On May 12, Kate McCann will place a “sweet” 16 birthday gift in her missing daughter Madeleine’s bedroom in Leicester, England. The room has been left untouched since the child disappeared from the Ocean Club resort in Praia Da Luz, Portugal, in 2003, and the poignant ritual is one that the still-grieving mother believes will one day pay off. She hopes her missing daughter will come home to open up all the presents that have been left there over the years.
McCann may have more hope this year than in many years past, though perhaps only to provide closure to the 12-year mystery of her daughter’s disappearance. Investigators in Portugal and the U.K. say they are homing in on two of the strongest leads they have found in recent years.
The first lead is a more thorough investigation into German pedophile Martin Ney, who, Portuguese authorities have confirmed to The Daily Beast, told a prison inmate in Germany something only McCann’s kidnapper could know.
Ney, 48, is serving a life sentence in a German prison for the murder of three prepubescent boys between 1992 and 2001. He is also under investigation for the suspected murder of two other children, whose bodies have never been found, and the sexual abuse of a dozen others. He resembles the photo composite released by Portuguese police based on witness accounts at the time McCann disappeared.
Ney’s lawyer would not confirm to the The Daily Beast whether he has been questioned in the McCann affair, but Clarence Mitchell, the McCann family spokesman, told The Daily Beast that police had, in fact, talked to him. “It might be him and he fits the profile, he is a known predatory pedophile,” he said. “There is a degree of credibility it is Ney, but we cannot speculate.”
Ney’s modus operandi in stealing the children was to don a black balaclava and sneak into their rooms while they slept when their parents had stepped out. He often sedated the children to remove them quietly, according to the court documents that led to his convictions. He was working at a homeless center run by an evangelical church in the same area where McCann disappeared while her parents ate at a tapas bar with friends a few hundred feet away from Maddie’s bedroom.
But Portuguese authorities say it is more likely a second suspect they are investigating—an alleged accomplice of Ney—will prove more useful.
After watching the Netflix documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann in March, a female worker who had long retired from the Praia Da Luz resort recognized a man—now a suspect—in the grainy footage. She said she had seen him with a man she is sure was Ney.
The woman, whose name is being kept private for her own safety while the investigation continues, had a run-in with the unnamed suspect, who she says she caught stealing from the Ocean Club resort. When she confronted the man, he threatened her, according to an investigator with the Policia Judiciaria in Portugal.
Now, police think the new suspect may have been working with Ney as part of a sex-trafficking ring that preyed on children in the area at the time. A number of resort employees have given evidence over the years that they recognized both Ney and someone who is now believed to be the second man in and around the resort.
The second man, who was still working in the area, has been brought in for questioning, according to a source with the Portuguese police. The Daily Beast confirmed the lead with two separate sources who are working with both the British and Portuguese authorities.
The Netflix series was produced with the cooperation of both Portuguese and British authorities, whose Operation Grange investigation into the disappearance began in 2011 and is still ongoing. The eight-part series focused on a disturbing child-sex-trafficking ring that was operating in the area around the time McCann disappeared. The McCanns did not cooperate in the series, but are said to have been relieved that it did not pin their daughter’s disappearance on them. For a time, they were suspects in the case before being cleared after lead prosecutor Goncalo Amaral felt they were involved. Amaral, who was removed from the case, went on to write a best-selling book, The Truth of the Lie, that backed up his suspicions about the McCanns’ involvement in their daughter’s disappearance.
If the sex-trafficking ring lead turns out to be a solid lead, it does not bode well for finding McCann alive. Most victims of child sex trafficking do not survive the ordeal if they are not rescued immediately.
McCann, if alive, will turn 16 on May 12—far too old for the type of pedophile ring that Ney ran. But if she was taken by Ney and the other suspect, or their associates, they alone may be able to shed light on what happened to her and give her grieving parents continued hope, or the closure they deserve.