Madeleine McCanns parents and her as a toddler

Madeleine McCann: 10 theories that continually resurface about her disappearance

It's been 16 years since Madeleine went missing

The tragic case of Madeleine McCann has been filled with conspiracy theories since the tot went missing in 2007.

It’s unclear exactly when, why or how Maddie was abducted.

There were reports of a botched burglary, child trafficking and even allegations of involvement from Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry.

Here, as a Panorama episode focuses on the prime suspect Christian Brueckner tonight (October 30), we take a look at some of the more enduring conspiracy theories.

Madeleine's parents, Kate McCann and Gerry McCann
Kate and Gerry McCann’s daughter disappeared in May 2007 (Credit: Sky News)

Madeleine McCann theories – 1. Botched burglary

Kate and Gerry discovered their daughter was missing from their apartment in Portugal at 10pm on the night of May 3 2007.

There were reports the villa was targeted by burglars who panicked when they saw Madeleine and took her.

Scotland Yard investigated the case and questioned several suspects.

However, Portuguese police dismissed the claims.

2. Taken by child traffickers

Many believed little Maddie was taken by child abductors. Private detectives in 2007 claimed they had uncovered evidence that human trafficking “spotters” could have been operating in Praia da Luz at the time of the abduction.

Their theory is that Madeleine may have been “hidden and handed over to a child trafficker two days after she went missing and taken to Morocco”.

As a result, there have been a number of suspects questioned over the years, with the latest being Christian Brueckner.

Detectives named the German national an official suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine.

Brueckner’s ex Anastasia Meckesy spoke to The Sun last spring.

She called the suspect a “human pig” who “knows what happened to little Maddie from England”.

Anastasia claimed: “He said she was probably handed over to someone after being taken and, if she were still alive today, they would have found her by now.”

However, in the documentary Madeleine McCann: Prime Suspect, Brueckner is said to have claimed he could prove he was elsewhere when Madeleine went missing.

Kate and Gerry McCann looking pained during an interview
Madeleine’s parents were named persons of interest by Portuguese police (Credit: YouTube)

3. Kate and Gerry McCann’s involvement

Shortly after their daughter disappeared, Kate and Gerry were named ‘arguidos’ or people of interest by the Portuguese police.

One of the senior detectives on the case, Gonaclo Amaral, reportedly believed the couple covered up their daughter’s death.

The claims came about after a sniffer dog was said to have reacted to traces of a body in the holiday apartment.

However, there has never been any forensic evidence to link the couple to the case, who have been forced to deny the awful accusations.

Madeleine McCann smiling in a pink hat
Madeleine was aged just three when she went missing (Credit: Shutterstock)

Madeleine McCann theories – 4. The Portuguese predator

When Maddie went missing, police looked into the background of a local man who was linked to a string of sexual assaults on five young girls at Portuguese holiday resorts.

Described as a “lone intruder”, the man was said to have carried out two attacks in Praia da Luz, where Maddie and her family were staying.

Anthony Summers told the Netflix documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann: “One startling element is the sheer number of sexual predators in the area at the time.”

5. Taken by a childless couple

There were reports that Madeleine had been abducted by a couple desperate to have children.

Some say the tot was stolen to order, while others believe the unnamed couple took the child themselves to raise her as their own.

There were reports of suspicious-looking men hanging around the resort the day she went missing.

As a result, it’s been claimed they could have been acting as a ‘spotter’ for the hopeful parents or maybe they were part of the couple.

Christian Brueckner in his mugshot
Christian B is an official suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (Credit: Shiutterstock)

6. A bizarre bid to boost Portuguese tourism

One of the slightly more obscure theories is that the Portuguese police framed the McCanns to save the country’s tourist industry.

Edinburgh businessman Brian Kennedy told the Netflix documentary: “Let’s find somebody to blame for this that doesn’t make us look bad.

“I think it’s all tied into tourism, industry and tourism being down and the country’s GDP.”

There’s no doubt families weren’t rushing to Praia da Luz at the time of Maddie’s disappearance.

But whether the police accused Kate and Gerry to convince tourists the country was safe has never been proven.

7. Madeleine has already been found

Some believe Maddie was found alive years ago.

Due to the fact their case is so high profile, the McCanns are alleged to have kept the news secret. This is so they can be left to live their lives in private, it has been claimed.

The only way they could protect their daughter, the theory goes, was to let the public think she was still missing.

Again, there is nothing to substantiate any of the claims.

Gerry McCann looking upset in a TV interview
Gerry McCann has never given up his search for Madeleine (Credit: YouTube)

8. A tragic accident

There is one theory that Maddie wandered off from the apartment and fell into a well.

A local resident explained in the Netflix documentary: “When you leave the Algarve, once you leave the main road and the tourists areas there are wells all over the place.

“I could take you 10 minutes drive from where I live and there’s a well which you can look down and it’s 100ft deep… Accidents can happen.”

9. Killed by a paedophile

Others believe that Madeleine was the victim of a paedophile who snatched her and later killed her.

It’s long been speculated that they then buried her body, possibly in the sea.

The area is a magnet for paedophiles.

In the aftermath of her disappearance, there were claims that the area was a “magnet” for paedophiles.

One source close to the investigation is reported as saying: “The area is a magnet for paedophiles.

“There have been seven sexual assaults involving the children of tourists in the Algarve in the last four years.”

10. The enigma theory

The enigma theory is that some people believe Madeleine never existed.

Some apparently think she was made up by the British government to distract attention from other news stories or to raise money for the country.

The theorists even claim that perhaps Kate and Gerry are “high paid actors”.

Madeleine McCann girl Julia chatting to camera
Julia’s story went viral last week when she claimed she could be Madeleine McCann (Credit: Instagram)

Madeleine McCann theories: Julia’s claims

Back in February of this year, a brand-new theory came to light.

A Polish woman, in her 20s and named Julia, came forward to claim that she thought she could be Madeleine McCann.

Julia, who was working with a private detective Dr Fia at the time, sought a DNA test with Kate and Gerry to prove her identity. Julia has a horrific back story and can’t remember much of her younger years.

She said that she suffered from PTSD and claimed she was the victim of a paedophile who looks like the photofit of a man listed as wanted on the Find Madeleine website.

However, the DNA results later came back and reportedly showed that she wasn’t Madeleine. Julia’s own family refused to take part in a DNA test with her. The test that Dr Fia conducted stated that Julia was of 100% Polish descent, meaning she couldn’t be Madeleine McCann.

Kate and Gerry’s hopes

However Madeleine disappeared, Kate and Gerry have spent nearly 16 years trying to find their daughter and desperately hope she is alive.

They have said that they will never giving up looking for their daughter. Maddie would be 20 years old now. May 2023 marked 16 years since she disappeared.

At the start of the year they shared a New Year message with their supporters. In it, they vowed to never give up looking for their daughter.

They are also parents to 18-year-old twins Amelie and Sean. They were in the same apartment as Madeleine on the night she disappeared.

Read more: Madeleine McCann case against Christian B set to collapse

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Nancy Brown
Associate Editor