Is this the man who abducted Maddie?

January 20, 2008 1:02:23 PM PST
The parents of Madeleine McCann today released new artist's impressions of a man they say could be involved in their daughter's disappearance from a Portuguese resort last May. Family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the images drawn from descripitions of a man seen acting suspiciously at the Praia da Luz resort where the McCanns were staying in the weeks before Madeleine's disappearance.

He said the drawings are also similar to the descriptions given of a man who was seen carrying a child on May 3, the night the 3-year-old girl disappeared from the family's holiday apartment.

"We believe this man could be linked to Madeleine's disappearance," Mitchell said at a news conference in London. "We want to know who he is, and we want to know where he is, and we want to know that as soon as we can. If he is innocent we want him to come forward for his own sake so he can be ruled out."

Madeleine, or Maddie as so many have come to know her, vanished from where she was sleeping in her bed in the resort apartment while her parents -- both doctors -- were having dinner 100 yards away in the same holiday compound.

Almost immediately, a huge publicity campaign went into gear, with celebrities including author J. K. Rowling and soccer player David Beckham appealing for help in finding the little girl, who has a distinctive black mark in the iris of her right eye.

The McCanns toured Europe to raise awareness of the case. They even had an audience with the pope. They gave dozens of interviews, as press and TV teams from around the world documented their every move.

"'Please, please continue to pray for Madeleine," Kate McCann cried during one television appeal.

"We are doing absolutely everything to assist the police with their investigation, and we will leave no stone unturned in the search for our daughter," her husband Gerry said.

In mid-May, just after Madeleine's fourth birthday, Portuguese police named a British expatriate, Robert Murat, as an official suspect. Murat lived next door to the McCann apartment. But police didn't have enough evidence to actually charge him.

Then in mid-June, police admitted vital forensic clues might have been destroyed because of their failure to seal the crime scene properly.

By August, the Portuguese media, which had so much sympathy for the McCanns, had turned against the couple. Police called Kate McCann in for 11 hours of questioning in September. She was hissed and booed by onlookers as she arrived at police headquarters.

The next day, she and her husband were both named as official suspects by the Portuguese authorities, adding a new wrinkle to the already complicated story of Maddie's disappearance.

In an interview with a British tabloid, Kate McCann said the police tried to get her to confess to accidentally killing her daughter with a sedative.

In the last three months, there have been no breaks in the case, apart from a false sighting in Morocco of a fair-skinned child with a striking resemblance to Madeleine. Another sighting was reported this week from North Africa by a woman who was convinced she saw Madeleine in a taxi with a middle-aged woman.

The Portuguese police chief in charge of the inquiry, Det. Goncalo Amaral, was removed from the case. This was partly because of his involvement in a similar case of another missing child in Portugal in 2004 where the child's mother ended up being convicted and jailed for her murder. The child's father claims his wife was tortured into a confession by Amaral.