Seventy-two hours have gone by. All those involved in the investigation are feeling a deep sense of frustration. But it’s not a question of throwing in the towel. We need to bring new motivation to the teams and keep the investigation going at the same pace.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE ENGLISH POLICE
On Monday May 7th, we start to welcome our English colleagues from Leicestershire, the county where Madeleine and her parents live.
When we requested the collaboration of the English police, our request was passed on, according to practice, via the liaison officer of SOCA* We thought that a case of abduction was within the jurisdiction of Scotland Yard, who are much more experienced than others in the fight against violent crime. We learned that in Great Britain, investigations are consigned to the sector where the victim resides. Nevertheless, Scotland Yard will intervene later on.
(* Serious Organised Crime Agency)
In the Zavial area, a few kilometres from Vila da Luz, there lives a 46 year-old British citizen, who is suspected of paedophilia by his neighbours. The English police inform us that he doesn’t have a record and that he is not on file. In Portugal too, there are no complaints registered against him. He was not seen hanging about in the areas of Vila da Luz or the beach. The lead goes nowhere.
Research on thefts committed in the area before Madeleine’s disappearance leads us to the prison in Portimão. A young man is incarcerated there following a series of thefts in the region. He turns out to be very reticent, and the team sent to question him do not obtain any useful information. Nevertheless, we have to continue research in that direction. At this stage of the investigation, the track of a burglary gone wrong cannot be excluded.
Tuesday March 8th, 5pm, Vila da Luz
The white van seen near the Ocean Club, driven by an individual who looked like a tramp, ends up being identified. It belongs to a British music teacher, aged 56, who is spending his holiday playing the guitar and collecting money on the beach or in the streets of Vila da Luz. It’s certainly him that Gerald McCann passed on the promenade on the day he bought an ice cream for Madeleine. It’s also he who was seen near apartment 5A in the vehicle that serves him as living space. The follow-up investigation totally rules him out.
Tuesday March 8th, 11.45pm, Ocean Club blocks 4 and 5
In the hope of retracing the path that Madeleine would have taken on the night of May 3rd, we set up a search operation, bringing sniffer dogs in from Lisbon from the National Republican Guard. An identical operation had already taken place on the same night as the disappearance with dogs from the local police.
The idea is to start from apartment 5A and to follow all the roads that lead to accommodation blocks 5 and 4. From the start we are aware of the limits of this approach. In fact, the GNR dogs are essentially trained for searching in a rural environment; in addition, the persistence of bodily odours diminishes after 48 hours.
We get them to sniff a towel which, according to Kate, was used to dry Madeleine after her bath. When the dogs finished going along block 5, when, logically, they should have been heading for block 4, they suddenly turn to the left. They then follow the path at the back that separates the apartments from the leisure area. They go quite a long way in that direction. Even if the reaction of the two dogs coincides, the trainers cannot draw any definite conclusions: in fact, it’s already been more than two days since the disappearance. What they can state with certainty, is that Madeleine went along there, without being able to pinpoint the date. Gerald McCann confirms this claim: he took that same route with Madeleine a few days earlier.
MADELEINE IS SPOTTED ALL OVER THE WORLD
From the moment Madeleine’s photo is circulated in the media, her presence is reported to us from all over the place. In Portugal first of all, then in Spain and in Morocco, then all over Europe and even in Latin America, like a circle getting a bit wider every day, whose centre is Vila da Luz.
Almost simultaneously, she is in Zurich and on the corner of a Rio de Janeiro street…Faced with this tidal wave, rules have to be established, because it’s impossible for us to check everything. So, the local police have to check the veracity of the witness statements and take all necessary measures: viewing CCTV images, lifting fingerprints, DNA profiles…From May 11th the Moroccan saga gets going. A Norwegian woman who lives in the south of Spain allegedly recognised Madeleine in a service station in Marrakesh. From then on, the greatest number of witness statements come to us from Morocco and, bizarrely, each time someone states that they saw Madeleine, she is always in pyjamas and bare feet.
