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Netflix has given us some great true crime documentaries, but 'The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann' is not one of them. Here's what we know.

‘The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann’: Saddest true crime ever?

Netflix has given us some great true crime documentaries, but The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is not one of them. Madeleine McCann’s disappearance is to the UK, what JonBenet Ramsey’s death is to the US. Netflix usually has its finger on the pulse of true crime, generously gifting those who follow cases with captivating, in-depth coverage. Sadly, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann missed the mark. 

Three-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished from her hotel room bed on May 3rd, 2007, at a resort in Portugal where she was staying with her parents and two-year-old twin siblings. In the almost thirteen years since the young girl was seen, theories and conjecture have ruled the conversation around Madeleine and her parents. Netflix’s depiction of the story is just more of the same. 

What we do know about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann

In order to explain all the ways Netflix failed in The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, we first need to clarify the facts. Madeleine was on a family vacation in Praia da Luz, Portugal. The McCann family was traveling with a group of friends from their home in the UK. 

On May 3rd, 2007, Madeleine’s parents, physicians Kate and Gerry left Madeleine and her twin siblings asleep in their room at 8:30 pm. Their room was on the ground floor of the resort, and they were going to have dinner with their friends at a restaurant about 180 feet away from the room. The parents in the group took turns checking on the children throughout the dinner until Kate McCann discovered Madeline was missing at 10 pm. 

The McCanns were traveling with seven other friends, and all of their children, eight in total. The party of nine friends would put the kids to bed and then meet for dinner at the nearby tapas restaurant most nights.  

The friends include physicians Fiona and David Payne, and Fiona’s mother, Jane Tanner and Russel O’Brien, a marketing manager and physician, respectively, and Matthew and Rachael Oldfield. Matthew is also a physician who worked with Russel and Gerry McCann, and Rachael is a lawyer. 

The McCanns had arrived at the resort for a seven-night stay on April 28th, 2007. They stayed in a two-bedroom apartment, with the children sleeping in a room next to the front door, that the McCanns kept locked. The room had a waist-high window, and again, it was on the ground floor. The McCanns kept the window’s curtains and shutter closed. The window was near a narrow walkway and residents’ parking lot. 

After Portugal’s initial investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance hit a standstill, Scotland Yard picked up the case, which is still unsolved. 

The sightings and theories

If you were to turn on the news in the UK in the summer of 2007, all you would have seen was the face of Madeleine McCann. The beautiful smiling three-year-old who was so cruelly plucked from her bed was all anyone could talk about. Of course, the theories on what happened to Madeleine have also dominated the conversation.

Jane Tanner left the dinner at 9:05 to check on her own children and passed Gerry McCann on his way back from checking on Madeleine and the twins. Tanner claimed that at 9:15, she saw a man carrying a young child just ahead of her. Jane Tanner’s claim has been picked apart for years, referred to as “The Tanner sighting”, and led Portuguese police to their first suspect, Robert Murat.

A further sighting only works if Jane Tanner’s account is false. The “Smith sighting” refers to Martin and Mary Smith, who were visiting the resort from Ireland. The couple also saw a man walking while carrying a young girl, but their account was at 10 pm. 

British-Portuguese property consultant Robert Murat was the police’s first suspect, identified 12 days after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Murat, 34, lived in his mother’s house, about 150 yards from the McCann’s apartment. He resembled Jane Tanner’s description from “the Tanner sighting” and the direction she saw the suspect walking was towards his home.

Nothing was found to link Robert Murat to Madeleine’s disappearance. Portuguese police have long maintained that they believe the McCanns themselves to be the #1 suspects in Madeleine’s disappearance.

The McCanns, the media, and the police 

The McCanns quickly alerted the media to the news of Madeleine’s disappearance, which got them off on the wrong foot with Portuguese investigators. One thing that Netflix’s The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann does well is to clearly portray just how difficult the relationship between the McCanns, the media, and Portuguese investigators truly became. 

Despite being the ones to loop journalists into the story, the McCanns soon found themselves the victims of those same journalists’ theories and scorn. Meanwhile, the influx of hundreds of members of the media forced investigators to hastily identify suspects and jump to unfounded conclusions. 

Eventually, the scandal hungry media ended up tainting an already bungled case. The lead investigator Gonçalo Amaral was removed from her case in disgrace after criticizing both the British police and the McCanns in an interview, published a book on the story, titled The Truth of the Lie, where he alleged that Madeleine died in the holiday apartment and that the McCanns covered up her death. 

