7 conspiracy theories on Maddie McCann
As her 15th birthday approaches, we look at the seven conspiracy theories behind Madeleine’s disappearance, but…
When Madeleine McCann vanished from her family’s Portuguese holiday apartment on 3 May 2007, she was just three years old. On 12 May this year, Maddie will turn 15 – but, despite several police investigations, costing around £12 million, and thousands of alleged sightings, no trace of her has ever been found. It’s one of the greatest mysteries of our time. But, after so many years, will we ever know the truth about the little girl’s disappearance and if she is still alive? Maddie’s parents, Kate, now 50, and Gerry, 49, insist she is, and welcomed a recent £150,000 cash injection from
the Home Office to allow Scotland Yard’s Operation Grange to pursue a vital ‘final’ line of inquiry for another six months.
But, even if Maddie was found now, it’s probable she would have grown up in another country and no longer speaks English.
Maddie’s disappearance from the apartment where she was sleeping with her younger brother and sister, twins Sean and Amelie, while Kate and Gerry ate tapas with friends 50 yards away, sparked one of the biggest missing person hunts in history. Rumours, speculation and conspiracy theories about what happened on that night are still rife.
The most sensational and outlandish theory was that was that Maddie died in the family’s apartment in Praia da Luz and her parents covered up her death and disposed of her body. This is what the first senior detective on the case, Goncalo Amaral, believed. When British sniffer dogs reacted in the McCann’s apartment and in a car hired by Gerry and Kate three weeks after Maddie disappeared, Amaral even made them official suspects, but they were ruled out when the case in Portugal was closed, unsolved, after 15 months.
The McCanns have always denied any part in their daughter’s disappearance, and two Portuguese investigations and a Scotland Yard inquiry have found no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Another theory is that Maddie was snatched after waking up and disturbing intruders. When Scotland Yard launched its review of the case in 2011, officers found that there had been a fourfold increase in the number of burglaries across the Algarve, including in Praia da Luz, in the months running up to Maddie’s disappearance.
On the night of 3 May, the McCanns’ patio doors had been left unlocked (to allow the parents easy access to check on the kids), so opportunistic thieves could have struck.
Scotland Yard questioned four local suspects whose mobile phones were used nearby at the time, but they were later ruled out.
British detectives are still pursuing this general theory. In 2013, Scotland Yard said that investigators were looking into the activities of a group of bogus charity collectors who witnesses had seen knocking on doors in Praia da Luz around the time Maddie went missing.
Pretending to collect money for orphans, they were really scoping out apartments to burgle – but, despite e-fit images of two men featuring on a BBC Crimewatch appeal, nothing ever came of the lead.
With no evidence to suggest Maddie is dead, it’s long been suggested that she may have been stolen to order by criminals acting on behalf of a wealthy childless couple. Witnesses claimed to have seen suspicious characters – including two blond men on the balcony of an apartment just two doors down from where the McCanns were staying – around the resort in the days before her disappearance, who could have been acting as spotters.
Former Scotland Yard detective Colin Sutton, who recently described finding Maddie as a ‘thankless task’, believes the ‘most likely and credible scenario’ for her disappearance is a targeted kidnap, possibly to replace some grieving parents’ own dead child. Yet, no arrests have ever been made.
Paedophile and childtrafficking gangs have also been mooted as a possible explanation for Maddie’s disappearance. In the three years before she went missing, police identified nine sexual assaults and three ‘near misses’ on British girls aged between six and 12 along the Algarve coast.
In one 2005 case, a 10-year-old girl was assaulted in an apartment in Praia da Luz. The prime suspect police had for these crimes, Euclides Monteiro, was later cleared by DNA evidence, meaning a predator was still at large when Maddie disappeared.
So perhaps it’s even stranger that more wasn’t done to follow up the claims made by an Irish family holidaying in Praia da Luz, who say they saw a man carrying a child around Maddie’s age towards the beach at around 10pm on the night she disappeared.
Being targeted by people smugglers and sold into slavery is another popular theory. In just 90 minutes, the little girl could have been driven to the Spanish border or put on a boat in nearby Lagos marina and taken to Morocco even before police suspected an abduction.
This theory was explored by Portuguese investigators after a report that Maddie had been photographed on the beach by a stranger just days before she vanished. Morocco and neighbouring North African countries remain key areas of interest in the investigation.
There remains one theory that many, including veteran investigative journalists Danny Collins and Mark Williams-Thomas, believe is the only logical explanation – that Maddie exited the apartment by herself to find her parents and was either abducted or had an accident.
Did she wander down the hill and fall into a roadworks pit, which was filled in the next day without workers noticing her? Was she hit by a car driver, who then panicked and disposed of her body? Did she fall into one of the 600 old wells in Praia da Luz? Collins believes she wandered off, before being sold to gypsies.
With so many theories, it looks like it will be a long time before we find out what really happened to Maddie. We hope, for her family’s sake, that will be sooner rather than later.
Madeleine McCann was just three when she disappeared from a Portuguese holiday apartment in 2007 The ageprogressed image of how Maddie could have looked aged nine
The Algarve apartments Maddie vanished from Targeted kidnap: former Scotland Yard officer Colin Sutton Kate and Gerry McCann are convinced that their daughter is alive Detective Goncalo Amaral believed Maddie’s parents disposed of her body