Young Girl Sightings Spark Madeleine McCann Investigation

Shortly after McCann disappeared, a ‘groggy’ girl was spotted at a campground. By Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Sang Tan / AP Photo

It has been five long years since Madeleine McCann disappeared from her parents’ holiday suite in the Algarve in Portugal, and British police are finally chasing a number of dead investigative leads that the Portuguese cops missed at the time of the disappearance. Among the new trails are scores of sightings of the young girl that were never followed up on in the days after McCann, who was nearly 4-years-old, disappeared.

Karen Sissal, a resident of Gibraltar, told a local Spanish newspaper for Anglo expats called the Olive Press, that she saw a young girl that matched Madeleine’s description at Cabopino campground near Fuengirola, Spain, three days after the disappearance in 2007. The campground is near the Portuguese border. Sissal says she reported the sighting in England, Spain, and Portugal, and even gave the car license-plate number—but no one ever followed up on her report.

Sissal says she noticed the young girl at the campground where she was staying because the child was “groggy and out of it,” and that she didn’t socialize with the German family she was with. “It was like the girl was alienated and completely different to her family,” Sissal told the Olive Press. “She was on her own, not playing but just standing swaying as if in a dream. She looked really out of it.”

Hope for finding McCann alive was renewed last month when Scotland Yard released a time-lapse photo of what the young girl would look like now at the age of 9. They have also reviewed some 100,000 pages of documents under a new investigation called Operation Grange and have vowed to finally solve the case—one way or another.

Pinpointing 195 new areas of investigation, Scotland Yard wants to finally close the case and prompt authorities to reopen the case in Portugal, which will be necessary to make any arrests or question suspects there.

But so far the police in Portugal say they have seen no new evidence that warrants reopening the case.

Earlier this week, the Olive Press launched their own investigation into Sissal’s sighting and discovered that a German couple had checked into the campground on May 6, three days after Madeleine’s disappearance. The family had originally booked for two adults and two children, but the campground confirmed that they paid an extra fee to add a third child at the time they checked.

They registered under the name Karsten Mayer and stayed at the campground until May 18, 2007. The campground confirmed to the Olive Press that their car license-plate number was registered in Germany and started with BE—which may mean it was a fake plate since those letters have not been issued in Germany since 1974, and the car they were driving was a blue 1996 Mercedes Vita minivan. They were also towing a camping trailer.

Campground officials told the Olive Press that they have still never been contacted by investigators from any country about Sissal’s sighting. Wendy Williams, who coauthored the exclusive story for the Olive Press told The Daily Beast that they have not been able to find the German couple despite launching a thorough search, which may mean the documents were false.

“The campsite insisted that the ID was definitely German. We checked the car registration but the number plate beginning BE was phased out in 1974, which is a bit strange,” Williams said. “Scotland Yard has not been in touch with us directly since we broke the story but we understand the details have been passed on to them.”

Meanwhile, Sissal, who was staying at the campground with her own family at the time, is sure the little girl was Madeleine McCann. “I deliberately went back to look at the girl again the next day and she was wearing the same clothes as the day before, even though it was 27 C degrees [80 degrees F] heat,” Sissal told the local paper. “A mother would know that this was a strange thing as children of that age go through so many clothes and love to strip off in the heat.”

A number of other Madeleine sightings in the area have also been ignored including one woman who reported seeing the young girl with a scruffy man in a grocery store on the Costa del Sol last Christmas and another who says she saw the child on the beach with a Spanish family.

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The McCann family marked the five-year anniversary of her disappearance quietly in England on May 3 with a church service at her grandparent’s church in Liverpool. But on Monday, they were horrified to see the very last photo taken of their daughter—just three hours before she disappeared—in an eerie advertisement on the discount travel website VoucherDigg. It was inadvertently used in an advertisement aimed at British families for 20-pound discount on “safe, fun holidays” in Portugal. A spokesman for the McCann family called the error “vile.”