We have all seen this face. The image is of little Madeleine McCann, the British toddler who disappeared while on a family vacation a year ago last month. What we haven't seen, and, in all likelihood, never will, is the body of Madeleine McCann.
Without a body, I doubt we will ever know for sure why she disappeared without a trace the night of May 3, 2007. I believe an autopsy of Madeleine's body could tell us exactly what happened. And that is why, I propose, her body had to be concealed at all costs, including a family's usual need to hold a funeral to memorialize the life of a loved one who has passed.Let me state right off that I do not think that Madeleine's parents intentionally caused the death of their child. If they're guilty of anything, I believe it is of placing too much trust in what some charge were unorthodox methods of parenting. More on this shortly.
I should also make clear that I have not followed this case as well as I'm guessing most of our readers have, so I might very well have some of my facts wrong. (Readers, I'm counting on you to set me straight in the comments section to this post.) Further, "my theory" might be nothing new. I hadn't given any serious thought to this case until last week, when Portuguese police announced they are considering filing child neglect charges against Kate and Gerry McCann (pictured right) in relation to Madeleine's disappearance.
Childcare: Careless Death, Careful Cover-up
I never believed that the little girl's parents meant to cause Madeleine's death. From my passing understanding of facts that have emerged over the past year, I formed the opinion that Madeleine's death was a case of simple negligence by parents who should have hired a sitter.
The parameters of the current investigation are considerably broader than child neglect. According to a recent ruling released by the Evora Supreme Court of Justice in Portimao, the McCanns will be investigated for abduction, homicide, exposure or abandonment of a child, and concealment of a corpse.
This remark did not surprise me. From the beginning, the McCanns have claimed their daughter was abducted. Any energy and expense in that direction would be eagerly embraced by them. Personally, I believe the McCanns have led the public on a global goose chase. The natural question is Why?
To Sleep, Perchance to Die
Which leads to my theory of the case, a conclusion that hinges on early reports that, to my knowledge, have not been proved or disproved. But they are allegations that, if true, could explain what happened to Madeleine. I believe that the McCanns—both doctors—drugged their children. The specific allegations are that Madeleine died from an overdose of sleeping pills her parents had given her before they met adult friends for dinner, only 50 to 100 yards from where the McCann children were sleeping.
On the whole, the McCanns were probably excellent parents. It's not outside the realm of possibility that they were over-protective parents who, to safeguard against potential abuses, would rather give their children sleeping pills than entrust their care to anyone but themselves. If the kids were asleep, they might have (erroneously) reasoned, no sitter would be necessary, especially when Mom and Dad were close enough to check on them, as appears to have been the case that fateful night.
Still, it seems to me that even if the McCanns had checked on their children, unless the doctor-parents took vital signs each time they popped in, it might not have been apparent that their child had stopped breathing. We see what we want to see. If they did in fact drug their children, they surely thought they were administering safe dosages. I don't believe they would have had any reason, or, after x glasses of wine with dinner, inclination to closely examine their children. That is, perhaps, until it was time to kiss them goodnight at whatever hour the parents returned from their engagement.
If Madeleine's death was in fact caused by accidental overdose, the most likely scenario is that the McCanns did not know Madeleine was dead until they returned from dinner to retire for the night. As overwhelming and gut-wrenching as finding a dead child would be to most parents, as much as time might have stood still, those parents would have had to do some quick thinking to avoid further catastrophe to their family.
Given their medical backgrounds, the McCanns would had to have feared that in a case of drug overdose, a toxicology screen would reveal substances in their daughter's system. If the couple wasn't able to produce a babysitter (who could have served as the scapegoat for drugging their daughter), then consequences were certain: Kate and Gerry McCann would at the very least be charged with child neglect for abandoning their children as well as child endangerment and whatever other charges could arise from giving a child drugs.
That this revelation would irreparably damage their reputations as parents would have been bad enough. What put them over the edge, I think, was the threat to their livelihood. If exposed for giving their child drugs that led to her death, the Mcanns risked the revocation of their medical licenses.
Even if they admitted they drugged Madeleine and convinced everyone that their daughter's death was a tragic accident, they would be held to a higher standard of care than average parents. Pharmacological babysitting might have worked for them without complication in the past. But, as physicians, they should have known the risks inherent in administering drugs to a child.
If they could no longer practice medicine, they might have thought, then how could they support their other children? And what if criminal convictions led to jail time? The McCanns currently face a sentence of up to ten years if found guilty of child neglect. They would have risked that and, quite likely, additional time for other charges a year ago. Their 18-month-old twins could have been orphaned during their most critical years of development.
