Madeleine McCann went missing on May 3, 2007

By Laura Barcella
May 03, 2019 11:30 AM
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Editor’s Note:

May 3, 2020 marked the 13-year anniversary of Madeleine McCann's disappearance. Then just 3 years old, the child vanished from her British family’s vacation villa in the Algarve region of Portugal.

Though plenty of crime-watchers have long speculated about Madeleine's fate -- and to this day, people claim to have spotted her in locations across the world, there are still no concrete answers.

To shine a fresh light on the still unsolved case, in March 2019 Netflix debuted an 8-part docuseries about the case, entitled The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The following article was originally published on PEOPLE to mark the series’ debut. 

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The circumstances surrounding Madeleine’s disappearance were any parent’s worst nightmare. And the ensuing years have only compounded the anguish of Madeleine’s physician parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, who faced suspicion and intense media scrutiny after their daughter first went missing on May 3, 2007.

In September of that year, Portuguese authorities even named the parents as suspects in the girl’s disappearance. The couple later won a libel suit against a Portuguese detective who wrote a book claiming the McCanns were involved in her vanishing act.

A 2019 8-part Netflix docuseries, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, reexamined the high-profile case with fresh eyes. The documentary was directed by Chris Smith of Fyre, about the 2017 Fyre Music Festival.

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Was Madeleine Sold Into a Trafficking Ring?

On May 3, 2007, Madeleine; her twin 2-year-old siblings, Sean and Amelie; and her parents were enjoying a family vacation at a Portugese resort called Praia da Luz.

Madeleine’s parents left their three kids asleep in their room so the couple could go to dinner with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant, a mere 80 yards away. They took turns checking on the three children every 20-30 minutes, but when Kate McCann went to check on the kids around 9:30 pm, the film says, she noticed an open window — and that Madeleine was missing from her bed.

Madeleine McCann
Everton FC,HO/AP Photo

Though the girl’s parents were an early target of suspicion, this subsided over the years.

The film advances the theory that Madeleine was abducted and potentially sold into a trafficking ring. Though it’s a disturbing idea, it’s one whose credibility is bolstered by the fact that Madeleine’s body was never found and there is scant evidence pointing elsewhere.

In the film, witnesses recount seeing a man carrying a small blond child in pajamas toward the beach shortly before Kate McCann returned to her room to discover her daughter missing.

Because Portugal provides easy access to numerous countries, it would have been relatively easy for traffickers to transport her. The Telegraph reports that witnesses reported seeing “suspicious characters” who may have been working as “spotters” at the resort, looking for children to abduct for these shady purposes.

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In the series, a private investigator, Julian Peribanez, speculates that if Madeleine were abducted and sold into trafficking, she’d probably still be alive. Why? Because, as a white, young middle-class British girl, Peribanez says, “The value that Madeleine had was really high … If they took her it’s because they were going to get a lot of money.”

Since 2007, there have been more than 8,000 reported sightings of Madeleine across the globe, the BBC reports.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Family Opposed Netflix Series

Madeleine’s parents did not participate in the 2019 Netflix series, instead releasing the following statement on their website: “We did not see … how this programme will help the search for Madeleine and, particularly given there is an active police investigation, it could potentially hinder it.”

Though the McCanns’ spokesperson has also expressed skepticism about the series, in an appearance on This Morning he said the family remains hopeful that Madeleine will return home.

“[Kate and Gerry McCann] have always believed that … she could still be alive and that’s what keeps them going to this day,” he said, per MSN. “There is no evidence that she’s come to any physical harm whatsoever and until somebody absolutely sits them down and says they have the worst possible news for them, and the evidence, then they have to keep going.”

If you have any information about Madeleine McCann’s whereabouts, please send an email to investigation@findmadeleine.com, or call the official investigation line at +44 845 838 4699.