the death—a prospect that the couple insist is only diverting attention from the search for Madeleine. "It is ridiculous," said Kate of the cloud of suspicion. As Gerry's brother John McCann told PEOPLE, "It doesn't stack up. I'm trying to be calm but inside I'm seething."
Certainly the McCanns make an unlikely pair of suspects. Married for nine years, they met when both were working at a hospital in Glasgow. Says Philomena: "After a night out Gerry returned home and told us he had met the girl of his dreams." Gerry went on to become a respected cardiologist, and Kate, who had wanted to become a doctor since she was a teen, a general practitioner. After years of struggling to conceive they used fertility treatment to give birth to Madeleine. Just over a year later they had twins Sean and Amelie. Their home in Rothley, in Leicestershire, is comfortable but hardly extravagant. Both are fitness buffs who enjoy socializing. "They have many friends," says Kate's father, Brian Healy, "but their main thing is their family."
That family is now at the center of their anguish. From the start the case has been fraught with puzzling or contradictory scraps of evidence. Perhaps the key element appears to be the car, a Renault Scenic, that the McCanns rented 25 days after Maddy's disappearance. When Portuguese investigators initially searched the vehicle in early August, they evidently found no clues. But when British police, who have been assisting on the case, brought in sniffer dogs, they discovered DNA linked to Madeleine under the floor mat in the trunk. It is unclear what that DNA evidence is—whether blood, some other body fluids or, as a report in the Daily Mail on Sept. 12 had it, a large sample of Madeleine's hair. There have also been conflicting accounts of how closely any of the samples can be matched to Madeleine.
If the DNA is in fact blood, and it came from the missing girl, it could provide damning evidence that her body was placed there. But there are also major difficulties for prosecutors with that scenario. Experts say that generally—though not always—blood needs to be fresh in order to be transferred to another surface. But the McCanns didn't have the car until long after Madeleine disappeared. Not only that, as McCann supporters point out: How could the McCanns have managed to hide the body for nearly a month and then get rid of it—all while being under almost nonstop scrutiny from police and the press. "Even if they had the emotional capacity to do it, if you look at the time line, they could not have physically done it," says Gerry's brother John. Some prominent forensic experts in the U.S. agree. "Where in a hotel can you hide a child's body for 25 days?" says noted forensic pathologist Michael Baden. "And remember, a body, especially in a warm place like Portugal, would rapidly decompose."
Cadaver-sniffing dogs brought in by investigators, however, reportedly responded to Kate's clothing, then became agitated when they were given the scent of the McCanns' car key fob. During 16 hours of police questioning over two days, says Philomena McCann, "Kate was repeatedly shown the sniffer dog video." Kate McCann reportedly explained to police that, as a GP, she came in contact with six bodies shortly before leaving for Portugal. As a senior Scotland Yard investigator points out, cadaver dogs can't tell one corpse from another and have little value in tying a suspect to a specific body. "Dogs can sniff out death," he says. "However, you can't ask a dog to stand up in court and give evidence."
On the night in question, the sixth of their weeklong holiday, the McCanns say that they and three other couples and another woman went out for dinner around 8:30 p.m. at a restaurant approximately 100 yards—across a pool area—from the apartment they had rented for about $4,600 including transportation. Their rooms at the family-friendly resort, which resembles a development of beachside townhouses, were on the ground floor. There they had left their three children, Madeleine, whose birthday was nine days after her disappearance, and the twins. Despite the fact that the resort offered babysitting in a child-care center or in-room sitting for a fee for guests dining at the restaurant, the McCanns elected to leave the children asleep, but unattended, and check on them every half hour or so, evidently because Kate preferred not to leave them with strangers. But according to Portuguese news reports, an upstairs neighbor, Pamela Fenn, told police that the McCanns had not looked in that frequently. Fenn also told investigators that when the McCanns had discovered Madeleine missing about 10:15 p.m. she had offered to call police. She contends Kate told her the call had already been made, when it appears that police were summoned 40 minutes after that conversation took place. What's more, witnesses said that Kate's initial cry was "They've taken her!"—which some commentators have suggested represents a bizarrely hasty conclusion.
While parsing the words of a mother whose child has gone missing may be unfair, there were other wrinkles as well. The McCanns and their seven friends said they consumed four bottles of wine, leaving two others virtually untouched. But police reportedly have receipts showing that the group actually paid for 14 bottles of wine over the course of the afternoon and evening. In any event, the McCanns' friends have said that neither Kate nor Gerry seemed the least bit agitated during the dinner.
