Sixteen years and countless heartbreaks as Madeleine McCann’s family wait for answers (2023)

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The case of Madeleine McCann, the British toddler who disappeared from a Portuguese holiday resort 16 years ago, unexpectedly lurched back into life this month when investigators launched a major search operation at a reservoir in the Algarve.

The initiative was instigated by German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters, who said officials were acting on “certain tips” from Christian Brueckner, an incarcerated sex offender who lived in the area between 2000 and 2017. Mr Wolters has said he is “very confident” the 45 year-old holds the key to Madeleine’s disappearance.

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With help from Portuguese police and with Scotland Yard detectives watching on, German investigators carried out a thorough search of the Barragem do Arade beauty spot in Silves.

They combed the shoreline and surrounding grasslands with sniffer dogs, rakes, spades and pickaxes, and inspected the water in a rigid-hull inflatable boat. A no-fly zone in place in the skies overhead allowed police drones to survey the region undisturbed.

(Video) The Puzzle: Solving the Madeleine McCann Case | Full Episode

The site is located approximately 48km (30 miles) northeast of the Ocean Club holiday resort at Praia da Luz in Lagos from which Madeleine vanished on 3 May 2007, sparking a huge investigation that attracted media attention and public interest across the world but which has so far still not yielded any definite answers.


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  • Madeleine McCann case: Timeline of the missing child’s disappearance

The girl’s parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, have refused to give up hope, recently posting a poem remembering their lost daughter on their Find Madeleine website, reminding readers that she is “still missing... still very much missed”.

“The police investigation continues, and we await a breakthrough. Thank you to everyone for your support – it really helps,” they added.

Here’s a look at the family, whose lives have been defined by the mystery.

Parents Kate and Gerry McCann

Madeline’s mother was born Kate Marie Healy in Huyton near Liverpool in 1968.

After attending All Saints School in Anfield and Notre Dame High School in Everton Valley, she took a degree in medicine from the University of Dundee and graduated in 1992. Beginning her career by specialising in obstetrics, gynaecology and anaesthetics, she subsequently became a GP.

She met her future husband Gerald Patrick McCann in 1993 and they married in 1998. Madeleine, their eldest child, was born in 2003 and the couple had twins, Amelia and Sean, in 2005.

Mr McCann was born in Glasgow in 1968 and attended Holyrood RC Secondary School before graduating from the University of Glasgow with a bachelor of science degree in physiology and sports science in 1989.

He obtained his medical doctorate from the same institution in 2002 and has worked as a consultant cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, since 2005, with the family setting up home in Rothley, Leicestershire.

(Video) Madeleine McCann | Has The 15 Year Case Of Maddie Finally Been Solved? | ICMAP | S5 EP12

After Madeleine’s disappearance from the family’s rented apartment complex – while her parents and a group of friends ate dinner at an open-air tapas restaurant, a member of the party checking on the otherwise-unattended children every half-hour – the McCanns led the public appeals for information and became fixtures on newspaper front pages and television screens.

They were also subjected to lurid tabloid allegations suggesting that they and their friends might be swingers or, as physicians, might have been in the habit of sedating their children. Others claimed to have spotted inconsistencies in their account of the night’s events, insinuating that they might have been involved in their daughter’s disappearance.

The intensity of the hostility towards the McCanns would later be described by Roy Greenslade of The Guardian as “no journalistic accident” and “a sustained campaign of vitriol against a grief-stricken family”.

The couple were interviewed as “arguidos” (suspects) by the Portuguese authorities in September 2007, with the parents told that police dogs had discovered DNA evidence from the missing girl in the boot of their holiday rental car. They vehemently denied the accusations against them and subsequently launched a libel action against one of the detectives who had gone on to write a book about the case.

After the family returned to England, chief inspector Tavares de Almeida of the Policia Judiciaria in Portimao signed a nine-page report alleging that Madeleine had died in the holiday apartment as a result of an accident (rather than been abducted by a stranger), that the tapas dinner and rota checks had been part of a planned cover-up, that the family’s friends had helped to mislead the police and that the McCanns had concealed her body and then faked a kidnapping.

That official suspicion lingered until July 2008 when Portugal’s attorney general, Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro, announced that there was no evidence to link either the McCanns or another suspect, local man Robert Murat, to the disappearance after all and closed the case unsolved.

