The Madeleine McCann Case: What to Know About the 2007 Disappearance of 3-Year-Old British Girl

Madeleine McCann from England disappeared from her bed while she, her family and their friends were on vacation in a holiday apartment at a resort in Praia da Luz in Portugal in 2007.

Madeleine McCann was just 3 years old when she seemingly vanished into thin air. 

The little girl from England disappeared from her bed while she, her family and their friends were on vacation in a holiday apartment at a resort in Praia da Luz in Portugal in 2007.

Madeleine’s whereabouts remain unknown, but interest in the child’s fate has only grown in the years since she went missing. 

“The Madeleine McCann industry: How a three-year-old’s disappearance became a troubling national obsession,” one headline read. Another deemed the search for answers into what happened to Madeleine “A Global Obsession.”

As the anniversary marking 12 years since Madeleine went missing nears, Netflix will reportedly release a new documentary examining the case.

“We have interesting new interviews with people close to the inquiry and we believe we can give justice to this unbelievably tragic story,” a source close to the filmmakers told the Daily Mail

Ahead of the documentary’s release, read more below about the disappearance of Madeleine.

Bliss Before The Vanishing  

The hours leading up to the Madeleine’s disappearance were all a young family could want from a vacation: tranquil and filled with fun. 

Kate and Gerry McCann had taken their three children — 3-year-old Madeleine and 2-year-old twins Sean and Amelie — on vacation with seven of their friends and their children to the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region.

During the early hours of May 3, 2007, the sixth day of what should have been a week-long vacation, the McCanns left their children at Ocean Club’s Kid Club while they went for a walk, according to a timeline of that day compiled by The Guardian. 

They collected their children for lunch, spent several hours at the pool, and after the kids ate dinner at the Kids Club, Kate took them back to their room while Gerry spent an hour playing tennis.

Gerry returned to his family at 7 p.m., and he and Kate put the children to bed. They tucked in Madeleine in a single bed near a door and the twins into two travel cots between their big sister’s bed and an empty bed against the opposite wall beneath a window, The Guardian wrote.

Kate and Gerry showered, changed, shared a bottle of wine together and headed to a tapas restaurant about 50 yards away from their apartment at 8:35 p.m. The rest of their friends arrived shortly thereafter. 

Joining the McCanns were David and Fiona Payne, Fiona's mother Dianne Webster, Matthew and Rachael Oldfield, and Russell O'Brien and his partner Jane Tanner, a group that would later be known as the “Tapas Seven.” The party ordered starters, and they started the routine of checking on the children about 20 minutes later at 8:55 p.m.

Gerry returned to his apartment about 9:05 p.m., slipping in trough the patio doors, which they left unlocked so to not disturb the children. Though the children’s bedroom door doesn’t appear to be exactly as he and Kate left it, all three kids were fast asleep in their beds, so Gerry left their door slightly ajar, went to the bathroom and returned to the restaurant. 

It would be the last time he would see his daughter. 

The next person to check on Madeleine and her siblings was Matthew Oldfield, who noticed the children’s bedroom door was again open. He peeked into the room and saw the twins asleep, but would be unable to say for certain if Madeleine was in the room at the time.

A Nightmare Begins

The good memories made during the McCann family vacation were shattered when Kate checked on her children about 10 p.m. The window was open, the shutter was up and Madeleine’s bed was empty. 

It had been about an hour since Gerry had last seen Madeleine. 

As he made his way back to the tapas bar, Gerry ran into another vacationer at the resort and struck up a conversation. As the two men talked, Tanner, one of the so-called Tapas Seven, spotted a man walking quickly across the top of the road in front of her, according to the Guardian. She reportedly said he was carrying a sleeping girl in pink pajamas and heading to the other road of the resort complex away from the apartment block, but she didn’t think anything of it and returned to the table.

It’s only after Kate rushed to Tanner’s apartment to say Madeleine was gone that Tanner apparently said: “Oh my God. I saw a man carrying a girl.”

Rachael, another member of the “seven,” ran to the 24-hour reception to have the police called at 10:15 p.m., and within 15 minutes, local law enforcement arrived on the scene. Detectives from the Policia Judiciaria arrived by 11:10 p.m.

A full police hunt was launched in an effort to find Madeleine, and investigators used search dogs, notified border controls and alerted airports to her disappearance. 

Law enforcement noticed a latch lock on the sliding glass window in the room, which the McCanns thought but weren’t sure they had locked at the start of their stay. Officials later learned cleaners would often open the shutters and windows in the rooms they were tending to air them out, so it was impossible to determine if the window was or was not locked that night.