Additionally, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann details the story of an American private detective hired to investigate Madeleine’s disappearance who turned out to be a con man. The McCanns, if innocent, had no one to trust.

Where The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann went wrong

There are a lot of ways that The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann missed the mark, but the most notable is the failure to feature Kate and Gerry McCann. The parents were asked to participate, but declined, citing the media’s propensity to fuel conspiracy theories, and the fact that the investigation is ongoing as their reasoning. 

Whether there would have been a way to convince the couple to join the film is anyone’s guess, but trying to tell a story of this infamy and magnitude without including the key players is a true lack in judgment. 

The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann also left out key details, like the fact that the McCanns had eaten dinner at that very restaurant with their friends almost every night of their trip. Additionally, they failed to explore gaping holes, like did Kate’s friends hear her screaming after discovering Madeleine was gone or did Kate come to tell her friends calmly? Were the twins sleeping peacefully the whole time, or had something awoken them? 

While The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann toes the line in trying not to lay more accusations at the feet of her parents, it also fails to explore deeper theories on what happened to the three-year-old. Netflix’s recounting of the story generally only stirs the pot, while not offering anything substantial for audiences to sink their teeth into.

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  • It was all very strange. The self appointed Investigative Journalist JC announced himself as the “First” or the “Only” one on the scene, but the video taken at the time shows him in a group of at least 6 others. He claims to have met the Mccanns IN the apartment, but the film shows that they left and he did not speak to them, and that the apartment was taped off and being searched by forensic experts . . and so on and on. Yet Netflix decided to include all this. One can only assume because they wanted to expose him.

    March 22, 2020
  • Madeleine died of secondary drowning after a sailing incident at sea on Thursday, the day she disappeared. It was Jessica, the daughter of Neil Berry who was present when it happened, who told her dad. In 2017 this incident was mentioned in an interview about the last hours of Madeleine McCann. One can find it on the internet. It shows also a photo of Madeleine. The straw hat of Jessica was blown by the wind when the kids were on the catamaran and Madeleine launched herself in the water to get the straw hat. At that incident she swallowed water, she was rescued by a staff member one thing which makes this condition ( secondary drowning) so difficult to detect its slow acting nature.
    A victim may breath in a very small amount of fluid and believe she has succesfully expelled it though coffing.
    In reality the water may fill up some oxygen rich pores of the lungs reducing the lungs ability to oxygenate the blood paases through. The heart does not slow down appreciably during this proces. so the victim can still talk and walk.
    The only symptoms may be sudden change of personality or level of awareness as the blood oxygen level drops over time. vomiting or unvoluntary defecation immediately following a swimming ( or bath) session should be considered as a red flag. The symptons are coughing, chestpain, trouble breathing, feeling extremely tired ( as Madeleine was according to Kate McCann in several interviews and in her book) and lack of sleep.
    Secondary drowning can also come from something as simple as getting water in your mouth or getting dunked.
    If the symptoms don’t go away or if they get worse the urgent advice is to bring the child to an emergency room, not to your pediatrician’s office. chest XRay and IV and be admitted for observation. breathproblems needed a breathing tube for a while. He or she should be observed for several hours for signs of labored breathing and altered mental status.
    Death may occur between one or 48 hours! Cause of heartfallure.
    Gerry McCann and His wife are doctors who probably thought they could handle the unexpected situation in which they were confronted with very serious medical problems. Maybe they tried to resuscitate Madeleine but failed to save her life.

    The nanny of the children was moved by the mark Warner firm to Greece ten days after the disappearance.
    The sail instructor nor the safety boat employee and other waterfront employees, all from the UK, contracted by the firm were never interviewed by the Portugese police nor the MET except the nanny, but in the PJ files this sailing incident was never mentioned.
    Maybe it is time for the four members of Operation Grange to investigate the possibility of a secondary drowning as a cause of death. Till now all their efforts to solve this case are dead end streets.

    March 26, 2020
  • Correction: The article in the Daily Record was published in March 2019.

    March 26, 2020
  • I would dispute that this was the saddest crime ever. How about Sarah Payne or James Bulger to name but two?

    April 18, 2020
  • Definitely not the saddest crime ever. There are unfortunately huge amounts of children that go missing or get murdered in the world, honestly the obsession with Madeline is simply because she is the quintessential mousey English child. The money that has been spent on this case is ridiculous, it is terribly sad, but there are plenty of terribly sad crimes, plenty of people who’s horrors get overlooked without funding and nowhere near the time invested. If you research it, there are countless missing people and some utterly horrific murders of whole families (including children). This specific case is omipresent.

    June 3, 2020

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