On the evening of 3 May 2007, Gerry and Kate McCann returned to their holiday apartment in the resort of Praia da Luz on Portugal's Algarve to every parents' worst nightmare: their daughter, three-year-old Madeleine Beth McCann had vanished from her room. Her disappearance sparked a worldwide manhunt, the like of which had never been seen before. Poster campaigns, distraught pleas from the parents and frenzied media coverage all ensued - but still Madeleine's whereabouts remained a mystery. Portuguese police initially commenced a search for Madeleine's abductor, but as the case dragged on the waters became muddied and controversy dogged the investigation: British police were called in; suspects entered and departed the frame; sightings of Madeleine were reported from around the world; accusations about the thoroughness and competency of the Portuguese police were made; and the McCanns wre scrutinised in the full galre of the media spotlight - with the Portuguese police even declaring Gerry and Kate suspects. A year after Madeleine disappeared, Spanish-based veteran investigative journalist Danny Collins looks at the clues and false leads gathered over 12 months of meticulous in-depth investigation in an attempt to piece together just what happened on that fateful night.
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The Truth About the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann
By Danny Collins
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2008 Danny Collins
All rights reserved.
In those first stunned moments when the realisation dawned that Madeleine had disappeared from apartment 5A, there was a frenzied search of the small gardens, hardly more than paved enclosures, at the rear of blocks 4 and 5. It is likely someone would have walked further up the hill of Dr Francisco Gentil Martins and turned left and left again into the car-parking area fronting the apartment blocks. The streets around the Waterside Garden complex of Praia da Luz are well lit at night but every urban development has its shadows.
There seemed no doubt that Madeleine had walked out of the apartment through the unlocked rear patio doors. No one, except it seemed the child's parents, could contemplate the horror of abduction. Madeleine was just a little girl. Who would take her and why? However, an even grimmer truth was descending on the McCanns and their friends. Six of the group – the McCanns, the Oldfields, Russell O'Brien and his partner Jane Tanner – had left their children alone in unlocked apartments for up to three hours every one of the five evenings since their arrival at the resort. Now one of the children was missing. How would the Portuguese police, let alone the uncles, aunts and grandparents of their charges, view this? Was it even possible that each and every one of them would end up in a Portuguese jail for child endangerment? No one knew how the law stood on that particular theme in Portugal and it seemed not the most propitious time to put it to the test. Madeleine was gone and the police had to be informed and statements taken. However, it is unclear whether police attending were aware that the patio doors of apartment 5A had been left unlocked. Although it was obvious that Madeleine could not have walked out of a locked apartment, the Guarda Nacional Republicana officers first on the scene may have assumed that the simple up-down interior latch of the patio door would have proved no insurmountable difficulty for a determined and intelligent three-year-old. Alternatively, it appeared that the front door to the apartment, which opened on to a parking lot at the front of the building, was ajar. This, as in the case of the open window, may have occurred before the police arrived during the first frantic search for the missing child. What is apparent is that the officers of the GNR were certain Madeleine had somehow left the apartment and would be found wandering in the nearby streets. However, Judicial Police who would arrive on the scene later were equally unaware that the patio door had been left unlocked and, discarding the possibility that the child could have opened it herself, were left with the darker suspicions of their calling. The front-door exit was later considered unlikely when a rumour was spread by the press that the front doors of the apartments required the use of a key turned on the inside to open them but this only proved to be an illustration of how quickly reporting of the case turned to creative copy due to the lack of information coming out of Portimão. The fictional note of that report was crushed when the Praia da Luz mayor, Manuel Domingues Borba, pointed out that such a means of exit would never have got past his council's building and fire regulations. Thus, back to a front-door exit but the method of entry was still in doubt.
The McCanns were an intelligent couple. He was a consultant cardiologist and she worked as a general medical practitioner; both were university graduates but they knew nothing about the sinister art of housebreaking. In their panic and desire to avoid condemnation for their ill-considered negligence, they overlooked the simplest of truths that would later be seized on by the Portuguese investigators and see them considered prime suspects in their daughter's disappearance: the metal shutters installed on the windows of apartment blocks 4 and 5 of the Montes da Luz urbanisation housing apartment 5A were impossible to lever upwards more than one or two centimetres. Nor did the shutters or the sills on which they rested in the closed position show any marks of an attempt at forced entry. The Judicial Police called to the scene were immediately suspicious: how could someone spirit a child away through locked doors?
Even more suspicious and confusing were the statements of the McCanns' companions, obviously close friends of the missing child's parents. In the week following Madeleine's disappearance when the public finally learned the truth about the patio doors, the statements of some of the friends changed dramatically. Matthew Oldfield had told police that he merely listened at the rear of the apartment for any sound from the McCann children but now he reorganised his statement and claimed he had walked into the apartment through the unlocked patio doors and listened at the half-open bedroom door. But he too was unaware the investigators hadn't bought the story of a jemmied shutter.