Kate and Gerry McCann could not reverse what happened to Madeleine. But upon finding her dead, they could still make choices they felt were in the best interest of their surviving children.
If She Dies Before She Wakes . . .
As horrific and incomprehensible as it might seem to anyone not in that same circumstance at that moment, the only way to avoid further tragedy, in their minds, was to make sure the body was never found.
Without a body, no toxicology. Without toxicology reports indicating the presence of drugs, no charges. I believe the McCanns quickly made the decision to conceal their child's body, in a place known only to the parents. A private burial for family.
A body is not necessary to prove neglect. But to prove that the child was drugged, police would need considerably more evidence than what has been made public. An admission from either parent is not likely.
Even an admission won't cinch a case of criminally negligent homicide. I'm thinking of another disappearance in which drugs might have played a role in a death that I'm inclined to think was accidental.
Death and the Maidens
The month of May was also the anniversary of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, the 18-year-old student who never returned from a senior trip to Aruba. Officials did not gather enough evidence to charge Joran van der Sloot with Natalee's death. It was apparently because Joran thought he was off the hook for murder that he made incriminating statements to a Dutch reporter, who videotaped the conversation. Naturally, Joran has recanted those statements, maintaining he was only saying what he thought the journalist wanted to hear. That's his story now. When talking to the reporter on tape, Joran said, "I'm being honest with you."
Aside from Joran's denials, the reliability of his statements was further compromised by the fact that Joran was under the influence of marijuana when he confessed that Natalee had died in his presence. Joran reportedly used drugs regularly.
While Joran has been vilified in the press, I do not believe, based on his recorded statements, that he intentionally brought about Natalee's death. I am convinced he gave her drugs, with or without her consent, and that, similar to the McCanns, Joran knew that her body would tell the tale of drug use—drugs that likely contributed to her death, drugs that could be linked to him. To avoid responsibility, Joran decided her body had to disappear. In his taped confession he told the reporter "they'll never find" Natalee.
"I know what happened to that girl,'' Joran continued, adding that he was "just incredibly lucky that she's never been found. Because if they found that girl, I'd be in deep shit."
On tape, Joran described a romantic encounter with Natalee (pictured right) on the beach. At some point, he said, she lost consciousness, probably from whatever drug/s she had ingested.
"Suddenly, she wasn't moving anymore," he said. "I tried to shake her. . . . I was shaking the bitch. I was like, 'What is wrong with you, man?' I almost wanted to cry. . . . Why does this shit have to happen to me?"
If these statements are true, Joran did not intentionally cause the death of Natalee. But a compelling case of criminally negligent homicide could be made, especially if Natalee had been alive when her body was thrown into the ocean, as some have speculated.
Joran went on to say that, in a panic, he phoned a trusted friend. "And I told him, 'Well, this is what happened. Come, come, come help me. And please don't call the police.' "
Not only did Joran fail to seek emergency attention—he admitted he specifically asked someone else to keep authorities in the dark. Joran enlisted the help of his friend to dispose of Natalee's body.
Joran told the journalist that it was a relief to tell someone what happened to Natalee that night. "I'm putting it away and for me," he said, "it's finished. Case closed."
Not so fast. Based on those tapes, authorities have reopened the investigation. Although Joran said he had no trouble sleeping the night that Natalee died, odds are he isn't sleeping as easily since police have turned up the heat.
If my theory about the McCanns has any merit, they could be equally restless now that the investigation has shifted directions. After Madeleine's disappearance last year, there were numerous reports that Kate McCann was able to sleep "just five days" following her daughter's disappearance.
The implication was not that Kate McCann had been up for four nights straight before the poor woman finally collapsed from exhaustion. The subtext was that because Kate knew what had happened to her daughter, she was not kept awake by the twin torments of parents of missing children: the "agony of the unknown" and the hope that at any moment the child would return.
Of course, Madeleine returning is as unlikely as it is that murder charges will ever be filed against her parents. And there is little hope that Natalee Holloway's body will ever be recovered. Whether Madeleine or Natalee were actually murdered will probably remain a mystery.
As WCI Cold Case Detective Connie Park shared in her post on Monday: "You must consider the body as evidence—the one piece of evidence you discover which will ultimately help you solve the murder investigation." Without those bodies of evidence, we cannot expect real answers about how they met their deaths.Tweet