The McCanns refused to give up, issuing computer-generated images of how their daughter might look with the advancing years, publishing their own book, entitled simply Madeleine (2011), and endorsing a successful campaign to pressure then-prime minister David Cameron into reopening the case. He did so.

(Video) The Madeleine McCann Case. "15 years of lies". [ part 1]

The result was Operation Grange, which saw officers return to Portugal in 2014 and investigate tens of thousands of documents at great expense, without definitively establishing the truth, causing the case to lie dormant for several years until Brueckner emerged as a new suspect in 2020.

Writing in Madeleine, Kate McCann discussed the toll the ordeal had taken on her devout Roman Catholic faith, stating: “There have been many times when I’ve felt God has deserted me or that He has let Madeleine down. I’ve occasionally doubted His existence altogether. And yes, I’ve been angry with Him.

“For now, though, at least, my anger towards God seems to have subsided. I believe in Him and I still feel His presence.”

Siblings Amelia and Sean McCann

Out of respect for their privacy, especially given their ages, Madeleine’s younger siblings have largely been shielded from the glare of the spotlight.

However, Amelie McCann, now 18, did join her parents in remembering her missing sister on the 16th anniversary of her disappearance on 7 May 2023.

Speaking publicly for the first time at a prayer meeting in Rothley, she said: “It’s nice that everyone is here together but it’s a sad occasion.”

Ms McCann reportedly joined in with chants including “Never never give up”, “leave no stone unturned”, “don’t forget about me” and “still missing, still missed”.

Her parents were among the 70-strong crowd in attendance but her brother Sean was not, preferring to remain off stage.

(Video) True Crime Mysteries | The Shocking Truth About Madeleine McCann's Disappearance

Rob Gladstone, leading prayers at the event, told his audience: “We are here this evening to show our loving concern for Madeleine and for all young children who have been taken away from their families against their will.

“We are also here to encourage one another to keep up hope and pray for a renewal of strength even after this long time.”

Reflecting on the importance of the twins in keeping their family unit together in a 2017 interview with the BBC’s Fiona Bruce, Gerry McCann said the ordeal had forced them to face “a new normality” in living without their daughter.

Kate McCann added: “What people do say is that you don’t realise how strong you are until you have no option.

“And I think that’s very true. Obviously massive events like this cause a lot of reaction, a lot of trauma and upset. But ultimately you have to keep going – and especially when you have got other children involved.

“Some of that is subconscious I think – your mind and body just take over to a certain extent. But if you can’t change something immediately, you have to go with it and do the best that you can.”

The couple also addressed the online abuse they have received, commenting: “I’m sure it is a very small minority of people who spend their time doing it, but it has totally inhibited what we do.

“Personally, we don’t use social media, although we have used it in Madeleine’s campaign.


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“But for our twins who are growing up in an era where mobile technology is used all the time, we don’t want them not to be able to use it in the same way that their peers do.”

(Video) Madeleine McCann. Forensic Psychology in 2023.

Ms McCann described the actions of some online commentators as shocking but said she preferred to focus on the support many more members of the public had offered the family.


How many questions did the McCanns refuse to answer? ›

Kate McCann was told she was a suspect by Portuguese police, and questioned in detail over an 11-hour period about the night Madeleine went missing. These are the 48 questions Kate McCann point black refused to answer in her police interview. She was asked a total of 49 questions, and only answered one.

What was the one question Kate McCann answered? ›

The one question Kate McCann did answer however was: Are you aware that in not answering the questions you are jeopardising the investigation, which seeks to discover what happened to your daughter? Answer: 'Yes, if that's what the investigation thinks. '

Why was there blood in the McCanns car? ›

It reflects detectives' belief that she is dead and her parents disposed of her body. Tests carried out at a UK laboratory confirmed beyond doubt that the blood was that of the toddler, a Portuguese newspaper reported.

Why did the McCanns leave their daughter alone? ›

T he parents of missing Madeleine McCann left their three children alone in their apartment every night of their holiday because they did not want a stranger to babysit, it has emerged.

Why did the McCanns refuse a lie detector? ›

A spokesperson for the family said that they would not take lie detector tests since they had nothing to hide. This shows a lack of understanding in how the polygraph works.

