Investigators who have made a jailed German “sexual predator” their main suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann believe the young girl, who vanished while on holiday in Portugal with her parents in 2007, is dead.
The prosecutor's office in the northern German city of Braunschweig said it was investigating a 43-year-old German man who has been convicted of multiple sexual offences as a murder suspect in the case that captured the public's attention.
“You can infer from that we assume the girl is dead,” spokesman Hans Christian Wolters told journalists on Thursday without taking questions.
Madeleine was three years old at the time of her disappearance.
“With the suspect, we are talking about a sexual predator who has already been convicted of crimes against little girls and he’s already serving a long sentence,” Wolters said.
After more than a decade of investigations, German law enforcement have yet to explain what led them to conclude the man was involved in Madeleine's disappearance or why they believe she is dead.
Police said the suspect, who they have not named, is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for a sexual crime.
The development, though grim, raised hopes that the mystery surrounding the case might finally be resolved. Authorities have never before given so much detailed information about any suspect during the years of investigating the child's disappearance, which received worldwide attention.
Her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, said on their website www.findmadeleine.com that their hope of seeing their daughter again had not faded.
“All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice,” the couple, who live in the UK, wrote.
“We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace.”
British media ID suspect
German tabloid Bild has identified the suspect as Christian B, while British media has published his surname and pictured him.
German police said the suspect, described as white with short, blond hair and a slim build, was linked to a camper van seen in Portugal’s Algarve region in 2007.
Portuguese, British and German police appealed for the public’s help in building their case against the suspect, asking people if they remembered seeing him in or around Praia da Luz 13 years ago.
Her parents say Madeleine disappeared after they left her and her twin siblings asleep in their holiday complex while they had dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant.
Christian Hoppe of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office told German public broadcaster ZDF that police aren’t ruling out a sexual motive. He said whoever abducted the girl may have broken into the holiday apartment and then spontaneously committed the kidnapping.
Hoppe said the suspect in the McCann case lived between Lagos and nearby Praia da Luz, and was regularly in the Algarve region from 1995 to 2007.
Suspect’s long criminal history
The suspect’s description fits that of a 43-year-old man who was convicted in December of the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American woman in her apartment in Portugal, local German newspaper Braunschweiger Zeitung reported.
The newspaper said the physical description provided by German authorities and other details match the defendant in the 2005 rape attack, who recently was linked to the case by DNA.
The suspect denied the charges during his trial and has appealed his conviction.
A witness who gave evidence at the rape trial said he had seen him “climb through open windows in one or another holiday flat”, The Guardian reported.
According to a copy of the rape verdict sent by the court in response to an AP question about the suspect's December trial, his other convictions were for the sexual abuse of a child in 1994 and a case in 2016 when he was convicted of possessing child pornography.
Other convictions include drug trafficking, burglary and weapons violations.
Police from Britain, Germany and Portugal asked for anyone to come forward if they had seen two vehicles linked to the suspect – a Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar.
They also sought information on two Portuguese phone numbers, including one believed to have been used by the suspect on the day of Madeleine’s disappearance.
Portuguese police declined to comment because the country’s judicial secrecy law forbids revealing details of open investigations.
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