Case of Missing Girl Takes Ominous Turn
Sunday, September 9, 2007
LONDON, Sept. 8 -- Traces of blood discovered by British sniffer dogs in a car rented by Gerry and Kate McCann have led Portuguese police to believe that 4-year-old Madeleine McCann was killed and not kidnapped, according to family members and friends.
The McCanns were formally named as suspects in the case on Friday. Madeleine disappeared May 3, and her parents have led one of the most publicized campaigns Europe has ever seen for a missing person, even meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
The McCanns said they last saw Madeleine in the apartment in Praia da Luz on the southern coast of Portugal that they had rented for a family vacation. The McCanns, both physicians from England, deny involvement in Madeleine's disappearance and called suggestions that they killed her "ludicrous." They have not been arrested or charged.
But family friends told reporters that police now suspect that the McCanns accidentally killed Madeleine, perhaps with an overdose of sedatives, then hid her body and disposed of it nearly a month later.
Brian Kennedy, an uncle of Kate McCann, called that allegation "repulsive," telling the BBC, "The notion that even accidentally they killed their daughter, hid her body, then put her body in a car hired 25 days later while the glare of the international publicity is on them, and when they are always with friends and family, is fatuous beyond words."
Police have focused their investigation on the McCanns since British dogs specially trained to detect blood and corpses indicated the presence of both in various key sites, according to friends of the McCann family and media accounts in Portugal and Britain.
One dog detected traces of blood in a Renault car rented by the McCanns 25 days after Madeleine's disappearance, as well as on its key chain. Family friends said police interrogators, during lengthy questioning sessions with the McCanns on Thursday and Friday, said DNA testing at a British forensic lab showed that the blood belonged to Madeleine.
Traces of blood were also reportedly found in the McCanns' rented apartment, where they left Madeleine and her 2-year-old twin siblings asleep as they ate with friends at a nearby restaurant.
Two British newspapers on Saturday reported that a dog trained to sniff out corpses reacted strongly to Kate McCann's clothing and to Madeleine's favorite toy, a pink "Cuddle Cat" that Kate McCann now carries with her regularly.
Various media reports said Kate McCann, a general practitioner, told investigators that she had come into contact with six dead bodies shortly before her one-week family holiday to Portugal.
Philomena McCann, Gerry McCann's sister, told reporters police had offered Kate McCann a deal in which she would serve two years in prison if she confessed to accidentally killing Madeleine.
Philomena McCann said the couple intended to return to Britain on Monday. Under Portuguese law, they can leave the country.
Pressure on the McCanns has mounted in recent days, with large crowds of onlookers gathering outside the Portuguese police station where they were questioned. In recent days, they have been jeered by those who have begun to suspect them.
Gerry McCann, in a telephone interview with The Washington Post last month, said he was appalled that the Portuguese newspapers had started running stories saying he and Kate were involved in their daughter's disappearance. He called those reports "incredibly difficult to deal with." But he said, "We should be subjected to the same scrutiny as anyone else."