What were the questions that Madeleine McCann's mum didn't answer? ›

  • On May 3, 2007, around 22:00, when you entered the apartment, what did you see? What did you do? Where did you look? What did you touch? Did you search inside the master bedroom wardrobe? – what were your exact words?
Mar 20, 2019

Did Kate McCann confess? ›

Kate McCann told her family that Portuguese investigators had pressured her to sign a confession, in which she was to admit that Madeleine had died accidentally, and that Madeleine's disappearance had been staged. Kate refused. "48 Hours" spoke to Kate's mother in 2007.

Did McCanns sedate Madeleine? ›

The Policia Judiciaria have suggested Madeleine died as the result of an accidental drugs overdose and that the McCanns, both doctors, covered up the death to protect their careers. But a source close to the McCanns said they have now gathered irrefutable proof the children were never drugged.

Have they found Madeleine McCann body? ›

The case, unsolved for the past 16 years, remains a mystery as no body has ever been found. It sparked a media frenzy in Britain, with developments also followed by outlets around the world and celebrities joining appeals to help find her.

Why did the McCanns not lock the door? ›

The top of the apartment was visible from the tapas restaurant, but not the doors. The patio doors could be locked only from the inside, so the McCanns left them closed but unlocked, with the curtains drawn, so they could let themselves in that way when checking on the children.

How did the McCanns hide the body? ›

"The body may have been hidden in some sort of freezer somewhere and been transported later in the boot of the car and bodily fluids may have dropped from the corpse. "The freezer hypothesis originates from the circumstances. The car was rented many days after the disappearance and the possible death of the child.

Did the McCanns get charged? ›

The couple underwent questioning by authorities but continued to profess their innocence throughout the investigation. In 2008, they were cleared as suspects. "Whoever took Madeleine," Gerry said at the time, "is still at large." Kate and Gerry McCann.

Why didn t the McCanns hire a babysitter? ›

The couple said they did not want to use a babysitter because they did not want to disrupt their children's normal routines, or to leave them with a stranger. And they have spoken of their bitter regret that they chose to leave Madeleine and their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie alone.

Do the McCanns still have the twins? ›

Maddie's parents Kate and Gerry McCann, both 54, have two other children, twins Sean and Amelie, both around 18. While Maddie's face is instantly recognisable around the world, we know very little about the two siblings who were only two-years-old at the time of their sister's disappearance.

Did the McCanns use a baby monitor? ›

According to a television insider, Mrs McCann, 40, is understood to say: "We wanted to use a baby-listening service but there wasn't one at the Ocean Club." The source close to the documentary makers added: "She is very emotional. She breaks down on camera at different points during the filming.

Are the McCanns guilty? ›

A court cleared them of any involvement in Madeleine's death

In July 2008, the McCanns were formally cleared as suspects by a Portugese court and no longer named as "arguidos" in the case.

Who is the main suspect Madeleine McCann? ›

Christian B is currently in his 40s and serving a prison sentence in Germany for raping an elderly woman in a flat near to where Madeleine McCann disappeared.

Who was the German man who kidnapped Madeleine McCann? ›

Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner charged with five new counts of rape and sexual abuse. Berlin – A German public prosecutor has announced new charges against Christian Brueckner, the man suspected of kidnapping and killing British toddler Madeleine McCann in 2007.

What was the night Madeleine McCann disappeared? ›

Madeleine McCann, a three-year-old girl from Rothley, Leicestershire, went missing from the Portuguese holiday resort of Praia da Luz on the Algarve on 3 May 2007, a case still unsolved and still the subject of intense interest among the public and press.

Is Kate McCann Madeleine's mother? ›

Kate McCann, the mother of missing toddler Madeleine, is sure she knows what led to her daughter's disappearance. Madeleine was just three when she vanished while on holiday with her family in Portugal in 2007.

Are Madeleine McCann's parents Catholic? ›

The McCanns, who are Catholic, have often credited their faith for getting them through the difficult time since she went missing.

How much have Madeleine McCann's parents made? ›

Hunt for Madeleine McCann gets £85,000 boost thanks to royalties from her mother's book sales - making firm set up by parents worth close to £1million.

