The Mysterious Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann

Incredible | 9/24/19

The last time three-year-old Madeleine McCann was seen was on May 3, 2007. She and her family were on vacation in Portugal when Madeleine went missing in the middle of the night. The Portuguese police got involved, and when they couldn’t find her, other countries stepped in to help these terrified parents find their daughter.

The search continued for months, but there was still no sign of Madeleine. It’s been over a decade since this little girl disappeared and authorities still don’t know what happened to her. There are some theories as to her whereabouts, but none of those theories have been confirmed. Keep reading to find out who may have taken Madeline McCann and where the investigation stands today.

The Day She Went Missing

Over the years, Madeleine’s story has attracted a lot of interest. Nobody can quite fathom how a little girl can disappear without a trace. Netflix released a documentary called The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann which brought even more publicity to this now decade-old story.

Handout/Getty Images
Handout/Getty Images

There have been theories about what may have happened to Madeline. Some people think she might even still be alive. The details surrounding this case do lead to some pretty interesting places.

Everything Seemed Normal For The McCann Family

Madeleine’s family is from Leicester, England. Her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, got married in 1998, five years after they began dating. Madeleine was born in 2003, five years after the wedding. Kate and Gerry had wanted children for a while and they described Madeleine as “a long-awaited and longed-for little girl.”


In 2007, Kate and Gerry decided to take their family, which now included Madeline’s twin siblings, on a vacation to Portugal. They had no idea that this vacation would completely change their lives.

The Trip To Portugal Seemed Safe

Kate and Gerry didn’t go to Portugal alone so it seemed like everyone would be safe. They traveled with seven other friends and a total of eight children. Kate and Gerry both worked as doctors and most of the friends on this particular trip also worked in the medical profession.

mccann family early
Pinterest / Kenna Hambleton
Pinterest / Kenna Hambleton

The other families included: Fiona and David Payne, Fiona’s mother, and their two children; Jane Tanner and Russell O’Brien and their two children; and Matthew and Rachel Oldfield and their daughter. On April 28, 2007, the McCanns arrived at a Praia de Luz resort in Portugal with seemingly nothing to worry about.

The Villa They Were Staying At Seemed Safe

The McCanns planned to stay in Portugal for seven full nights. They rented an apartment in Praia de Luz through a British vacation company called Mark Warne. The apartment, which was owned by a British couple, was located at 5A Rua Dr. Agostinho da Silva.


This apartment seemed to be in a safe area. It was on the first floor of a medium-sized building, and the other families on the trip stayed in other apartments in the building.

The Adults Bonded While The Kids Were Left Alone

Every night at around 8:30, all of the adult couples in the group would eat dinner together at around 8:30 pm at the tapas restaurant that was part of the Praia de Luz resort. This group of people met through work. The McCanns became close with the Paynes when they worked together at the Leicester General Hospital’s intensive care unit.

the tapas seven
Pinterest /
Pinterest /

The Paynes then introduced Kate and Gerry to some of the other couples that they were friends with. These people bonded over their shared experiences as physicians and they enjoyed spending weekends having fun together.

The Room Madeleine Was Staying In

At night, Madeleine and her little brother and sister all slept together in the room closest to the front door. Gerry and Kate always kept the front door locked. There was a window in the bedroom that seemed to be too tall for any of the children to reach.


There was a small walkway outside of that window, which was also always kept shut. Gerry and Kate felt like their kids were safe in that room. The beach town seemed peaceful and they never expected what happened next.

Strange Warning Signs

Kate mentioned that on the morning of May 3, 2007, Madeleine made a strange comment during breakfast. She asked her parents why they didn’t come into her room when she and her brother cried out for them the previous night. Kate also said that she noticed a strange brown stain on Madeleine’s pajama shirt.

gerry mccann

At the time, Kate didn’t think anything of it. That night, Kate and Gerry went back to their favorite tapas restaurant leaving their kids sleeping in the apartment.

In The Blink Of An Eye

The McCanns ate and drank with their friends as usual. They periodically went back to the apartment to check on their sleeping children. Everything seemed normal at around 9:05 pm when Gerry checked on Madeleine and her siblings.


He did notice that the front door of the apartment was wide open. He had left it slightly ajar to let some air in, but he hadn’t left it wide open. He closed the door and went back to the tapas restaurant.