This time he assured police that he had in fact entered the apartment and looked into the bedroom by the light of the open shutter. He admitted to seeing the twins in their cots but, inexplicably, couldn't see Madeleine's bed, although this would have been in full view from the doorway where he stood. It was obvious that his second statement contained certain inconsistencies that would alert the suspicions of the Portuguese Judicial Police, now unconvinced of the possibility of abduction. Such were the suspicions aroused by the witnesses' assertion of a forced shutter that reported sightings supporting the likelihood of abduction were ignored.
Jane Tanner, recounting her earlier trip to check on her own daughter, told disbelieving police that she saw a 'dark-haired man of about 35' carrying a child near the McCanns' apartment but thought nothing of it at the time. Although her report is still taken seriously by UK police, it is possible that the man she saw was British holidaymaker Jeremy Wilkins carrying his eight- month-old son while taking an after-dinner stroll.
Mr Wilkins would also tell investigators that he had spoken to Gerry McCann, with whom he played tennis earlier, when the latter exited 5A at around 9.05pm, although he has no recollection of bumping into Jane Tanner. He told police, 'It was a very narrow path and I think it would have been almost impossible for anyone to walk by without me noticing.'
While his statement doesn't deny the possibility that Jane Tanner may have glimpsed Mr Wilkins as he passed the end of the walkway, this does bring forward the possibility that Madeleine may have exited the apartment by the rear patio door and been picked up in the street by a stranger, whom Jane Tanner glimpsed crossing the end of the walkway to walk south on Dr Francisco Gentil Martins.
While pyjama-clad Madeleine's exit from the gate on to the street and subsequent encounter with a passing sociopath would call for a belief in the most inopportune of coincidences – something in which a good investigator should never believe – a statement taken from Pamela Fenn, occupier of the apartment above the McCanns, demonstrates the child was not beyond going into the street and walkway alone against her parents' wishes.
Pamela Fenn spoke of Madeleine as an often-fractious child, whom she had heard crying for an hour and a quarter on one occasion when she had apparently been left alone in the apartment for an evening with the twins. Local gossip also speaks of an excitable child, who on one occasion escaped from the apartment as bedtime threatened and, giggling with delight at the adventure, hid along the walkway, skipping from garden to garden for 30 minutes before being caught by her parents.
The latter escapade removes any lingering doubt as to whether the engaging three-year-old was adventurous enough to leave the apartment unaccompanied to look for her parents, given the opportunity presented by the unlocked patio door. Assuming the McCanns were aware of the Praia da Luz's opportunistic alley-cat community and slid the patio door closed enough to bar them entry to the apartment, the remaining gap would still have been sufficiently wide to allow tiny fingers to enter and pull the door that few centimetres wide enough to allow exit to a determined 35-pound three-year-old.
If indeed the man Jane Tanner, or at least the later witnesses, reported seeing at the rear of the McCanns' apartment was carrying Madeleine, it must be assumed this person, more likely an opportunistic traveller, chanced upon her wandering in the street, since a supposed intruder, having entered the apartment and taken the child, would have exited by the obvious escape route of the front door and hence to a vehicle in which he would have driven north to leave the resort.
There is no recollection of the window being opened or closed by others including the GNR officers who searched the flat, although one might assume that the window would be open at that point, having been opened by someone to check if Madeleine was hiding in the gap between the building and the low wall separating the building from the car -parking area at the front.
Gerry McCann would recall that the shutter was closed when he looked in on his children at 9.05pm, recounting in a phone call that night to his elder sister Trish in the UK: 'I went back to check the children at nine o'clock. They were all sound asleep, windows shut, shutters shut ...' But he later told police he noticed the bedroom door was ajar when earlier he and Kate had left it closed. This would prompt him later to say that he believed Madeleine's abductor was already in the room, standing behind the door, when he checked on the children. Should this have been a reality, it would be an agonising thought that would haunt a parent forever but in all probability he was mistaken. Had the door been opened by Madeleine herself when she went in search of her parents? If so, why didn't Gerry McCann notice his daughter was missing from her bed? It is in these details that the statements of Gerry and Kate McCann and those of their holiday companions would differ sufficiently to place a cloud of suspicion over events that night.
As any investigator of burglary knows, on entering a building the first move of the intruder is to prepare an escape route in the event that he or she has to leave in a hurry. With regard to the McCanns' alleged intruder, this would almost certainly have been the bedroom shutter which Kate was to say she found open an hour later. If this were so, the fact that it was closed when Gerry checked the apartment at 9.05pm makes it unlikely an intruder had entered the building at that time, although in those first hours the couple seemed vague as to whether the window was left open and the shutter closed to ventilate the bedroom when they left the apartment earlier.
Far more likely is the probability that, if abduction occurred from inside the apartment, the intruder entered when Gerry left, with Matthew Oldfield's time-saving listening at the door leaving the abductor undisturbed within the apartment between the visits of Madeleine's parents: a period of almost an hour. But it is far more likely that Madeleine had already left the apartment and met her kidnapper, as fate seemed to have ordained.
Yet again accounts of that fateful night were to differ. According to Ocean Club childminder Charlotte Pennington who was babysitting in a nearby apartment, she was alerted by Kate McCann's screams from the rear balcony of apartment 5A. She told police that, when she arrived at the apartment, Kate clutched at her and sobbed in panic as she tried to answer the childminder's questions. 'They've taken her, they've taken her!' the distraught mother allegedly sobbed. 'Madeleine's gone!'