Questions of credibility abound on all sides. One Portuguese newspaper reported that police insist that Gerry acknowledged during his interrogation that he sedated his children on the night in question, for reasons that were not made clear. Kate was also questioned about administering a sedative. Friends told PEOPLE that if they ever did administer a sedative, it would be something mild like Calpol, a syrupy equivalent to children's Tylenol given to kids for colds and minor fevers. According to some press accounts, Kate declined to answer a substantial number of questions during her interrogation session, but a source close to the family dismissed the notion she was trying to hide anything. "Their Portuguese lawyer was saying there were certain questions they shouldn't answer," says the source, "either because they were not in a position to, or because it was the same question being asked in different ways." According to the source, the investigators simply appeared to be trying to rattle the couple in hopes of shaking loose a confession. "There were some things they said—'We have evidence of this or that'—which they didn't produce," he says. "There was a strong suspicion of an element of bluff about it."
The McCann camp believes that the local authorities are railroading the couple because their investigation is stalled and they are under intense pressure to show progress in a case that has become an object of worldwide attention. But Paul Luckman, a British expatriate who has lived in Portugal for 34 years and is the publisher of Portugal News, an English-language newspaper, argues that local authorities have far more effective means for defusing the bad publicity if that were their only intent. "The best way to make this case go away quietly was to let the McCanns go and let the case quietly, gently die," he says. "Say how sorry we are and wrap it up."
Still, there has been considerable criticism in the British press over the Portuguese handling of the case, with some newspapers slamming the police for not securing the McCanns' room as a crime scene from the moment that Madeleine vanished. But even the Scotland Yard official contends that is probably too harsh. "If Madeleine had just wandered off, which is what the general feeling was at first, there would be no need to seal the scene," he says. "Most people would think it over-the-top if you locked down the resort at that point." At the same time, though, there is widespread agreement that allowing Kate to walk around with Madeleine's special stuffed animal, Cuddle Cat, for weeks after the child's disappearance, and then wash it, destroyed any possibility of recovering DNA from the toy—potential evidence that conceivably could have been important.
Another key question, especially for those who know Kate and Gerry: Are the McCanns capable of killing their daughter, and if so, why would they do it? Forensic expert Baden points out that while parents are frequently the culprits when children are murdered, the circumstances are generally quite different in those cases. "That's where parents either don't want a baby or are drug addicts or teens," he says—a sharp contrast to the McCanns, who went through fertility treatments to conceive Madeleine as well as the twins. "It took them a long time to make their family," says friend Jon Corner, who is Amelie's godfather. "They were desperate to be parents, and when Madeleine came along, they were walking on air." Kate herself told one paper, "There she was, perfect. She was lovely, she had the most beautiful face. It made it even more special that she was a girl."
Susan Hubbard, the wife of the Anglican vicar in Praia da Luz, who got to know the McCanns as the tragedy unfolded, finds the notion that they could ever harm their children absurd. "They are the most unbelievably attentive parents," says Hubbard. "They slather up their kids with sunscreen—they practically have a sunscreen suit. They say, 'No, you can't have that, eat the fruit.' There's no doubt in my mind that they had nothing to do with this."
She adds that as their ordeal unfolded in Portugal, the McCanns tried to keep things as normal as possible for the twins, taking them swimming or to the zoo whenever they could. According to Philomena McCann, the couple had become concerned that their legal plight might prompt Portuguese officials to remove the twins from their care if they stayed in the country. "One of the main reasons for leaving Portugal was to protect Sean and Amelie from their social services," she says.
Where the legal case goes from here is unclear. They have publicly lamented that they have not been able to use any of the $2 million from Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned to pay their mounting legal expenses, though they have used it to pay some of their travel expenses in Europe. The McCanns have said that if charged they will return to Portugal. But their supporters are convinced that will only torment an already anguished family—and, more to the point, do nothing to solve the mystery of Madeleine. "It is so patently wrong," says Jon Corner. "It's heading down the cul-de-sac of nonsense and tragedy." Nearly everyone would agree he's at least half right.
Courtney Rubin/Praia da Luz,
Ellen Tumposky/Praia da Luz,
Nicole Weisensee Egan/Philadelphia.
More From This ArticleThe Crucial Four Hours
INVESTIGATORS BELIEVE THEY KNOW WHAT HAPPENED ON May 3—BUT WHICH THEORY DOES THE TIME LINE SUPPORT?
