‘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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