In 2007, 3-Year-Old Madeleine McCann Disappeared On Vacation And Was Never Seen Again

On the evening of May 3, 2007, 3-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from a hotel room in Praia da Luz, Portugal, and was never found. Her mother, Kate McCann, discovered Madeleine had vanished around 10 pm, just half an hour after another adult checked on the young girl and her siblings. What followed was a lengthy police investigation and trial by media that cast suspicion on the McCanns themselves.

More than 15 years after the incident, the Madeleine McCann case remains unsolved. While many believe this was a case of child abduction, others in the true crime field have offered different theories - but no real answers.

In this list, we'll break down the timeline of the night Madeleine disappeared, share possible theories and suspects, and explain where the case stands today.


  • In 2007, The McCann Family Was Vacationing In Portugal With A Group Of Friends

    On April 28, 2007, Gerry and Kate McCann of Rothley, Leicestershire, UK, took their children on a week-long trip to Portugal with some of their friends. Their oldest child, Madeleine, was about to celebrate her fourth birthday on May 12.

    The group of friends included Fiona and David Payne as well as their two children and Fiona's mother, Dianne Webster; Matthew and Rachael Oldfield and their daughter; and Jane Tanner and Russell O'Brien, who had also brought their two children.

    May 3, 2007, the day Madeleine disappeared, was otherwise ordinary by the McCanns' account. Madeleine and her siblings spent part of the day in the resort's childcare center before going to the pool with their parents. The children were all put to bed at around 7 pm, and the McCanns left for dinner at a restaurant within the resort around 8:35 pm.

  • On The Penultimate Day Of Their Trip, The Adults Put The Children To Bed And Went To Dinner

    The evening of May 3, 2007, was the second-to-last night of the group's stay at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz, Portugal. As they had on other nights, the adults met at a tapas restaurant within the complex, later earning them the name the “Tapas Seven."

    The restaurant was approximately 100 feet from the McCanns' apartment, which was located on the ground floor of block 5 of the Waterside Village Gardens. The McCanns and the other adults had all agreed to take turns checking on the children throughout the evening, as they had on previous nights.

    Although the McCanns locked the apartment's front door, they left the patio doors unlocked so they could easily enter and leave without waking the children.

  • At 10 pm, Kate McCann Realized Madeleine Was Missing

    At 9:05 pm, roughly 30 minutes after the McCanns left for dinner, Gerry returned to the apartment and found all three children sleeping in their room. He later noted that the bedroom door was open wider than he had left it but assumed Madeleine had gotten up at some point after he and Kate had left for dinner.

    Matthew Oldfield offered to check on the McCann children at 9:30 pm. Oldfield later told authorities the bedroom door had been left wide open, but he couldn't remember if the bedroom window was open. He also stated he had only seen the twins in bed and wasn't sure whether or not Madeleine was still in the apartment.

    At 10:00 pm, less than an hour since Gerry had last seen Madeleine, Kate entered the apartment and noticed the bedroom door was shut. Upon entering the bedroom, she found the twins asleep, but Madeleine was nowhere to be found. The bedroom window had also been opened, likely causing the door to blow shut. At this point, the search for Madeleine began.

  • While Many People Joined The Search, There May Have Been Crucial Errors In How It Was Conducted

    While Many People Joined The Search, There May Have Been Crucial Errors In How It Was Conducted
    Photo: The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann / Netflix

    At 10:15 pm, Matthew Oldfield went to the hotel's front desk and asked them to call the police. Local authorities arrived within 15 minutes, then called in the Policia Judiciaria (PJ), who arrived at 11:10 pm. As police searched the resort, fellow guests began assisting and police brought in dogs, but there was no sign of Madeleine.

    In the days and years following the investigation, the McCann family, the British police, and the general public criticized Portuguese law enforcement for their handling of the case. For instance, 20 people entered and exited the McCanns' apartment before police closed it off. In fact, it would take two months for the apartment to even be classified as a crime scene. By that time, the hotel had already rented out the space to other guests.

    Police also didn't go door to door when searching the property and waited until the following morning to put up any road barriers. Authorities also failed to provide a physical description of Madeleine until several hours after she was reported missing.