Lifestyle & Human Interest

Unsolved: What Happened to 3-Year-Old Madeleine McCann


Madeleine McCann’s disappearance on May 3, 2007, quickly caught the attention of media outlets across the world and her story haunted the minds of parents as they heard it.

It’s been 12 years since that tragic day, but Madeleine’s case still remains unsolved.

On Saturday, April 28, 2007, Kate and Gerry McCann took their three children — Madeleine, 3, and twins Amelie and Sean, 2 — on vacation to the Algarve of Portugal.

The family stayed in a resort called the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz, Portugal. While on vacation, the family enrolled in various activities organized by the resort, like a kid’s club and tennis lessons.

The Ocean Club apartments in Praia da Luz, where toddler Madeleine McCann disappeared from on May 3, 2007 are pictured on April 5, 2008 in Praia da Luz in Portugal. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)
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While on vacation Kate, Gerry and other friends found a tapas restaurant about 50 yards away from the apartments they had rented. The adults visited the restaurant each night after the children had fallen asleep and would check on their children periodically throughout the night.

For the first five days, the vacation was restful and everything the McCann family had hoped it would be. But things quickly changed on Thursday, May 3, 2007, when Madeleine disappeared in the middle of the night.

In this handout photo, released September 16, 2007 missing child Madeleine McCann smiles. (Handout / Getty Images)

What happened on the day of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance?

Morning: At breakfast, Madeleine asked her parents where they were when she and her little brother cried the night before. The question made both Kate and Gerry feel bad so they mentally noted to check in on their children more often the upcoming evening.

Afternoon: The family went to the pool after breakfast, which is where the last picture of Madeleine was taken before her disappearance. Kate and Gerry then took their children to the kid’s club while they went to a previously scheduled tennis lesson.

5 p.m. The couple went to pick up the three children to get them ready for bed. “Madeleine looked really tired. She was really pale and looked quite washed out,” Kate told BBC “Crimewatch.”

6 p.m. Kate and the kids stayed at the apartment to read bedtime stories while Gerry returned to the tennis courts.

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7 p.m. Gerry returned to the apartment and they put the three children to sleep. Gerry told “Crimewatch” that the window was closed and the shades were pulled so that it was dark in the room. They left the door slightly cracked so the light from the living room could come through.

8:30 p.m. Kate and Gerry left their apartment to meet their friends at the tapas restaurant. (To see an interactive map of the area, provided by the Met Police, click here.)

Around 9:00 p.m. Gerry left the table at the restaurant to perform the first check on their children. “As I walked in, I noticed that the bedroom door was open slightly wider than I had left it. So, naturally, I went in the room. I could see the twins clearly in their cot and Madeleine was lying there sound asleep,” he remembered.

He headed back to the tapas restaurant but stopped to have a conversation with another person staying at the resort.

Not too long after Gerry left, Jane Tanner, a friend who was with the McCanns at the tapas restaurant, went to check on her own children, walking past the McCann’s apartment. She saw an adult male carrying a small child, but didn’t think anything of it until later.

9:30 p.m. Kate began to get up to check on her children again, but another friend at the table, Matt, offered to check on them as he went to check in on his kids next door. When he returned, he told the McCanns that their apartment was quiet.

Jane’s husband, Russell, went to check on his kids at the same time as Matt. He stayed behind, however, because one of their daughters had become sick. Jane left to relieve him once she finished eating her own dinner.

10:00 p.m. Kate had finished her meal so she decided to go perform the next check. She noticed that the door was open much wider than they had left it, but she assumed Matt had left it that way when he entered the apartment.

As she went to close it a little more, the door was caught by a draft and slammed shut.

When she opened the door again, she saw the twins fast asleep in their bed but couldn’t make out if Madeleine was in her bed.

Once she realized that she wasn’t, she ran into her bedroom to see if her oldest daughter had crawled into their bed. When Madeleine wasn’t there, panic set in.

Kate later noticed that Madeleine’s favorite toy, a pink “Cuddle Cat,” had been placed in a place too high for her daughter to reach, confirming her biggest fears in her mind: Madeleine had been taken.

What happened after Madeleine’s disappearance?

Sixty staff and guests looked for Madeleine throughout the night and the local authorities were called to report her disappearance.

Both Kate and Gerry made emotional pleas in the days after in hopes that their little girl would be able to home safely. Kate McCann was rarely seen without Madeleine’s “Cuddle Cat.”

Gerald McCann (L) and Kate McCann (R) parents of missing 3-year old British girl Madelaine McCann speak to the media May 04 2007 at the Ocean club apartment hotel in Praia de Luz in Lagos. (Melanie Maps / AFP / Getty Images)

Initially, Portuguese police considered Kate and Gerry as suspects, or “arguidos,” but were cleared in 2008 according to The Telegraph.

“It’s hard to describe how utterly despairing it was for us to be named arguido and to subsequently portrayed in the media as suspects in our own daughter’s disappearance,” they said.

“It’s been equally devastating to witness the detrimental affect this status has had on the search for Madeleine.”

The McCanns stayed in Portugal to answer questions and help with the search until September 9, 2007, when they finally returned home to England.

Kate and Gerry McCann arrive at East Midlands airport in England, Sunday, Sept. 9 2007. (Rui Vieira / AP Photo)

Despite their efforts, the Portuguese police were unable to find Madeleine even though they believed that she was still alive. The Met Police began a review called Operation Grange in 2011 in which all evidence and interviews were investigated.

“There is every possibility that Madeleine is still alive and could be being hidden somewhere and having no idea that she is at the center of a worldwide hunt for her,” former detective David Edgar said to The Sun.  “She could literally be anywhere in the world but my hunch is that she is in Portugal.”

In the past 12 years, there have been 8,685 “potential” sightings of Madeleine across the world.

When Netflix approached and asked Kate and Gerry to participate in a docu-series of Madeleine’s case, called “The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann,” the couple refused saying that they did not believe it would help the search in any way. The docu-series premiered in March 2019.

Is the investigation still ongoing?

In 2013 the investigative review by the Met Police changed into a full-on investigation and in 2018, received enough funding to last through March 2019.

According to ITV, via The Epoch Times, Operation Grange requested enough funds from the U.K.’s Home Office to carry the investigation to March 2020.

While the Home Office did confirm that the funds had been submitted for review, it has not yet been confirmed if that money will be awarded to the investigation.

Madeleine McCann’s case remains unsolved, but her parents have not lost hope that their nearly 16-year-old daughter will come home.

If you have any information on Madeleine’s whereabouts, please contact officials with Operation Grange in the U.K. directly by phone at 0207 321 9251 or by email at

Liftable, a section of The Western Journal, is sharing unsolved cases, like Madeleine’s, in hopes of keeping these stories alive and encouraging anyone with new information to contact the proper authorities. To read more of our “Unsolved” series, click here.

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Kayla has been a staff writer for The Western Journal since 2018.
Kayla Kunkel began writing for The Western Journal in 2018.
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