THE LITTLE MOROCCAN GIRL
Moroccan girl Bouchra Akchar carried by her mother Hafida. Bouchra was thought to be Maddeline who was photographed by Spanish tourist Clara Torres
Leaping forward in time and in the chronology of the investigation, we come to the end of September, a few days after the McCanns’ return to Great Britain. Repeated statements from clan McCann, who are not budging from the Moroccan trail – will we ever know why? – encourage a young Spanish woman to examine more closely photos she had taken during her holiday in Morocco. Before leaving, she had not been aware, she said, of this Moroccan lead. In one of her photos, taken from a vehicle, a North African family is seen, walking along a road. A woman is carrying a little girl on her back: it can only be Madeleine. Someone tells me about this witness statement and wants to know what I think. I have obviously still not seen the photo and even so I respond, convinced: “Unfortunately, it’s got to be a mistake.”
We ask the chief of Leicestershire police, Stuart Prior, where he is up to with it. He explains that the English police, after having seen the photo, immediately submitted it to the McCanns, asking them if they recognised their daughter. To which they replied with a, “perhaps.” Incomprehensible to say the least. We are shocked by the behaviour of the English, who took that initiative, without consulting us, us, the people responsible for the investigation, which is all the more ludicrous given that the McCanns were already considered as suspects. That way of doing things disrupts the strategy adopted for the investigation, which the Portuguese and English police agreed on.
It’s only in the morning papers the following day, that I get to see the photo. There is a group of people, obviously Moroccan, with a woman whose clothes practically cover her from head to foot. She is carrying a blonde child on her back. Those who thought this photo constituted an important lead were missing an important detail: this woman’s face – it was plain to see – was white; perhaps she was dressed like that for protection from the sun. So, the little girl could well be hers. This will be confirmed later on: the mother, of European origin, is married to a Moroccan. Once again, it’s wasn’t Maddie…Another false hope.
Saturday May 12th, Vila da Luz
The individual seen in the gardens of the Ocean Club on Wednesday May 2nd, not far from apartment 5A is identified: he’s a 53 year-old British gardener who has worked a few times for Robert Murat’s family’s gardening company. The searches carried out in his home and his car produced nothing. Further, his presence on the premises was perfectly justified and there is nothing linking him to Madeleine, whichever way you look at it.
We learn, by chance, that the McCanns are beginning to use their connections and that on May 23rd, they allegedly made contact with the future British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. We are convinced that the investigation is going to suffer all sorts of pressure and that Madeleine’s disappearance will be treated as a political problem, at least in Great Britain.
In spite of our having hundreds of pieces of information in our possession, we begin to realise that there is still some missing. At this time, everybody is aware of the theory of abduction. Residents and tourists present in Vila da Luz on the night of May 3rd have heard about this stranger who was allegedly seen, going around the streets, with a child in his arms. It wasn’t ruled out that the man could be a local, quietly going home, carrying his sleeping child. On May 25th, then, we launched an appeal in the media: anyone having seen an individual corresponding to the description given by Jane Tanner should contact us. No one responded.
When Robert Murat is placed under investigation, we review the press photos taken just after Madeleine’s disappearance: we want to check what he was wearing and with whom he was in contact . On the morning of May 4th, Murat is seen near some GNR members in the company of two individuals of English nationality – as we find out later -, one of them being of Asian origin. Ocean Club tourists probably. We also examine the photos taken by the McCanns during their holiday. In one of them, Gerald McCann is seen playing with his children in the Tapas restaurant play area. In the background, you can make out an Asian-looking man, the same one as was seen in Robert Murat’s company. He seems to be observing the family. We then proceed to identify him and the other holiday-makers that Murat had been in contact with. We get this information to the English police, who interview them locally. They conclude that they weren’t involved in Madeleine’s disappearance. In fact, the man in the photo was with his daughter – and there was nothing suspicious about his behaviour; as for the others, they had met Murat during the searches organised to find Madeleine. A few days later, these photos will be published in an English newspaper: it is not known how they were obtained or for what purpose they were disclosed.