But Portuguese police were later criticized for what many believed were lapses in judgment, including not sealing off the apartment as a potential crime scene, as well as for not collecting the bedding from the room she was sleeping in for evidence, the Telegraph reported.

“We were only sent samples for DNA testing. It's obvious it would have been good if they had sent us the blankets, pillows and even the mattress where the girl was sleeping,” a source told the newspaper. 

As authorities searched the grounds for Madeleine, her panicked family and their friends also tried in vain to find their little girl.

“We were told to start looking in bins in case her body was in there,” a woman at the resort who watched Madeleine told the Daily Mirror. “It was at that point we realized this was serious.”

The unnamed woman said Kate was in a “catatonic state” as they searched for her daughter, while Gerry searched under cars in the area. 

“That’s the one thing I really remember from him, looking under the cars,” the woman said. “I can’t forget that.”

Familial Suspicions 

Madeleine’s family appealed to the public for help in finding their daughter, all while steadfastly denying accusations they were involved in any crime that led to their child’s disappearance. 

“Please, please do not hurt her,” Kate said during her first televised appearance in May 2007. 

But by the following month, reporters began asking Kate and Gerry if they had anything to do with their daughter going missing.

In September 2007, the McCanns were labeled “arguidos,” or suspects, in Madeleine’s disappearance, and police alleged the little girl’s DNA was found in the trunk of their car and behind a sofa in the apartment. 

Police went to claim they believed Madeleine died in the apartment and her parents faked her abduction to cover up the death. They also claimed the Tapas Seven aided in the coverup, which they said the meal at the restaurant and the checks on the McCann children were a part of. 

None of the Tapas Seven were ever declared a suspect or "arguido" in the case, and all cooperated willingly and voluntarily with the investigation.

Despite their arguido status, the McCanns were able to leave Portugal and returned back to England. 

Among those convinced of the McCanns’ guilt was Chief Inspector Goncalo Amaral, the inquiry’s coordinator. He was removed from his post and transferred after apparently telling a newspaper the British police were only pursuing leads that were helpful to the McCanns and that they were ignoring that they were suspects in the case. 

The McCanns were told their arguido status was lifted on July 21, 2008, but Portuguese Supreme Court judges in 2017 clarified the parents had not been ruled innocent when it came to their daughter’s disappearance. 

The McCanns and Amaral, who went on to write about his suspicions in the case in his 2008 book, "The Truth of the Lie," have been embroiled in a long-running court battle for years. The couple sued the now-retired detective for libel and initially won, but the ruling was overturned. 

It was not immediately clear if Amaral agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, in which the McCanns refused to participate, but a friend of the couple told MailOnline they knew Amaral had been approached. 

“Their lawyers will be keeping watch for any potentially libelous material,” the friend told MailOnline.

What Followed 

The years that followed saw a series of investigations open, close, reopen, ramp up and scale down, all while the McCanns continued to speak out in the hopes that their daughter would be found. 

Kate, Gerry and their supporters founded the Find Madeleine campaign, which in 2009 released a poster of what the girl may have looked like when she was six. In May 2011, on Madeleine’s birthday, Kate published a book, the proceeds of which were used to replenish the fund they used to separately investigate the disappearance. 

The Portuguese police closed their investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance on July 21, 2008, but reopened their probe in 2013, citing “new evidence.” The McCanns said they welcomed the development, which saw ground-penetrating radar used at three sites near Praia da Luz in an effort to unearth more clues.  

In May 2011, Scotland Yard launched a government-funded investigative review in the disappearance. The review focused on uncovering “a criminal act by a stranger, then-senior investigator DCI Andy Redwood said, according to the Telegraph. Their operation was scaled down in 2015, with the number of officers on the case reduced from 29 to four. 

In 2016, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said he believed there was “one final lead” in the case.

But answers seemed no closer by May 3, 2017, the 10-year anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance. 

In the days leading up to the milestone, Kate described it as a “horrible marker of time, stolen time.” 

The McCanns have reportedly refused to take part in the upcoming Netflix documentary, saying, “We want nothing to do with it.” 

"We did not see – and still do not see – how this program will help the search for Madeleine and, particularly given there is an active police investigation, it could potentially hinder it,” the family said in a statement obtained by the Daily Star. "Consequently, our views and preferences are not reflected in the program. We will not be making any further statements or giving interviews regarding this program."

Still, in December 2018, the McCanns took to the Find Madeleine website to share a message of faith.

“We miss Madeleine dearly. Christmas will never be the same without her, but we will continue to make the best of what we have,” the couple said. “The investigation is ongoing and our hope remains.

"May 2019 be a peaceful and positive one for us all.”

Netflix did not comment on the series.