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Madeleine McCann disappearance: a timeline of how events unfolded

Kate and Gerry McCann's daughter has been missing for 15 years


madeleine mccann disappearance timeline what happened
Hannah Watkin
Content Writer
9 March 2023
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When Madeleine McCann disappeared from her hotel bedroom in Portugal in May 2007, no one could have imagined the level of attention her case would attract.

However, following Madeleine's disappearance, her parents' desperate appeals for information, combined with updates from the police, and numerous documentaries on the topic have kept people wondering what ever happened to the then-three-year-old.

An old photo of Madeleine© Photo: Getty Images

Madeleine disappeared in 2007

Now, following the case's recent return to widespread public attention following a claim from a young Polish girl that she might be Madeleine, HELLO! returns to look at the full story.

When did Madeleine McCann disappear?

Three-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared on the night of May 3, 2007. The events leading up to Madeleine's disappearance began with the arrival of the McCann family at a holiday complex in Praia de Luz.

MORE: Madeleine McCann: Julia Wendell taken to US by psychic detective following death threats

On April 28, 2007, doctors Kate and Gerry McCann arrived in Portugal with their three children, three-year-old Madeleine and two-year-old twins Amelie and Sean, for a spring break along with seven family friends and their five children. Throughout their stay at a resort named Ocean Club, Kate and Gerry met with their friends for meals in the late evening at a tapas restaurant while their children slept in rooms close by.

The apartment block where the family stayed© Photo: Getty Images

The holiday apartment block where the family were living

The families took it in turns to go and check on their children throughout the night. However, on 3 May, Madeleine disappeared from her room while her parents were away having dinner with their friends.

The timeline of that night goes as follows. At 7pm on 3 May, Gerry McCann read Madeleine a bedtime story before he and Kate put the twins to bed in a travel cot in the same bedroom. At 8.30pm the couple then left their ground floor hotel room in order to head for a meal with their friends at the tapas restaurant 100 yards away.

DISCOVER: Viewers left devastated after watching ITV's Madeleine McCann documentary

During the evening, as arranged, both the McCanns and their friends took it in turns to go and check on their children. At around 9pm Gerry visited their apartment and, while he thought he found the children's bedroom door in a different position to how he and his wife had left it earlier that evening, found all three of the children fast asleep inside.

Kate and Gerry with a picture of what Madeleine might look like aged 9© Photo: Getty Images

Madeleine was last seen asleep in her room

At 9.30pm another member of the group went to check on his own children and offered to visit the McCanns' children as well. He found all was well. However, at 10pm when Kate McCann headed to check on Madeleine and the twins, she found the window and shutters were now open, and Madeleine was missing.

SEE: Madeleine McCann's parents pray at tenth anniversary service

The alarm was raised and Madeleine's parents along with their friends and members of the Portuguese police began to search for the three-year-old.

What happened to Madeleine McCann?

The question of what happened to Madeleine McCann is one which has been haunting her family, detectives and the wider world for over 15 years. Sadly, it's also a question which has remained unanswered.

Gerry and Kate McCann holding hands. Kate is holding a pink stuffed toy of Madeleines© Photo: Getty Images

Gerry and Kate after a vigil for Madeleine in May 2007

All we know comes from the police investigation into how she vanished from her bedroom at the Ocean Club holiday complex in May 2007.

READ: Madeleine McCann's parents Kate and Gerry post heartbreaking update

After Madeleine disappeared from the room where her parents had left her, investigations began into what might have happened to her. On 5 May, Portuguese police revealed they believed Madeleine was abducted from her room and could still be alive somewhere in Portugal.

Police questioned an Anglo-Portuguese man in mid-May and also searched his home, but when no evidence was found to link him to Madeleine this lead was dropped.

A screenshot of the Find Madeleine website© Photo: Getty Images

Kate and Gerry's website Find Madeleine is still updated today

Later, another lead was followed regarding a potential suspect, who was seen by one of the McCanns' friends carrying a child near where the family were staying at around the time when Madeleine disappeared. However, Scotland Yard eventually concluded that this sighting was an unfortunate red herring and not linked to the case during their reinvestigation in 2012.

MORE: Met Police given more funding to continue search for Madeleine McCann

Exactly 100 days after Madeleine's disappearance, Portuguese detectives admitted for the first time that the three-year-old might not be found alive. Then, almost a year later, in July 2008, with no answers or new leads to explain what happened to Kate and Gerry's oldest child, Portuguese police shelved the case.

Is the Madeleine McCann case still being investigated?

After appeals from the family and continued interest in the case from members of the public, Scotland Yard agreed to review the case on the request of then-home secretary Theresa May in 2011.

A card with a photo of Madeleine on it and the words Look for Madeleine as well as some phone numbers on it© Photo: Getty Images

Cards made to promote the search for Madeleine

In 2012, the Met revealed they believed Madeleine could still be alive; released an age-progression image of what a now nine-year-old Madeleine could look like; and called on Portuguese authorities to reopen the case.

