What Happened to Madeleine McCann? A Complete Timeline of Her Disappearance

From what her parents have said to the lead suspect in the disappearance, here's a complete timeline of Madeleine McCann's case

<p>Metropolitan Police/AFP/Getty</p> Madeleine McCann

Metropolitan Police/AFP/Getty

Madeleine McCann

Madeleine McCann’s disappearance continues to make headlines 17 years later.

On May 3, 2007, the 3-year-old British girl went missing while her family was vacationing in Praia da Luz, Lagos, Portugal. Her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, were dining with friends nearby as Madeleine and her 2-year-old twin siblings were sleeping in their bedroom.

After periodically checking in on their kids throughout the night, Madeleine’s mother discovered that her daughter was missing at 10 p.m. and authorities were alerted, prompting a worldwide search for the toddler.

While there have been several developments in the case over the years (including German authorities considering Christian Brueckner as the prime suspect), what actually happened that night remain unknown.

Recently, German authorities said they’ve discovered an email account belonging to Brueckner that is “related to the killing.” Brueckner has, however, never been charged and has denied any involvement in connection with the case.

Here’s a complete timeline of Madeleine’s disappearance case and what her parents have said over the years.

May 3, 2007: Madeleine McCann disappears in Portugal

On the night of May 3, 2007, Madeleine went missing in Praia da Luz, Lagos, Portugal. Her family was staying at a vacation apartment at the time. That night, her parents left Madeleine and her twin siblings, who were two at the time, asleep in the ground-floor apartment as they dined with friends close by.

The parents periodically checked in on the kids, but at 10 p.m., Kate discovered Madeleine was missing. Authorities were alerted and in the days following, border police and airport staff were put on alert as volunteers joined in a search for Madeleine.

May 4, 2007: Madeleine McCann’s parents speak out

<p>LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty</p> Kate and Gerry McCann pose with an artist's impression of how their daughter might look at the age of nine on May 2, 2012.


Kate and Gerry McCann pose with an artist's impression of how their daughter might look at the age of nine on May 2, 2012.

The next day, Madeleine’s parents spoke out publicly about their daughter's disappearance, making an emotional plea for their daughter's safe return.

"Words cannot describe the anguish and despair that we are feeling as the parents of our beautiful daughter Madeleine," Gerry said, per ABC News.

"Please, if you have Madeleine," he said, "let her come home to her mummy, daddy, brother and sister. As everyone can understand how distressing the current situation is, we ask that our privacy is respected to allow us to continue assisting the police in their current investigation."

May-July 2007: The search for Madeleine McCann

<p>HANDOUT/METROPOLITAN POLICE/AFP via Getty</p> Madeleine McCann


Madeleine McCann

In the months following, the Portuguese police began their initial inquiry. Though there were several leads, no official suspects were named.

Jane Tanner, who had been dining with the McCanns, claimed to have seen a man carrying a child while she was on her way back from checking on her own daughter around 9:15 p.m.

The Portuguese police also faced scrutiny in the early months of the investigation, with some calling out their lack of urgency and poor protocol in securing the crime scene. Notably, in June, a Portuguese police chief admitted that vital forensic clues were likely destroyed as the scene was not protected properly, as reported by The Guardian.

The following month, British detectives aided in the search and dispatched investigators to search the apartment with luminol, a substance that glows when it interacts with blood. When they arrived, they found that the apartment the McCanns had stayed at had already been cleaned and rented out again, E! News reported.

Though traces of blood were found on the wall in the bedroom, DNA testing showed that the blood belonged to an unidentified man.

August 2007: Prosecutors publicly acknowledge that Madeleine McCann may not be found alive

In August 2007, after months of searching for Madeleine, police acknowledged publicly for the first time that Madeleine may be dead.

September 2007: Madeleine McCann’s parents are named as suspects

<p>MELANIE MAPS/AFP via Getty</p> Madeleine McCann's parents


Madeleine McCann's parents

The following month, there was a new twist in the case: Madeleine’s parents were named "arguidos," or formal suspects, in Madeleine’s disappearance. Police accused the couple of hiding Madeleine’s body after she died in an accident while the couple was at dinner, according to NBC News.

