These are the nine theories about what happened to Maddie McCann

Only some are explored in the Netflix doc


Last week, Netflix released an eight part documentary series based around the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. In the trailer for the Netflix documentary, it claimed it would "explore every theory", but only some are truly looked at in detail. These are all of the Madeleine McCann conspiracy theories out there right now, some that are explored in the Netflix documentary, and others that have been shared online.

The nine main Madeleine McCann conspiracy theories:

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Madeleine McCann went missing in Portugal in 2007

1. The Sex Trafficking theory

One theory, that has always been prominent, is that Madeleine was taken to be trafficked. The Netflix documentary look at this theory in depth, despite it being unproven, as the best case scenario for being able to find Maddie alive.

Private investigator Julian Peribanez says in the documentary: "The value that Madeleine had was really high. If they took her it's because they were going to get a lot of money."

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Kate and Gerry McCann appealing for information about Madeleine

At the time, The Telegraph reported there had been an unusually high number of assaults on young girls in the area. The report said: "Police identified nine sexual assaults and three 'near misses' on British girls aged between six to 12 in the three years before Madeleine went missing. In one case from 2005, a ten-year-old girl was assaulted in an apartment Praia da Luz, close to the spot from where Madeleine vanished."

This information correlates to the theory Madeleine was abducted by a predator, or may have been taken for sex trafficking.

Police also released an artist impression of the person the McCann's friend, Jane Tanner, had seen carrying a child when she had been out checking on the children.

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There was a night creche nearby to the apartment, and a couple did come forward saying they thought this sighting may have been them – but the theory this had some relation to Madeleine still stands.

2. The Parents Selling theory

Another of the many Madeleine McCann conspiracy theories includes the involvement of her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, in her disappearance. Some believe she was sold by her own parents, who organised the entire abduction.

3. The Parents Drugging theory

There are a few different theories regarding the involvement of Kate and Gerry McCann in Madeleine's disappearance. Kate and Gerry were named by Portuguese authorities as official suspects and were interrogated about their daughter's disappearance. Some people think they drugged her and it went wrong, others think they killed Maddie and the abduction story is all a cover up.

One of the theories about the McCanns, that is presented in the Netflix documentary, is that police thought the couple might have killed her with an overdose of Calpol.

The documentary also looks at how sniffer dogs were used in the case, and had detected the scent of blood, and a human body, inside the McCann's apartment and their hire car. People have been suspicious about Kate McCann in particular for a while, the dogs sensed the smells of a human body and blood on her clothing too, and she refused to answer 48 questions in her interview with police.

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Kate and Gerry McCann

Investigator and author Anthony Summers told documentary producers: "By late summer there was an implication that they may have over-sedated her by administering a drug."

His co-author, Robbyn Swan, said: "Essentially the Portuguese cops' case against the McCanns involved the following: that she died by accident on May 3rd, that the supposed checks on the children had been concocted, that they had hidden their daughter's body.

"Her body had subsequently been transported in the rental car they had rented some weeks later." However, months later, forensic reports confirmed there was no viable evidence linking Madeleine's DNA to the holiday apartment or the rental car.

This theory is again raised in the Netflix doc by the disgraced Portuguese officer, Goncalo Amaral. He released a book and a TV documentary, called The Truth Of The Lie, in which he alleged the McCanns faked the whole abduction to cover up that they had accidentally killed her.

The McCanns claimed the book was "unfounded and grossly defamatory" and launched legal action against Goncalo Amaral in 2009. In 2015, Kate and Gerry McCann were awarded around £450,000 in damages by a Portuguese court. However, in April last year Amaral won an appeal against the decision.

4. The Portuguese Predator theory

This is another of the Madeleine McCann conspiracy theories that is explored in the Netflix documentary, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Police looked into the case of a man, who was wanted in connection with the sexual assaults of five young girls at Portuguese holiday resorts.

He was described as a "lone intruder" who attacked the girls in their beds, two of these attacks happened in Praia Da Luz – where Madeleine went missing from. Anthony Summers says in the Netflix documentary: "One startling element is the sheer number of sexual predators in the area at the time."

In this case, the predator had been making his way into houses where British tourists were staying and allegedly laying on beds with children. He was wearing a medical mask, and described as speaking English, but sounding foreign.

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A reconstruction in the Netflix documentary

5. The Couple theory

Another theory explored in the Netflix doc is that she was taken by a childless couple, and raised as their own. In 2017, The Telegraph reported it had long been suggested she may have been stolen to order, by criminals acting on behalf of a wealthy childless couple.

Witnesses claimed to have seen suspicious characters around the resort in the days before her disappearance, who could have been acting as spotters, searching for a child that fitted the requirements. There were reports of suspicious men hanging around the Ocean Club resort, where the McCanns were staying, days before Madeleine went missing.

6. The Enigma theory

The enigma theory is that some people believe Madeleine McCann never existed. It's probably one of the more out-there Madeleine McCann conspiracy theories, but people definitely believe it. Some people think she isn't actually a person, and was made up by the British government to distract attention from other news stories or to raise money for the country.

The search for Madeleine McCann has cost nearly £12 million.

7. The Discovery theory

This theory is that Madeleine was actually found alive, but her case had become so high profile, the lie that she was still missing had to be upheld for her to be able to live a normal life.

Even if Maddie was given a new identity, any girl her age spotted with the McCanns or that looked like her would be constantly hounded by the public and press, so the only way for her to be able to live a 'normal' life would be to fool people into thinking she was still missing.

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A well known picture of Madeleine McCann, showing her distinctive eye feature

8. The Tourism theory

This is another of the Madeleine McCann conspiracy theories explored in the Netflix documentary, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann. It has been claimed Portuguese authorities framed the McCanns in a desperate attempt to save the tourism trade in Portugal. They didn't want people to think that Portugal was the kind of place where children were unsafe, and such horrible crimes could take place, so they pinned it all on Kate and Gerry McCann.

The theory is from Edinburgh tycoon Brian Kennedy, who has donated to the fund to help find Maddie. He said: "You could understand how the mood of pubic opinion would go from sympathy to vilification.

"Lets 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.

"It's much easier to say: 'Aha, we've found some idea later that the parents could be involved in this."

Speaking for the first time about his involvement, Brian Kennedy said he was convinced the McCanns weren't involved "within 12 seconds." He said: "They both looked like a wreck, after 12 seconds just reading the emotions everything told me 100 per cent that this woman [Kate McCann] is genuine – she is a victim."

9. The Wandering theory

Another theory is that Madeleine simply wandered out of the apartment of her own free will, and was tragically killed in an accident.

One Reddit user says: "I think she woke up, left the apartment and wandered off. She died either by drowning in the ocean (kids her age love water) or by some other form of misadventure. I do not think foul play was involved."

"Drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for kids age 1-4. They lack the capacity to understand the danger of water. It's why pools are required to be fenced in, at least where I live. The draw is very strong, and kids don't realise that they are in trouble until it's too late."

The Netflix doc states that the apartment door was left open, and the location of their room was near a road where an accident could have happened. However, this theory would lead to further speculation as to how she could disappear without a trace.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

The 48 questions Kate McCann refused to answer about Maddie’s disappearance

These are all the Maddie McCann ‘sightings’ since she went missing in 2007

These are the celebs who donated to the £2.6million Maddie fund

We spoke to the Leeds student who thinks she’s Madeleine McCann