SEE: Kate and Gerry McCann react to new evidence in daughter Madeleine's disappearance

In July 2013, Scotland Yard revealed they had opened their own investigation into the case called Operation Grange, which would pursue new lines of inquiry including investigating 38 identified people of interest. By October the same year, Portuguese police told the press that they had now also identified new lines of inquiry while reviewing their handling of the case, and so also reopened their investigation.

Over the next few years, several investigations into new leads were followed by both the UK and Portuguese authorities in the Algarve area where Madeleine disappeared. However, despite appeals based on new information including the release of a new e-fit of a potential suspect wanted for questioning and the searches of several areas which were identified as areas of interest, no answers to what happened to Madeleine were found.

Police officers in a line searching an area of grass© Photo: Getty Images

The search for Maddie continues in 2014

In October 2016, the Met police's team investigating the case was cut from 29 officers to just four. But Operation Grange is still going, and in 2020, police revealed that a German paedophile currently in prison was now considered a key suspect.

Soon after, Kate and Gerry McCann issued a statement through a spokesperson saying this was "the most significant development in 13 years". In April 2022, the man, Christian B, was made an official suspect in the investigation, but he has not been charged, and has denied any involvement in Madeleine's disappearance.

What evidence was found in the search for Madeleine McCann?

While police found some evidence while investigating the disappearance of Kate and Gerry McCann's oldest child, there appears to have been little to help their investigation, and as of yet the evidence which they have found has not led to the discovery of Madeleine.

MORE: Viewers react to new evidence brought to light in Channel 5's Madeleine McCann documentary

 

A digger and some police officers searching a gated off area of land© Photo: Getty Images

 

The search for evidence of what happened to Madeleine continues in 2020

In June 2007, a Portuguese police chief admitted that vital evidence which could have helped trace Madeleine might have been lost as the scene of her disappearance was not protected properly.

READ: Kate and Gerry McCann deny they received police letter telling them daughter Madeleine has died

In July 2007, British sniffer dogs brought in to help with the Portuguese authorities' investigation found possible traces of blood within the McCann's holiday apartment.

A dog on a grass path© Photo: Getty Images

A dog working on the Madeleine case in 2020

While the McCann's were being investigated as potential suspects by the Portuguese authorities in September 2007, they found traces of Madeleine's DNA in the boot of their holiday rental car. However, this and the McCanns themselves were ruled out as being suspicious later in 2008.

MORE: Piers Morgan demands German authorities show more respect to Madeleine McCann's parents

When did the McCanns come back to the UK?

Kate and Gerry McCann remained in Portugal for several months following the disappearance of their daughter, however, in September 2007, the couple and their young twins returned to the UK.

Kate and Gerry descending some plane steps with their twins in their arms© Photo: Getty Images

The family return to the UK

Following the vanishing of Madeleine on 3 May, the McCanns' made an emotional statement to the public regarding her disappearance. "Words cannot describe the anguish and despair that we are feeling as the parents of our beautiful daughter Madeleine," Gerry McCann said.

READ: Madeleine McCann investigation: police search garden in Germany

"We request that anyone who may have information relating to Madeleine's disappearance, no matter how trivial, contact the Portuguese police and help us get her back safely. Please, if you have Madeleine, let her come home to her mummy, daddy, brother and sister," he finished.

Prior to their return to the UK, the McCanns toured Europe to increase support for their search for Madeleine. On May 30, the two Roman Catholics even met the Pope during a visit to the Vatican.

Kate and Gerry meeting Pope Benedict XVI© Photo: Getty Images

Kate and Gerry meet Pope Benedict XVI

In 2011, exactly four years following the disappearance of their daughter, the McCanns released a book entitled Madeleine. The book pushed the story back into the public eye and helped lead the then prime minister David Cameron to ask for the Metropolitan Police to review the case.

MORE: Madeleine McCann's family lawyer admits they are running out of time

In 2017, ten years after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, her parents made another statement to commit to the fact that they would never stop searching for their daughter. During a BBC interview, the couple vowed to do “whatever it takes for as long as it takes” to find their daughter.

Was Madeleine McCann ever found?

No, as of yet no trace of the missing girl has ever been found since her disappearance almost 16 years ago.

Kate McCann with a photo of her book behind her© Photo: Getty Images

Kate at the book launch for Madeleine

However, a 21-year-old Polish woman named Julia Wendell recently came to public attention via social media due to her claims that she believed she could be Madeleine. Police have since issued a response here.

Julia came to public attention after setting up an Instagram account where she claimed to be the missing girl and shared several snaps of herself from childhood. The 21-year-old's posts captured widespread attention as she pointed out that she appears to have the same notable speck in her eye and freckle on her leg as Madeleine.

While Gerry and Kate have yet to give an official response to the claims, Julia has claimed that she has spoken to someone from the family and that she has an upcoming opportunity to speak to Madeleine’s parents. A DNA test will be done "soon". Read the latest update on DNA results.

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