Right Before Disaster Struck

Kate was about to go and check on her children at 9:30 PM when her friend Matthew Oldfield said that he would check on Madeleine on the twins on his way to check on his own children. When he got to the McCann’s apartment, he noticed that the door was wide open, but he didn’t hear any strange noises coming from inside the rooms, so he figured that everything was fine.

the mccannns
Scott Hornby – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
Scott Hornby – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

When Kate checked on her kids at 10 PM, she saw that Madeleine was gone.

A Nationwide Search For Madeleine

Kate and Gerry immediately started panicking. Gerry sent Matthew to the resort’s reception desk so that he could contact the police. The resort staff started looking for Madeleine and so did many of the guests staying at the resort.

Portuguese police officers arrived with patrol dogs and searched throughout the night. In the morning, they put up roadblocks just in case somebody had kidnapped Madeleine and put her in a car. The British police also got involved.

Could It Have Been Madeleine?

Jane Tanner, one of the other adults on the McCann trip, said she saw a man carrying a child on the night of May 3rd. She said it was just a few minutes after 9:00 PM when she saw a man carrying a small child away from the apartments.

Gerry doesn’t remember seeing Jane when he was near the apartments checking on his kids at 9:05. Some people accused Jane of entirely fabricating this sighting.

What Led To The Netflix Documentary

Netflix has been making compelling documentaries for quite some time now. Recently, they released an eight-part docu-series about the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann. The series includes new interviews with people who were in Portugal when Madeleine disappeared.

This series follows other true crime features on Netflix including Making a Murderer and a series about Amanda Knox. Clearly, the Netflix audience is interested in mystery, and there is nothing more mysterious than a three-year-old disappearing in the middle of the night.

Could The Documentary Help Solve The Case?

Kate and Gerry released a statement prior to the premiere of the Netflix series about their daughter: “we did not see- and still do not see- how this program will help the search for Madeleine.”

Policia de Seguranca Publica
Policia de Seguranca Publica

However, Kate and Gerry might be wrong. After seeing the series, a woman who used to work at the Praia da Luz resort said that she recognized the man in the poor quality footage. She said that the man in the video was a German pedophile by the name of Martin Ney.

Martin Ney Had Motive And Opportunity

When this woman reported that she recognized the man in the footage as Ney, authorities matched his profile with a police sketch. At the time of Madeleine’s disappearance, Ney was working at a homeless shelter run by an evangelical church near the Praia da Luz resort.


Ney is now 48 years old and he’s serving a life sentence in a German prison for a separate crime. Ney has said things in prison that have led investigators to believe that he may have been involved in Madeleine’s case.

Ney Is Now The Prime Suspect

While in prison, Martin Ney told another prisoner about a girl who was kidnapped in Portugal. He had information about the case that the public wasn’t privy to. This led authorities to believe that Ney might be the man who took Madeleine.


Ney’s lawyer has stated that his client doesn’t wish to comment at this time. Investigators are still pursuing Ney as a prime suspect in this case. Madeleine’s parents may finally be able to rest easy knowing that their daughter’s kidnapper is behind bars.

They Kept Quiet About The Kidnapping

In the Netflix docu-series, there is an episode titled “Pact of Silence.” in this episode, the documentary explores a theory put forward by Portuguese journalists Margarida Davim and Felícia Cabrita. These journalists insinuate that the McCanns and the friends they were vacationing with made an agreement to keep quiet about what happened on the night of May 3rd, 2007.

pact of silence

These writers suggest that somebody the McCanns knew may have had something to do with the kidnapping.

A Dangerous Theory

In the documentary, Cabrita says, “We know that in most cases, the culprit is someone who is close to the child.” She thinks that it’s suspicious that the police didn’t spend much time questioning the McCanns.

felicia cabrita

To Cabrita, the whole situation seemed suspicious. She had been to that tapas restaurant before and even though Kate told police they had a “line of sight to the apartment,” Cabrita claims that you can’t really see the apartment no matter where you sit.

Several Suspicious Sightings

Jane said that the child she saw being carried away was wearing light-colored floral pajamas, which was similar to what Madeleine had been wearing. She said the man was white with dark hair, around 5’7” and appeared to be in his late 30s.

Much later, in 2013, investigators revealed that Jane had actually seen another British vacationer carrying his own daughter back to his resort. This little girl was wearing pajamas that looked a lot like Madeleine’s.

Another Sighting, Another Suspect

An Irish couple staying in Praia da Luz claimed that they saw a man walking away from the McCann’s apartment carrying a small child at around 10 PM. The child they saw was blonde and she was wearing pajamas.