How many people have claimed to be Madeleine McCann? ›

But before her, there are three girls who claimed to be Madeleine.

Was Madeleine McCann drugged to sleep? ›

He said analysis of the boot "prove that the little girl had ingested medicines, without doubt sleeping pills, in large quantities". The quantities would have caused "an overdose", said the report. The newspaper noted that it had seen "hard evidence" about Madeleine's "death".

Have McCanns agreed to a DNA test? ›

She's posted several photos comparing herself to the missing child and pleading with the McCann family to contact her. According to the New York Post, the family has agreed to the test, but many fear the woman is in a fragile mental state and this could all be a figment of her imagination.

Where is Madeleine McCann buried? ›

The self-professed psychic has said she is buried in a scrubland area, a 20 minute drive from the resort where she was last seen in Praia da Luz, Portugal.

Why did Kate wash Cuddle Cat? ›

Reports suggest she washed the "cuddle cat" because it had become dirty and smelled of sun cream. At least one police officer has told reporters he finds that strange. In any case, it is obvious that Madeleine's DNA would be on her toy.

Did the McCanns admit to sedate Madeleine? ›

The Policia Judiciaria have suggested Madeleine died as the result of an accidental drugs overdose and that the McCanns, both doctors, covered up the death to protect their careers. But a source close to the McCanns said they have now gathered irrefutable proof the children were never drugged.

What was the criticism of the McCanns? ›

It's often said that the McCanns attracted criticism because they were middle-class – with a sense of entitlement that made them not just careless about their own daughter's welfare but also expectant that the world would help them get her back.

What evidence was there against the McCanns? ›

Portugese police discovered two DNA samples in the McCanns' hire car - one of which was a "100 per cent match" to Madeleine - were reportedly the type that had come directly from her body, not from clothes she had worn.

Did the McCanns drug their twins? ›

The Policia Judiciaria have suggested Madeleine died as the result of an accidental drugs overdose and that the McCanns, both doctors, covered up the death to protect their careers. But a source close to the McCanns said they have now gathered irrefutable proof the children were never drugged.

What did the McCanns do with the money? ›

The parents of Madeleine McCann had to use funds raised to search for their daughter to fight an ex-police officer who made “unfounded” claims about the case. Last September, Kate and Gerry McCann lost a 13-year libel battle with Goncalo Amaral, who had suggested they were involved in their daughter's disappearance.

Where did the McCanns hide the body? ›

But he suggested the McCanns hid her body in the woman's coffin at Praia da Luz catholic church – which they had a key for – a month after she vanished in 2007.

Who is the main suspect for Madeleine McCann? ›

Christian B, now in his 40s, is a convicted sex offender and drug dealer currently serving a seven-year sentence in a German prison. The offence - raping a 72-year-old woman inside her flat in 2005 - happened in Praia da Luz, the same town Madeleine McCann disappeared from two years later on 3 May 2007.

What is the most plausible theory of Madeleine McCann? ›

Her parents were responsible

The main iteration of this theory is that Madeleine accidentally died when she was sedated by her parents.

Did Madeleine McCann's parents lose 13 year old legal battle over claim? ›

Madeleine McCann's parents LOSE 13-year legal battle over ex-Portuguese detective's allegations. A court has ruled against Madeleine McCann 's parents in the latest stage of their 13-year legal battle over allegations made by a former Portuguese detective inspector.

Is Gerry McCann Maddie's biological father? ›

Did the Mccanns get charged? ›

The couple underwent questioning by authorities but continued to profess their innocence throughout the investigation. In 2008, they were cleared as suspects. "Whoever took Madeleine," Gerry said at the time, "is still at large." Kate and Gerry McCann.

Did the Mccanns use a baby monitor? ›

According to a television insider, Mrs McCann, 40, is understood to say: "We wanted to use a baby-listening service but there wasn't one at the Ocean Club." The source close to the documentary makers added: "She is very emotional. She breaks down on camera at different points during the filming.

When was the last time Madeleine McCann was seen alive? ›

Maddie's parents were reportedly taking it in turns to check on the children, but when was she last seen alive? Madeleine was asleep in the bedroom of the hotel apartment with her two younger siblings on the night of May 3, 2007.


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