However, Kate's dinner companions would remember a different scenario. According to those questioned by police on the day following the disappearance, they recalled a distraught Kate running into the tapas bar shouting, 'Madeleine's gone! Madeleine's gone!' This version also matches Kate's own account that she gave to police immediately following her discovery that her daughter was no longer in the apartment, despite the arriving officers' refusal to believe they were dealing with abduction.
However, a third version was to come from a second waiter at the tapas bar, who claimed he left Jose Baptista to continue clearing up tables and ran directly towards the sound of the screaming coming from the apartments on the other side of the perimeter wall. He agreed with Charlotte Pennington in that he remembers 'Sra McCann screaming, "They've taken her! They've taken her!"'
Later those conflicting recollections of an understandably distraught mother were seized on by investigators when the McCanns became the focus of enquiries.
The Portuguese police now believed Matthew Oldfield's second statement in which he recalled entering the apartment and listening at the slightly ajar bedroom door, from where he could see the sleeping forms of the twins by the light of the opened shutter, was given in support of the McCanns' assertion that the bedroom shutter had been forced open. An indication, if the doctor was to be believed – and he wasn't to be by the Portuguese police – that the intruder was already in the apartment and possibly standing behind the door as Matthew Oldfield looked into the bedroom rather than when Gerry McCann stood at the door half an hour earlier.
Dr Oldfield's second statement bolsters the abductor theory against the possibility of a wandering child meeting up with an opportunistic sociopath in the street – incidentally the probability that Madeleine left the apartment of her own volition was the first and most logical thought of Guarda Nacional Republicana officers arriving at the scene.
But it is only on the open-window theory – which demands utter faith in Dr Oldfield's second statement since no one seems clear whether the window was open or closed when the police first arrived – that the latter theory can be discounted. The most likely possibility is that Dr Oldfield's first statement is the true account of his movements, perhaps later unclear to him in the confusion that was to follow, that he never entered the apartment and the shutter remained closed through the evening only to be opened by the McCanns themselves, or in the resulting confusion by someone seeking signs of an exit route for Madeleine's supposed abductor.
This leads to the likelihood that Madeleine McCann woke up to find herself alone and, demonstrating the determination and sense of adventure that she had shown earlier, wandered out of the apartment into Rua Dr Francisco Gentil Martins in search of her absent parents. From there, she was taken and carried off.
Certain witnesses would later come forward to tell police they had seen a man carrying a child around the time of Madeleine's disappearance. One of them would be an Irish holidaymaker, who would appear much later in the inquiry to tell UK and Portuguese police that he had actually spoken to the man concerning the child's welfare but the man had turned away with his burden and hurried off.
What is clear is that total confusion reigned in and around apartment 5A that night. Just who called the police to report the child missing in that atmosphere of panic has never been satisfactorily resolved. Kate McCann insists the police were informed within 10 minutes of her finding her daughter gone, possibly by Charlotte Pennington, the Ocean Club childminder who was first on the scene, although this would normally – if anything could be judged normal that night – have been the responsibility of the resort manager, once roused.
Gerry McCann's version differs in that he believes it was a friend in the group who alerted resort manager John Hill and the police. Neither of these statements matches the timescale of the Portuguese police which coincides more closely with the account of the waiter who had responded to Kate McCann's screams, who says he himself called the police at 10.40pm, half an hour after the disappearance of the child was announced.
But, according to paramilitary Guarda Nacional Republicana police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Costa Cabral, the first call was received at GNR HQ at 11.50pm, again nearly two hours after Madeleine was found missing. The police log for 3 May 2007 notes the disappearance occurred 'by 22.40' which coincides more closely with the waiter's statement.
According to the GNR version, police were on the scene by midnight, within 10 minutes of the alleged alert and the investigation unit was in full operation by 12.30am. In their confusion, and possibly in the belief that Madeleine left the apartment to look for her parents, the unit failed to recognise apartment 5A and its environs as the scene of a crime. Officers, Ocean Club staff and neighbours were allowed to move freely in and out of the apartment, with police questioning and sympathisers making tea and coffee or offering comfort to the McCanns.
Excerpted from Vanished by Danny Collins. Copyright © 2008 Danny Collins. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
'Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned',
Prologue: Into Darkness,
1 First Report,
2 Looking for Zebras,
3 Political Chess,
4 The Investigation,
5 Early Days,
6 Kate and Gerry McCann,
7 First Suspect,
8 The Russian Connection,
9 Facing the Media,
10 Casting the Net,
11 Flawed Evidence,
12 Blood and Fluids,
13 Leaving No Stone Unturned,
14 Lightning Strikes,
15 Flight of the Imagination,
16 Forensics and Cuddle Cat,
17 Answers in Cyberspace,
18 The Moroccan Connection,
19 The Missing Children,
20 The Casa Pia Conspiracy,
21 Seismic Shifts,
22 Christmas in Rothley,
23 Madeleine, the Movie,
24 Return to Praia da Luz,
25 The Stranger,
Extract from Hansard: 9 June 1992,
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