There is a new suspect in the six-year search for Madeleine McCann, the British child who was snatched from her family’s holiday suite in Portugal just shy of her fourth birthday. Over the weekend, Scotland Yard released an “efit”, or set of composite images, of their primary suspect, based on interviews from witnesses who reported a strange man in the resort the night young Madeleine disappeared. The photos depict a white man with cropped hair, between the age of 20 and 40, who police say may know first-hand what happened to the child.
The Portuguese case has been closed for nearly four years, but British investigators opened their own investigation into the child’s mysterious 2007 disappearance after a review called Operation Grange turned up more than 40 persons of interest and nearly 200 missed leads in the case. A team of 37 British investigators pored over 30,500 documents, including many garnered from private investigators working for the McCann family and their supporters. Police subpoenaed phone records, took a new look at surveillance video and retraced the tracks of part-time employees who were in the area when Madeleine disappeared. The Portuguese police have dedicated a team of investigators to support the British initiative, but so far have not reopened the case in Portugal. Their only suspects in the case were McCann’s parents, who were the focus of their search for the missing child.
The McCanns are set to launch a new appeal on the popular British Crimewatch program on Monday night, in which investigators will release what they believe is a new timeline of the events of November 3, 2007. The new timeline will replace the previous “accepted version of events” relating to the child’s alleged abduction. “The timeline we have now established has given new significance to sightings and movements of people in and around Praia da Luz at the time of Madeleine's disappearance,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the new investigation. “Our work to date has significantly changed the timeline and the accepted version of events that has been in the public domain to date.”
Specifically, Redwood hopes that the new appeal for information, bolstered by the new composite images of the suspect, will jog people’s memories or prompt anyone who has not yet come forward with information to do so. The Crimewatch appeal shows a lengthy reconstruction of the night in question, including the infamous tapas bar meal without the children, in addition to home videos and reconstructions of Madeleine playing in order to create a three-dimensional image of the missing child. This, they believe, might help witnesses who may have unknowingly seen her alive connect the dots and lead investigators to her whereabouts.
Key to the new timeline is a more precise window in which Madeleine most likely disappeared. She and her younger twin siblings had been left unattended in the McCann’s holiday suite just a few hundred yards from where the McCanns were dining at a tapas bar with friends. The suite was part of a protected compound – or so the McCann’s thought – and they felt secure leaving their children in the apartment. Members of the dinner party took turns checking on the children every half hour. On the first of several checks, they simply listened for cries at the door rather than checking the physical presence of the children, apparently not wanting to risk waking up the sleeping children by opening doors or turning on lights – a practice many parents of toddlers might appreciate. Police believe that their rigorous schedule actually gave the alleged abductors a safe window in which to snatch the child. Multiple witnesses had reported seeing a strange man carrying a bundled child that night, but Portuguese investigators had focused their attention on Madeleine’s parents as the primary suspects and, in doing so, did not follow up on other potential leads. "We know that at 8.30, that was the time that Mr. and Mrs. McCann went down to the tapas area for their dinner, and we know that at around 10pm, that was when Mrs McCann found that Madeleine was missing," said Detective Redwood.
On Sunday, a British newspaper reported that a man had already been arrested in the case. Neither the McCanns’ spokesperson nor the British police would confirm the arrest to The Daily Beast. The McCanns have been in Portugal recently to give testimony in a $1.6 million libel suit they filed against Goncalo Amaral, the former detective who headed the Portuguese investigation, who wrote a damning book called “The Truth of the Lie” about how he believed they killed their own child and staged an abduction. They will appear live ahead of the BBC One broadcast to make a personal plea to anyone who might recognize the man in the composite rendering. Earlier this year, Scotland Yard produced a computer image of what Madeleine might look like now, at around ten years of age. The McCanns have been victims of a malicious hate campaign that has included smears and death threats. The Crimewatch program, the first time the British police have backed the McCanns innocence publicly, could change public opinion. In a clip released ahead of the broadcast, Kate McCann told Crimewatch, “The only person who has done something wrong here is the person who has gone into that apartment and taken a little girl away from her family.”