The Biggest Madeleine McCann Theories: What Really Happened?

The following discusses possible theories that involve sexual and child abuse.

It's been 14 years since the mysterious disappearance of a British toddler named Madeleine McCann. She would've been 18 years old today, but no one has seen, heard, or knows where the missing child has been.

In 2007, a three-year-old McCann was reported missing while she was on vacation with her parents and their friends in Portugal. The group was staying at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz. One night, the adults all went to enjoy a dinner at a restaurant at the villa and reportedly left their kids asleep behind. Their plan was to check on the children in rotation every few minutes. But during the time frame, McCann went missing and was never seen again after that. Her vanishing led to months of searching, and her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, stayed in Portugal as the investigation went on. They were even considered suspects in the case at one point (per BBC). Years later, the case still captures the interest of many. So, what are some of the biggest theories associated with the case?

Madeleine McCann's parents are allegedly involved

The police and even the public were reportedly convinced that Gerry and Kate McCann were involved in Madeleine McCann's disappearance, per The New York Times. A few months into the case, Portuguese investigators did consider them suspects. Yet, despite them being cleared of suspicion (via ABC News), the skepticism surrounding them remained at their heels. Although both parents have denied any involvement in what may have happened to their daughter, there's been no shortage of theories that point all in their direction. From the very moment people learned of McCann going missing, a lot of people criticized the McCanns' parenting, such as an opinion piece in the Daily Mail. The condemnation of them was so loud that a few of the friends who were also the Portugal trip had to come out and defend them not long after, per the BBC. But why do some theories point to them?

A popular theory claims that to enjoy their dinner night, the McCanns apparently gave Madeleine some sleeping pills, so she would stay asleep (via CBC). It is also believed that they may have given her too much, causing an overdose. Some think it was an accident, but in their shock and fear, the theory suggests that the McCanns dumped her body and faked her possible adduction.

Is Madeleine still alive?

There's been no trace or apparent sighting of Madeleine anywhere, but many continue to believe that she's still alive somewhere. And that theory is somewhat supported because a woman who lives in Portugal believed she saw a teenage Madeleine in the city of Algarve. Per Olive Press, last year, the woman came forward with claims that she was at a supermarket a few years earlier and saw a young teenage girl with the likeness of McCann.

Her conviction was held firmly because when a new suspect in the case was named in 2020, it was a German man called Christian B (via Metro), and he had been reportedly living in Algarve the year McCann went missing. She also says the girl she saw spoke German, and she knew because she once studied and recognized the language. The woman recalls that this supposed sighting happened in 2017, in which McCann would've been 13 years old — the same age that she thinks the young teen she saw was. So the theory with this possible account is that McCann may have been taken by the suspect and raised by himself and other German-speaking nationals who lived in Portugal. If that's the case, she is living under a new name and speaks fluent German.

Madeleine McCann may have died once she disappeared

When McCann initially went missing, there was a villa-wide search for her, which later extended into a larger one when nothing turned up. She was believed to be missing but alive. But author and criminal profiler Pat Brown has another theory: Madeleine is dead and has been for over a decade.

The ongoing criminal case into what happened to McCann has garnered a lot of interest internationally, and a lot of money has been invested into the search for her. But in a 2018 interview with a New Zealand news network (posted on YouTube), Brown explained she feels money is being wasted. She believes that McCann was not abducted and died shortly after whatever happened to her. Brown says that at this point, all the evidence in the case is circumstantial and wouldn't bring a conviction against anyone unless a confession or more evidence, such as that of her remains, is discovered.

The pedophile theory

Long before Christian B was named a new suspect in McCann's case in 2020, authorities and the public strongly believed that a sex offender was the likely culprit. It was one of the popular assumptions given that this was a little before people started to suspect Madeleine McCann's parents.

So the theory goes that a pedophile in the area somehow gained access to the villa that night and killed McCann. In addition to this theory, a few years later, it was revealed that the McCanns allegedly befriended a former British politician named Clement Freud. Apparently, Freud made contact with the couple a few months after their daughter vanished, and he also owned property at the same villa in Praia da Luz. The McCanns accepted his offer to visit his villa then, and stayed in contact with him afterward. But sex abuse accusations would come about after his death years later, per The Independent. According to his victims, Freud allegedly raped and abused underaged young girls for decades. These accusations, along with McCann going missing and him later reaching out to her parents, raised several questions and possibilities. One of his victims states that he was a private person, and by extending an invitation to cook for the family of a missing girl, it stands out.

As of 2020, Christian B, a convicted sex offender, was the main suspect (via Metro).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A possible Belgian or other European sex ring

A year after McCann's disappearance, a tipster in London told police that it's possible that a pedophile sex-trafficking ring in Belgium ordered McCann's abduction, Reuters reported. The unnamed person told authorities in 2008 that images of McCann and her family were purportedly taken of them on a beach in Portugal. That photo was then sent to the ring, and her abduction was apparently ordered. 

It wouldn't be the first time a theory of such has been raised — many have long assumed that a sex offender was involved in McCann's disappearance, per People Magazine. This theory is one of the several discussed in the eight-part 2019 Netflix documentary series titled "The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann" (via IMDb). The show detailed many of the possible ways a sex ring spotter could have seen McCann and targeted her. 

Portugal only borders one country, Spain, but has a large coastline that provides access and routes to other countries, allowing easy access for professional traffickers to get an escape if she was abducted by them.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.