MAY 3, 2007
6PM Staff report seeing Madeleine playing in the Ocean Club's child-care center—the last time anyone other than the McCanns are known to have seen her
8:30PM Gerry and Kate McCann say they left Madeleine and their twins alone in a bedroom of their apartment and joined seven friends at the resort's tapas restaurant 100 yards away. The restaurant is a brisk two-minute walk from the apartment, separated from it by a large pool. The window Madeleine's parents say she disappeared from is not visible, nor can one hear above the noise of traffic. A police report said the eight friends drank 14 bottles of wine between them, but the McCanns have denied this
9PM Some of the friends reportedly tell police the McCanns didn't actually arrive until a half hour later
9:05PM Gerry McCann says he checked on Madeleine and found her in bed
9:15PM One of the McCanns' friends, Jane Tanner, told police she went to check on her own children and saw a man carrying a bundled child near the McCanns' apartment
9:30PM Another friend, Matthew Oldfield, says he checked the McCanns' apartment but not the bedroom
10PM Kate McCann says she checked the apartment and found a shutter ajar and the bedroom window open—but no Madeleine. According to witnesses, she screamed, "They've taken her"
10:15PM Kate McCann says that after a quick search she alerted police. According to other reports, though, McCann called police later than 10:15—and after telling a neighbor that she had already called them
11:10PM Portuguese police arrive at the scene
Theories of the Case
ABDUCTION Kate McCann tells police she found Madeleine's Cuddle Cat toy on a high shelf only an adult could reach, suggesting an intruder kidnapped her. But police find no signs of forced entry and no evidence Madeleine was abducted.
ACCIDENTAL DEATH According to McCann family sources, police suggest Madeleine died accidentally after the McCanns sedated her so they could go to dinner; they also believe the panicked McCanns then covered up the death. One Portuguese paper reported Gerry McCann admitted to giving his kids sedatives on May 3; in other reports the McCanns denied ever giving their children anything stronger than Calpol, a common British painkiller. Another source close to the McCanns insisted, "They did not give the children sedatives that night.''
"HYSTERICAL" MOTHER Portuguese newspapers, quoting police sources, portray Kate McCann as mentally unbalanced, saying she is prone to "hysterical reactions" and "moments of aggressiveness towards her children"—and suggesting she may have killed Madeleine. One neighbor at the resort tells police she heard Madeleine's "screams calling for her daddy" in the days before Maddy vanished.
The Case So Far
THE CUDDLE CAT Is Madeleine's favorite toy, which Kate McCann keeps with her, the source of the DNA found in the McCanns' rental car? And why did Kate wash it four days after cops searched the car? (She said it was dirty.)
THE CRIME SCENE Portuguese forensic teams (above) originally found no blood in the McCanns' apartment, but British searchers later discovered blood traces that may have come from Madeleine. Forensic experts have cast doubt on the reliability of those samples.
THE RENTAL CAR Press reports say Portuguese police found significant samples of Madeleine's hair, and DNA that matched hers, in the Renault Scenic rented by the McCanns 25 days after Madeleine disappeared. They drove that car till the day they left Praia da Luz.
THE FIRST SUSPECT Witnesses tell police that Robert Murat, 33, a British property consultant who lives near the Ocean Club, seemed too eager to help in the investigation. Others reported seeing him near the McCanns' apartment May 3. Murat insists he is innocent.
The Law in Portugal: How It Works
What is an arguido? An arguido (formal suspect) in Portugal means a person is under suspicion but has yet to be charged with any crime. Police can question the arguido more pointedly than a witness, but he or she has the right to refuse to answer or have an attorney present.
Will the McCanns be charged? Apparently Portuguese authorities believe they have evidence that links the McCanns to their daughter's disappearance. Ultimately prosecutors decide whether to bring charges. Possibilities include charging one or both of the couple with intentional or nonintentional homicide, essentially the difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter.
Will the McCanns be allowed to stay in Britain? If the McCanns are charged with intentional homicide, the prosecution could ask them to return immediately to Portugal. Otherwise the couple may remain in Britain until their trial, which would most likely be heard by a judge or a panel of judges. No matter what, like all other criminal defendants in Portugal, they will be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Their Friends That Fateful Night
The night Madeleine disappeared, the McCanns met seven friends for dinner: Dr. Russell O'Brien (pictured below), 36, and his partner Jane Tanner, 36, who live in Exeter; Dr. Matthew Oldfield, 37, who worked with Gerry McCann in a Leicester hospital, and his wife, Rachael, 36, a recruitment consultant (far left); Dr. Fiona Payne (center), 34, her mother, Dianne Webster and Dr. Payne's husband, David, 41, a senior research fellow in cardiovascular sciences at University of Leicester. "We are really disappointed by these accusations," David Payne told PEOPLE. "Madeleine is still out there, and she needs to be found."
Madeleine's $2.1 Million
Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned, established by her parents, has collected some $2.1 million in private donations. So far, the McCanns have used only about $132,000 for posters, T-shirts and travel expenses, but now the fund's board of directors—one of whom is Gerry McCann's brother—will have to approve their request to use the money to aid their defense.
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