They said that the man looked to be in his mid-30s. He was around 5’7” or 5’9” with a slim build and short brown hair. The problem was, there were many men carrying British girls in Praia da Luz that night.

A Madeleine Look-Alike On TV

In 2014, an image of a young girl who looked a lot like Madeleine McCann went viral. This girl was spotted at a televised soccer game. Many people contacted authorities concerned that this little girl was actually Madeleine McCann. The problem was, this girl looks to be four or five years old, and Madeleine would be ten years old in 2014.

A source close to the McCann family told the New Zealand Herald, “What is encouraging is that it shows everyone is still looking for Madeleine. That will give her family great strength.”

Gerry And Kate Could Be Suspects

Sadly, as though Gerry and Kate didn’t have enough to deal with, shortly after Madeleine disappeared the public began thinking that they might have had something to do with their daughter’s disappearance. A German journalist questioned them about their involvement in the case, and in September of 2007, they were officially named as suspects.

The McCanns set up a fund so that they could continue searching for their daughter, but the public scrutiny didn’t stop.

A Media Frenzy

People were fixated on Kate especially and how she spoke to the media. Many media outlets focused on the McCanns and their apparently suspicious behavior. The media ran wild with the story and paid little attention to the actual facts of the case.

Some people claim that they’re certain that Kate and Gerry harmed their own daughter. Rumors like this are extremely painful to people dealing with a tragedy of this magnitude. There was no evidence to suggest that Kate was guilty of anything in this case.

Mistakes Were Made

Years later, it was revealed that this investigation didn’t go as smoothly as previously thought. Police at the border and at sea were not given proper notification of Madeleine for many hours. The Portuguese police didn’t conduct any door to door searches and roadblocks weren’t put up early enough.

Interpol didn’t issue a global missing person alert for five days. The crime scene was not secured, not enough people were interviewed, and crucial evidence may have been accidentally destroyed.

The Warning Signs Were There

Thinking back on the night that Madeleine went missing, the McCann’s now believe that Madeleine’s strange comments about crying out during the night may have meant that somebody came into her room. Gerry also remembered that the staff at the resort had written a note about the kids being asleep in the apartment. Somebody could have seen that note and realized that the kids were alone.

madeleine mccann

These photos were created in 2012. Through digital technology, they show what Madeleine would look like as a seven-year-old girl.

People Concoct Wild Theories

There is no shortage of conspiracy theories surrounding this case. one theory blames the McCann’s for their daughter’s accidental death and claims that the disappearance is a cover-up. Of course, the McCanns find this theory ridiculous.

Some theories claim that Madeleine was killed in botched robbery, or that she wandered away at night looking for her mother and father. Some people think she may have been sold into human trafficking. The prospects don’t look good even though everyone is still hoping for the best.

Could This Be Madeleine McCann?

In 2016, this homeless English-speaking woman was spotted in Rome. Some people thought that she looked very similar to a young Madeleine McCann. There was hope that Madeleine had been found at last.

Madeleine’s parents were notified, but they were sure that this was not their daughter. This woman was later identified as 21-year-old Embla Jauhojärvi. She has Asperger’s and she left home to study in Italy. She hadn’t been in contact with her family for six months.

The Theory That Most People Believe

Pat Brown who wrote a book about this case called Disappearance of Madeleine McCann has said she believes that Scotland Yard didn’t properly investigate Madeleine’s disappearance. She also said that Madeleine is most likely no longer alive.

Brown strongly believes that Madeleine died accidentally in her hotel room and that her parents or somebody else covered up the accidental death. She doesn’t think that the time frame that the crime supposedly happened within is long enough to support an abduction.

Could Madeleine Have Accidentally Overdosed?

Pat Brown, told The Early Show “The evidence supports the theory of an accident occurring through neglect and possible medication.” A French newspaper also suggested that Madeleine may have died of an accidental sleeping pill overdose.

Brown claims that a trafficker would be unlikely to abduct a blonde British child on vacation because of the amount of media attention that a crime like that would attract. She hopes that resources can be redirected to searching for children who still have a chance of being found.

Where Madeleine’s DNA Was Found

After Madeline was reported missing, two British sniffer dogs arrived in Portugal. These dogs who were trained to detect blood and human decay found Maddie’s DNA in the McCann’s apartment and in their rental car.

These DNA samples were inconclusive, but the Portuguese police told various journalists that they were an exact match for Madeleine. It was the police who thought that Kate had accidentally killed Maddie and then tried to cover it up. The police told Kate that if she admitted to 2nd-degree murder, she would only get 2 years in prison and Gerry wouldn’t be charged.

