World News

03.21.13

Madeleine McCann Case: Police Hunt for Troupe of British Cleaners

A troupe of British cleaners linked to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have sparked renewed interest in the ongoing search for the missing British toddler. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the hunt for the elusive crew.

As Scotland Yard detectives work through more than 100,000 pages of Portuguese police records relating to the 2007 disappearance of 4-year-old British toddler Madeleine McCann in Praia da Luz, Portugal, they have come up with some unlikely scenarios as to what happened to the youngster. Reports of Madeleine sightings on German airplanes, Spanish campgrounds, and even New Zealand supermarkets have all turned cold. But as each lost lead is eliminated, investigators hope that they can hone in on clues and soon discover what really happened to the missing child. 

Now, the latest lead has produced an unlikely scenario about what happened to Madeleine. According to an investigation by the British Sun, Scotland Yard investigators are hot on the trail of a British cleaning crew who traveled in a white van and were employed by the Ocean Club resort at the time Madeleine disappeared.There have been numerous reports of a white van in connection with Madeleine’s disappearance in the earlier investigation, but the British cleaners are a new twist in the old theory. Claiming to have seen a letter from British detectives, the Sun quoted an unnamed property manager who says he has been asked several times by detectives about the cleaning crew who worked for the Ocean Club resort when Madeleine disappeared. “The officer said it had been drawn to their attention [that] there were British people who cleaned the apartments that they needed to speak to,” the property owner claimed. “They said, ‘Who are the British cleaners that are cleaning the apartments in a white van’? They wanted to know if I knew anybody that does cleaning out there. They asked about it four times.”

If they materialize, it is believed that the British cleaning crew could provide crucial information about what happened the night Madeleine disappeared. If they are not found, they could be considered suspects in the young child’s disappearance. Many theories about Madeleine’s disappearance have pointed to North African child trafficking rings that were active in the area when Madeleine disappeared. In some cases, children were allegedly “abducted to order.” More than a dozen Madeleine sightings in Morocco in 2007 and 2008 are also reportedly part of the Operation Grange investigation, according to a detective close to the case.

McCann and her younger twin siblings were sleeping in a holiday suite at the Ocean Club resort on the night of May 3, 2007, while their parents Gerry and Kate McCann dined with friends at a tapas bar about 130 yards away. The dining adults took turns checking on the sleeping children every half hour. Because the resort was on protected grounds, the McCanns felt confident leaving their children unattended between checks. At around 10 p.m., Madeleine’s mother Kate took her turn to peek in on the kids and found the bedroom window open. Madeleine was missing. The twins were still sleeping soundly.

The McCanns became instant suspects in the case, and Portuguese police focused much of their attention on the British couple, who are both practicing British National Health Service doctors, leaving many credible leads unchecked. When the Portuguese police could not substantiate their suspicions against the McCanns with hard proof, they were cleared as suspects and the case was officially closed in July 2008. In May 2011, Scotland Yard launched a shadow investigation called Operation Grange to reexamine the original police work. They have called on the Portuguese authorities also to reopen the case based on nearly 200 leads Scotland Yard investigators believe they may have fumbled, but so far have not conceded. 

The British cleaner conspiracy comes on the heels of another mysterious Madeleine sighting—the second this year. In January, DNA tests were conducted on a young girl in New Zealand who had a striking resemblance to McCann, including a similar birthmark on her right eye. Those DNA tests eventually proved that the New Zealand child was not McCann. Then last week, details of a similar sighting were reported in Cyprus. In the Cypriot case, a British couple moved to Ayia Napa, Cyprus, in October of last year with the young Madeleine lookalike and her two brothers. The children were enrolled in a local school. Two separate witnesses reported a striking similarity between the young girl and McCann, including the same right-eye birthmark, according to British press reports. The family then suddenly pulled the children from school and left Cyprus in February, allegedly stealing several items from the apartment they rented. Just as Interpol was readying an investigation into the theft, the family moved back to Britain. Metropolitan police have said they “will not give a running commentary” on Operation Grange investigations, but the local Cyprus newspaper says that the school provided DNA samples and a birth certificate that proved the girl in question was not McCann.

"There are always going to be false leads, but one day, just one of them may lead somewhere. That is why I say everyone needs to remain both positive and vigilant regardless of how unrealistic this may appear to some,” former Metropolitan homicide detective Ian Horrocks told The Daily Beast. “I believe any new information is indicative of the professional manner in which the Metropolitan Police review is being conducted. Due to their thoroughness, there will be occasions when inquiries are conducted and questions asked where they have not been previously. This will hopefully lead to the identification of new witnesses, as well as creating new lines of inquiry to trace potential suspects.”

Renewed interest in Madeleine’s disappearance may have given her parents hope, but it has come with a price. Last week, an Internet troll using the pseudonym “Sheila Basher” posted a death threat against Madeleine’s mother, Kate, on a Facebook post that has since been removed. McCann is planning to run in the London marathon next month to raise money for the Madeleine McCann Foundation. The anonymous poster threatened to kill her if she entered the race. 

Whether any of the old leads will point investigators to the truth about what happened to McCann remains to be seen, but not following up on them most certainly won’t. “I’m sure the McCann’s hopes are raised almost daily, and then dashed again,” says Detective Horrocks. “The emotional spiral is unimaginable.”