German prosecutor says clues to Madeleine McCann disappearance may be found at Portuguese dam site

The latest search for clues regarding McCann’s disappearance started Tuesday around the Arade dam, located some 30 miles from where the 3-year-old girl was last seen 16 years ago

Silves, Portugal
A police search team walk on the shore of the Arade dam near Silves, Portugal, on May 24, 2023.Joao Matos (AP)

Police searching for clues regarding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the British child who went missing in 2007 in Portugal, were concentrating operations Wednesday in several areas around a dam, including one where media reports say a lead suspect in the case often stayed.

The latest search for clues regarding the disappearance started Tuesday following a request by German authorities. Some 30 Portuguese, German and British police are taking part in the operation at the Arade dam, which is located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the resort of Praia da Luz, where the 3-year-old girl was last seen 16 years ago.

In Germany, Braunschweig prosecutor Christian Wolters told German public broadcaster NDR, “We have indications that we could find evidence there. I don’t want to say what that is exactly, and I also don’t want to say where these indications come from.

“The only thing that I would clarify is that it doesn’t come from the suspect — so we don’t have a confession or anything similar now, or an indication from the suspect of where it would make sense to search,” Wolters said, adding that “it was other indications that prompted us to conduct this search.”

But Wolters appeared to calm expectations of what might be found, saying, “We never said that the girl disappeared where we are now searching.”

Police on Tuesday were studying an area where Portuguese and Spanish media say the suspect stayed around the time that Madeleine went missing.

Officers could be heard using a motor saw to clear trees and bushes in the zone, which is located on the far side of the reservoir from the base camp that police set up Monday.

Police have given no details on the progress of the searches so far, but leading Portuguese daily Expresso said Wednesday that the first day ended with no significant results, adding that police had collected some objects including fabrics and garments. It said that in places where the sniffer dogs signaled, the soil was dug up, possibly indicating that biological traces were also being sought.

The search is expected to end Wednesday or Thursday.

Detectives from the three countries are still trying to figure out what happened on the night when the toddler disappeared from her bed in the southern Portuguese resort on May 3, 2007. She was in the same room as her twin brother and sister, who were 2 at the time, while her parents had dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant.

Portuguese media say this is the fourth search for McCann, following the initial one in 2007 in the Algarve area and further efforts in 2013 and 2014. Another search was held in Germany in 2020.

In mid-2020, German officials said that a 45-year-old German citizen, identified by media as Christian Brueckner, who was in the Algarve in 2007, was a suspect in the case. Brueckner has denied any involvement.

Brueckner is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence in Germany for raping a 72-year-old woman in Portugal in 2005.

He is under investigation in the McCann case, but hasn’t been charged. He spent many years in Portugal, including in Praia da Luz, around the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.

The reservoir is currently less than half full owing to a drought affecting Portugal and neighboring Spain. Much of the area being searched would be below water level in years of normal rainfall.

Madeleine’s parents aren’t commenting because of the active investigation, according to an email response from the website set up for the search for the child, findmadeleine.com.

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