Though the investigation delved into potential charges of “abduction, homicide, exposure or abandonment of a child, and concealment of a corpse,” per The Telegraph, the parents were eventually cleared as suspects in July 2008.

May 3, 2008: Madeleine McCann’s parents speak out on the anniversary of her disappearance

A year after her disappearance, Madeleine’s parents gave an impromptu speech at their local church, as reported by The Guardian. They said that they feared the one-year anniversary of their daughter’s disappearance could be their last opportunity to find her and asked the congregation to “pray like mad” for their little girl.

July 2008: Portuguese authorities halt their investigation

When the McCanns' "arguido" status was lifted, the Portuguese attorney general ordered a halt to the investigation. "The Attorney General's Office has hereby decided to 'archive' the investigation into the case of Madeleine McCann due to lack of any evidence of any crime being committed by the 'arguidos'," Attorney General Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro said in a statement, per ABC News.

In his statement, Monteiro noted that the attorney general's office reserved "the right to reopen the investigation, or upon request from an interested party, should there be legitimate cause or significant new evidence emerge."

May 2011: Madeleine McCann’s parents release a book about her disappearance

<p>Joe Giddens - WPA Pool/Getty</p> Kate and Gerry McCann

Joe Giddens - WPA Pool/Getty

Kate and Gerry McCann

In May 2011, Madeleine’s parents released a book about their daughter and the case of her disappearance.

"The decision to publish this book has been very difficult, and taken with heavy hearts. My reason for writing it is simple: to give an account of the truth,” Kate said, per the book’s official description.

Gerry's statement called upon the police force to “reenergize the search for our daughter;" he hoped "the public will get behind the Find Madeleine campaign once again.”

He added, “It is simply not acceptable that the authorities have given up on Madeleine — especially when no comprehensive review of the case has been undertaken. Our daughter, and whoever took her, are out there. We need your help to find them."

October 2013: Portuguese police reopen the case based on new evidence

In October 2013, Portuguese police reopened their inquiry into the disappearance of Madeleine, with Portugal's attorney general noting that "new elements of evidence" justified the "continuation of the investigation,” per BBC.

At the time, Madeleine’s parents said they were "very pleased" by the Portuguese inquiry, saying, "We hope that this will finally lead to her being found and to the discovery of whoever is responsible for this crime.”

June 2020: German authorities name a suspect

<p>JULIAN STRATENSCHULTE/POOL/AFP via Getty</p> Christian Brueckner


Christian Brueckner

In June 2020, 13 years after Madeleine’s disappearance, German authorities identified Christian Brueckner, a man in his 40s, as a suspect in the case. He has denied having anything to do with Madeleine’s disappearance, per the Evening Standard, and ultimately was not charged due to a lack of evidence.

Brueckner had previously received a seven-year sentence for raping a 72-year-old American woman in 2005 in Portugal, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, which he was appealing from behind bars for another drug conviction, per the Times of London.

April 2022: Portuguese prosecutors reveal there is an official suspect in the case

In April 2022, Portuguese prosecutors announced there was an official suspect in the case of Madeleine’s disappearance, according to Reuters. At the time, authorities did not name the person, but said that he was identified as a suspect after they acted on a request made by German and British police, the Associated Press reported. It remains unclear if Brueckner was the official suspect or if it was someone new.

June 2024: German authorities say they’ve discovered an email account that is ‘related to the killing’ of Madeleine McCann

In June 2024, authorities discovered a Hotmail account belonging to Brueckner, which they say is directly related to Madeleine's disappearance.

Titus Stampa, a detective with Germany’s Federal Crime Police, told a court authorities found a second email account he used to share photos and videos of child abuse, and that emails from that account were deleted in early 2007 when Madeleine disappeared, per the Telegraph.

“Things were massively deleted in the inbox ... There was nothing in there from January 2007,” he testified, according to the Telegraph.

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