One of the Ocean Club tourists states having heard Gerald McCann saying on the telephone that there were paedophile networks in Portugal, and that it was they who were responsible for Madeleine’s abduction. Absolutely astonishing! Just a few hours after his daughter’s disappearance, the father already knows who is guilty!
RECONSTRUCTION OR NOT?
In mid-May, we had already submitted the nine friends of the McCanns to a second round of interviews. In spite of its importance, – too upset seemingly to countenance the exercise – Kate Healy’s was left until later. In view of the number of inconsistencies raised by cross-checking the statements, we are thinking of going ahead with a reconstruction. This is a routine procedure, above all when contradictory details pile up. Most of the time, it helps to make rapid headway with the investigation. By placing the various players in the drama – in this case the group of friends, employees of the restaurant, play leaders and other witnesses – into a situation that is identical to what they experienced, differences between the versions become obvious. When an improbability is noticed, the protagonists must then explain immediately.
The reconstruction was never to take place. The reasons put forward to justify that decision – in spite of opinions to the contrary – are multiple. There are lots of holiday-makers at this time and sealing off the perimeter would ruin their stay; the airspace would have to be closed; the hotel complex would be overrun with hordes of journalists; people might think that the parents and their friends were suspects and, of course, the field mustn’t be left open for that kind of deliberation. For all that, a more discreet reconstruction, even partial, with only the couple present, might provide useful information. No a priori judgment is implied, quite the contrary. It’s quite simply the co-operation that we have the right to expect on the part of parents faced with such a situation.
I am convinced that there is still a need for a reconstruction, whatever form it takes. The staging of the events of May 3rd from the details gathered from numerous witness statements would help to revive memories. It is difficult to understand why that is not possible.
AN ATTEMPTED EXTORTION AND AN UNCONCERNED FATHER
On June 14th, the parents are contacted by a stranger who states that he is in possession of information about Madeleine’s whereabouts. Following the advice of the investigators, the McCanns set up an email address in order to maintain contact more easily and to better evaluate the reliability of the source. In the course of exchanges, the stranger demands 2 million Euros, of which an advance of 500,000 Euros must be sent to a person of his acquaintance in The Netherlands.
A rogatory letter is obtained. The Dutch courts and police are asked for assistance in locating and identifying the individual. The McCanns are anxious and impatient; they think the emails sent are credible and they respond very quickly. They lived in The Netherlands with Madeleine before the birth of the twins. Would someone they knew there have kidnapped their little girl to obtain a ransom? Kate and Gerald are convinced they are going to succeed, thanks to this lead, in finding Madeleine. But that conviction will not last long, as we will find out later.
Informed of these mails, the Portuguese PJ, acting in agreement with the English and Dutch police, engage in negotiations by email with the informant. The police advise Gerald McCann on how to act in order to obtain the maximum information. If the lead turned out to be credible, Madeleine might be freed and her abductors captured.
One day, we were all together at the PJ in Portimão – inspectors and negotiators, members of Scotland Yard and the Leicestershire police – waiting for a contact to define the place and the conditions for the handing over of the money in Holland; when the tension was at its height and we were all holding our breath, Gerald McCann displayed a nonchalance that surprised all of the police officers present, including the English. The atmosphere got heavier as the waiting drew out, but McCann, relaxed, was reading trivia on the internet and discussing rugby and football with the English police, while licking a lollipop. On the telephone, he laughed with friends who called him. Perhaps this was nervousness; sometimes it’s totally displaced, given what is at stake at the time. His attitude shocked. When, two days later the dutch police informed us that the individual had been arrested, that he was not holding any information and had lied from start to finish with the sole objective of extorting money from the couple, we were not surprised.
Did Gerald McCann know that this lead would take us to a dead end? Is that the reason he appeared to be so nonchalant? Or was it due to the coldness that he never lost throughout the investigation – an attitude that made one of the English police officers say: “Don’t forget he’s a heart surgeon and he cuts people open before breakfast. “