How They Used Their Funds

After Madeleine went missing, Kate and Gerry set up a fundraiser to help them hire private investigators to find Madeleine. They received thousands of dollars in donations and they even got money from the British government.

Some people and media outlets have criticized the McCanns for the way they’re using this money. The McCanns have said that when they run out of money, they will still continue doing everything they can to find their daughter.

Could Maddie Have Wandered Off On Her Own?

Some people think that Madeleine simply wandered off after leaving her room through the open window. People were very critical of the McCanns leaving their children unattended while they were sleeping even if they were just a block down the road at a nearby restaurant.


It’s very possible that Madeleine woke up in the middle of the night and went looking for her parents. She could have gotten lost, but if that were the case, she very likely would have been found by now.

A Victim Of Child Trafficking?

It’s impossible to ignore the possibility that Madeleine may have been a victim of child trafficking. There were suspicious men in the area hanging around orphanages around the time that the McCanns were in Portugal.

These men could have easily found out that Madeliene and the other children were left alone most nights after 8:30 PM. Some witnesses have even claimed that they’ve seen Madeleine in places such as Morocco, Spain, England, France, and Portugal.

Refusing To Answer The Questions

Kate didn’t co-operate with police when they first started investigating Madeleine’s case. She refused to answer close to 40 questions during an 11-hour interrogation.

Kate only answered one question. The question was: “Are you aware that in not answering the questions you are jeopardizing the investigation, which seeks to discover what happened to your daughter?” Kate replied, “Yes, if that’s what the investigation thinks.” At the time, Kate and Gerry were both under the impression that the Portuguese police were trying to frame them for their daughter’s murder.

Pamela Fenn’s Involvement In The Case

Pamela Fenn was an elderly woman who was staying in the apartment directly above the McCann’s Portuguese apartment. This England native said that she could hear Madeleine crying loudly for an hour on the night before she disappeared. She was so worried that she almost called the police.

Some conspiracy theorists think that Pamela took Madeleine to save her from whatever abuse she thought was happening in the apartment beneath hers. This doesn’t seem very likely.

Brenda Leyland Took Matters Into Her Own Hands

A British woman by the name of Brenda Leyland tried to solve the mystery of what happened to Madeleine McCann all on her own. She saved and liked many tweets regarding Kate and Gerry and their involvement in Maddie’s disappearance. Her Twitter account was discovered by the media. Pretty soon, news about Brenda Leyland’s obsession with Madeleine’s case was everywhere.

Brenda was already mentally unstable and this negative attention pushed her over the edge. Sadly, she committed suicide shortly after news of her Twitter account went viral.

The Sad Truth About Brenda

What happened to Brenda Leyland has been called by some “a trial by media.” Some people thinking that she was an internet troll who couldn’t handle being exposed while others see her as a victim of her own mind.

Kate has also been in the media pretty regularly since Madeleine disappeared and so has Gerry. Madeleine’s parents have learned to cope with the constant media scrutiny. Kate has been called cold and unfeeling due to the way she presents herself in public.

A Whole Decade Later

In May 2017, Madeleine had been missing for ten years. Madeleine would have been 13 in 2017. On the ten year anniversary of her disappearance, new articles came out that brought up painful memories for Kate and Gerry.

Even though it has been so long, Kate and Gerry are still holding out hope that their daughter is alive. Some days, that hope is the only thing that allows them to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

All Hope Is Not Lost

One senior investigator on the Madeleine McCann case believes that Maddie may still be alive. Detective Dave Edgar told Daily Express,

“In my experience, they (perpetrators) always confide in someone else for whatever reason and that person needs to come forward and speak to the authorities. I would suggest that 10 years, while it seems a long time, would not feel like that to that person with information. What happened on that night would still be fresh in their mind…. We have seen in a number of cases recently where people have come forward and given evidence of events which took place many years ago.”

Police Are Still Looking For A New Person Of Interest

In October 2017, official police funding for the investigation was set to run out but was refunded. Former Met Police Detective Colin Sutton said, “One would imag­ine, if they are getting more money, they feel there’s still some viable line of inquiry that needs investigating.”


There hasn’t been any news about the new suspect, but the person of interest is considered “critical” to the case. In all, the case has spent over £11 million. Hopefully, with the reinvigorated examination into her disappearance, we can one day find Madeleine McCann.