ROME, Italy — Roderick MacDonald has been proven to be the worst kind of pedophile there is—an apologetic serial offender. The 76-year-old Briton, who lived in Australia under the assumed name Roderick Robinson for several years, has been convicted in absentia of raping young girls in Australia and England, and he is facing charges for molesting and raping young girls in New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines. MacDonald, who goes by the nickname “Captain Rod,” has been convicted of underage sex crimes no less than five times, but the longest he has ever served in prison is six months because he has either skipped town before sentencing or because he has entered a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence.
This week the serial child rapist was picked up on a European arrest warrant on the tiny island of Gozo off Malta where he had been living secretly for at least six months. He has agreed to be extradited back to England to serve a prison sentence for a conviction for sexually molesting sisters aged five and seven in 2012. He was out on bail awaiting a sentencing hearing when he skipped town last. When he is returned to England, likely over the weekend, authorities hope to question him about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the British youngster who disappeared from her parents’ holiday villa in the Algarve Portugal in 2007.
Police in Portugal originally suspected McCann’s parents Kate and Gerry were involved in their daughter’s disappearance. The cops have since been criticized for likely letting the real kidnapper or kidnappers get away while they focused on the McCanns. In 2008, the Portuguese police did clear the McCanns of any wrongdoing and closed the case. In 2011, Scotland Yard reopened the case under the investigative name Operation Grange at the insistence of British prime minister David Cameron. They found nearly 200 leads the Portuguese police apparently missed, including vital witness testimony that could have led them to the little girl. The British detectives have since interviewed countless witnesses and cleared a number of dubious suspects in the case.
In October 2013, the Portuguese police reopened the case in Portugal, paving the way for further investigations by Scotland Yard. In June, British and Portuguese detectives dug up the vacant field next to the holiday resort where Madeleine disappeared, but found nothing.
It is understood that MacDonald has been on the radar for years. British police thanked a number of organizations for helping secure his arrest, implying there had been an international operation to locate him. “We are glad to learn of his arrest, which has come about as the result of close co-operation between ourselves, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Child Exploitation On-Line Protection Centre (at the National Crime Agency), and overseas law enforcement agencies,” British Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes, of Sussex Police, said in a statement.
MacDonald is believed to have been living in a campground in Portugal when McCann disappeared. British and Portuguese detectives believe he may have been involved with or have important information about a known pedophile ring that operated in the area at the time. He is not considered a formal suspect in the case—at least not yet.
The McCann family has expressed frustration that MacDonald was not formally questioned about their daughter when he faced trial for the 2012 double child rape, even though detectives knew then that he had been in Portugal at the time their daughter disappeared. MacDonald attended the trial but escaped on bond when he was awaiting sentence. He then changed his name and used a fake passport to flee to Australia. “The police knew he was in Portugal around the time she vanished, but let him slip through their fingers,” Kate McCann said after he fled. “They told me they would monitor him. When he fled they didn’t bother telling me. I’m so angry he has been allowed to go on the run.”
The joint British-Portuguese team is also pursuing a number of other leads in the McCann disappearance, bolstered by the appointment of a new prosecutor in Portugal, Ines Sequeira, who said she was “utterly determined” to solve the case, which could pave the way for greater ease for Operation Grange detectives.
The joint team is currently focused on a series of break-ins that happened between 2004 and 2010, during which male intruders allegedly went into hotel rooms housed by families in the same area of the Algarve where the McCann family stayed.
According to police, nine of the incidents involved British families. Three of the incidents took place in Praia de Luz, the area where the McCanns were vacationing, and one incident took place in the very same resort where young Madeleine disappeared. Five incidents took place in nearby Carvoeiro between 2004 and 2006 and the others took place just a few miles away in coastal resort towns. “Sufficient characteristics between the cases lead them to now believe that 18 matters in total concerning children may be potentially linked,” according to a statement from Scotland Yard.
In July, Portuguese police named four local men as official suspects or arguidos in the case, the same distinction given to the McCanns in the days after their daughter disappeared. They are also planning to test a sample of DNA that was found in the McCann villa that does not match any of the family or friends who were with them at the time. That sample of DNA has been held at the National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences in Coimbra in central Portugal. According to the Guardian newspaper Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the British investigation, will be in Portugal this week to visit the laboratory. It is presumed the DNA will be tested against MacDonald’s once he is back in British custody.
McCann’s parents have been cleared of any involvement in their daughter’s disappearance, but they remain the victims of an often vile Internet campaign against them. Last week, a British woman committed suicide after admitting she had harassed the McCanns online.
The McCanns say they are optimistic that the truth about their daughter will emerge, despite the fact that seven years have passed since she disappeared. “We are further encouraged that, despite the intensive searches, no trace of Madeleine has been found and this reinforces our belief that she could still be alive,” the McCann’s wrote recently on their website. “As parents of a missing child, we have always wanted all reasonable lines of enquiry to be followed and it is gratifying to know that a substantial amount of work will take place over the coming months with close cooperation of the British and Portuguese authorities.” Madeleine would have turned 11 last May. Her parents have not changed her bedroom since she disappeared just shy of her fourth birthday.