Police in Portugal on Tuesday resumed their search for missing British child Madeleine McCann, who disappeared from a resort in 2007.
Around 20 officers, using rakes and other digging tools, searched a patch of land near a dam about 30 miles from where McCann disappeared 16 years ago, the Associated Press reported. It is not clear if progress has been made in the search.
Portuguese police are leading the operation with help from German and British law enforcement. It began after German authorities made a request. This is the fourth such search for McCann, following the initial search after her disappearance in 2007 and additional searches in 2013 and 2014. Germany also conducted its own search in Germany in 2020. The current search is reportedly the first one near the dam.
Madeleine McCann was three years old when she disappeared from her bed in an apartment her family rented while on vacation in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007. She would be 20 years old today.
The McCann family — parents Gerry and Kate along with Madeleine and her twin siblings, who were two years old – was on vacation with seven friends, now known as the Tapas Seven, along with their children.
On the morning of May 3, 2007, the children played at the resort’s Kids’ Club before joining their parents at the pool, after which they returned to the Kids’ Club until Kate took them back to their apartment. Kate and Gerry put their children to bed before joining their friends at the resort’s tapas restaurant, located across the pool from the apartments where they were all staying. From their table, the parents could see the top of McCann’s apartment but not the doors, and they left the patio doors unlocked but closed. About every half hour, someone from the parents’ group would leave to check on their children.
A message book at the resort’s swimming pool reception area contained a note to block the same table for the McCanns and their friends each night for four evenings, with a message saying the children were sleeping in the apartments. Kate would come to believe that whoever abducted Madeleine must have seen the message book.
Another member of the Tapas Seven agreed to check on the McCann’s children around 9:30 p.m. He found the children’s bedroom door wide open, but since he didn’t hear anything, he left without checking to make sure the children were indeed in their beds.
Kate then completed her own check on the children around 10 p.m. and found her daughter missing. She quickly searched the apartment before running back to the restaurant screaming, “Madeleine’s gone! Someone’s taken her!”
By 10:10, a member of the Tapas Seven told the resort’s reception desk to call the police, and by 10:30, the resort began its missing child search protocol, which involved 60 staff members and guests searching the premises until 4:30 in the morning.
Portuguese police said they arrived within 10 minutes of being called. Kate said they arrived around 1 a.m. They also began searching for Madeleine, but many issues with the search would later come to light. Border and marine police were not given descriptions of the missing girl for several hours, and police didn’t conduct any house searches. Kate told media outlets that the roads weren’t blocked until 10 a.m. the morning after Madeleine disappeared. Surveillance images of vehicles leaving the resort on the night of the disappearance, or the surrounding roads weren’t requested, nor was the road monitoring company approached for information.
In addition, many people staying at the resort at the time weren’t immediately interviewed, with some contacting police on their own.
The crime scene was also not properly secured, with at least 20 people entering the apartment before it was blocked. The apartment was empty for a month after Madeleine’s disappearance before the resort began renting it out again. In August 2007 – nearly three months after the disappearance, the apartment was closed once again for additional forensic tests.
Just 12 days after Madeleine disappeared, a suspect was named. The man lived close to the resort and was seen outside the McCann’s apartment shortly after their daughter disappeared. The suspect’s home and cars were searched, and his associates were questioned, but nothing linked him to the disappearance, and he was eventually cleared, later suing authorities and receiving a large settlement.
As with most child abductions without quick answers, the parents became suspects. Media in Portugal and then the U.K. began suggesting the parents were involved in Madeleine’s disappearance and had made a “pact of silence” with the Tapas Seven. Forensic dogs were brought in to search the apartment and the car the McCanns rented, but their findings have been disputed.
Still, the McCanns were named suspects, with Portuguese police claiming they accidentally killed Madeleine and hid her body, with leaks to the media falsely claiming the evidence against them was stronger than it actually was. Despite being named suspects, the McCanns were allowed to return to the U.K.
On July 21, 2008, the Portuguese attorney general announced there wasn’t enough evidence to say the McCanns were involved in Madeleine’s disappearance, clearing them as suspects and closing the case. The McCanns, however, have never stopped looking for Madeleine, setting up Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd just two weeks after their daughter disappeared. It has since raised nearly £750,000.
The family has also hired several private investigators throughout the investigation and beyond, while the U.K. has conducted several additional probes – none of which have found Madeleine.
The most significant break in the case came in 2020, when police named “Christian B” as a suspect, later identified as Christian Brueckner. Brueckner is from Germany and is currently in prison for drug offenses, as well as a seven-year sentence for the rape of an elderly woman. Jim Gamble, a former British police officer who in 2010 led an official review of McCann’s disappearance, said in April 2022 that phone data put Brueckner near the scene of the crime within a 30-minute timeframe. Brueckner had also allegedly stolen from vacation homes in the area, with children’s clothing reportedly found in his vehicle.
“I think the circumstantial evidence that I know exists is extremely strong … I wouldn’t be surprised if charges follow,” Gamble noted. “It would just be fantastic to be able to give the McCanns peace of mind so far as knowing exactly what happened.”
Brueckner, however, denies any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance.