Was the news in the Madeline McCann case a hoax, cruel trick or the work of an attention-starved news junkie?
Back in June, a letter was sent to a Dutch newspaper; supposedly it contained news of Madeline's death and the whereabouts of her body.
The letter set off a police investigation of the site mentioned in the letter. Police discovered no body at the location.
It started with the following revelation.
IS Madeleine McCann dead? A letter to a Dutch newspaper. And a map showing where her body can be found. It’s credible:Authorities naturally had to treat the letter as containing genuine information and dispatched police to the site to follow up.
Police in Portugal are investigating an anonymous letter and a map claiming to show where missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann’s body is buried.
The letter, sent to Dutch paper De Telegraaf, identifies an area 15km (9.3 miles) from where Madeleine vanished.
Portuguese police say they have not found anything in a search of scrubland nine miles from where four-year-old Madeleine McCann went missing.
The search was carried out after a Dutch newspaper published details of an anonymous letter it received alleging Madeleine’s body was under rocks.
Officers said the line of inquiry had now been “discarded”.
Why was the letter considered a lead? The British press had plenty of theories on both the letter, its contents and its author.
It strongly resembles another letter sent to the same newspaper last year, accurately pinpointing where two missing Belgian girls were buried.
Ch Insp Olegario de Sousa said officers were “checking the information”.
Next to a cross and two question marks, the sender writes “vermoedelijke vindplaats Madeleine” - this is the place where Madeleine can probably be found.
A murder investigation. And still only one suspect.
One day on and “BURIED UNDER ROCKS,” says the Mirror’s front –page headline.
The paper notes how the handwriting on the letter is the same as that on the paper giving the whereabouts of Stacey Lemmens and her sister Nathalie Mahy who went missing in Belgium last year.
As the Sun reports, the note says Madeleine is buried “north of the road under branches and rocks, around six to seven metres off the road” in an spot near Odiaxere, close to the Algarve resort from where the girl went missing 42 days ago.
The Mail says the author of this letter and, most likely, the one concerning the Belgian sisters, is unknown to police.
A certain Abdullah Ait-Oud, a convicted paedophile, has been charged with their murders. He denies any involvement. Although police believe he acted with an accomplice who has not been traced.
“MADELEINE IS BURIED HERE,” says the Express on its front page. Portuguese police are searching the area…
That letter proved to be a false alarm in the baffling, and still yet-unfolding, story of the disappearance of the little English girl.
The list of hoaxers and false alarms plagued the case. The letter was neither the first, nor the last.
While the McCanns seemed to be getting their message across, the story also attracted hoaxers and fraudsters. One call was received from a man on an unregistered pay-as-you-go phone in Argentina claiming to know the whereabouts of their daughter, but led to nothing, while an anonymous letter and map sent to an Amsterdam-based newspaper claimed Madeleine was buried in scrubland close to the holiday resort. Some 50 officers and police sniffer dogs were sent to search the area but found nothing.
An Italian man and a Portuguese woman were subsequently held on suspicion of trying to extort money from the McCanns, saying they had information on the whereabouts of their daughter. A man in Eindhoven, Holland, was also arrested for attempting to defraud the McCanns by demanding £1.35m in exchange for information on their daughter.
The first signs of a backlash against the McCanns appeared in mid-June. Chief Inspector Sousa said that the fact that so many people had crowded into the room from which Madeleine was taken was making it difficult for the forensic teams to make sense of DNA samples.
At the same time, thousands of yellow ribbons tied to trees and railings in the McCanns' home village were taken down amid concerns they were attracting "grief tourists". Villagers said that Rothley's main square had become a morbid visitor attraction after it was made the focal point for tributes.
Hopes of finding Maddie were once again raised at the beginning of August when a customer at a restaurant in the Flemish town of Tongeren, not far from the Dutch border, said she was "100% sure" she had seen the youngster. The glass from which the child was drinking was removed for DNA testing. It proved to be a false lead.
The case has had its share of false leads and alarms. One lead that seems to be dead now is the theory that the McCanns were responsible for the girl's abduction.
Still another theory, entertained for awhile, that the body of the little girl, discovered in a cooler on a sandbar, near Galveston, TX and named "Baby Grace" might be that of Madeline's. That theory was shelved after the mother last week confessed to beating and torturing 2-year-old Riley Sawyers.
Riley Sawyers was "Baby Grace", not Madeline McCann.
To be the parents of Madeline, kidnapped from her room while on vacation months ago, every bit of news--true or false--causes pulmonary reactions.
Holding their breath, a sigh of relief, an angry hiss, the sharp intake of breath: all were likely to have been the McCann's reactions to various bits of news over this long stretch of waiting and wondering.
The news of the Dutch letter and the subsequent investigation was a false alarm. Both the police and the parents sort through bits of news.
Both have their own questions. Most of the questions are the same.
Who removed her from their room? Where is Madeline now? Where will all lead?
Police and parents alike are still working on the answers.
At this point, all that can be offered to Madeline's long-suffering parents is speculation.
Police Probing Madeline Letter
Finding Madeleine McCann’s Body - “Vermoedelijke Vindplaats”
Madeleine McCann: No Breaking News; No Body Found
Madeline: The story six months on
Baby Grace, Riley Sawyers: Mother's Grim Tale of Torture and Abuse
Death by 1000 Papercuts Front Page.