Filed under: missing persons

Madeleine McCann: A new twist in the case?

Media in the United Kingdom and the European Union are reporting this morning that the parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann have been declared suspects in their daughter’s disappearance. Kate and Gerry McCann may be arrested as early as today.

Intrepid journalist Paulo Reis, who has been covering the McCann disappearance in minute detail since Madeleine vanished, stated baldly in his blog/online paper, Gazeta Digital: “KATE McCANN COULD BE CHARGE [sic] TODAY IN CONNECTION WITH MADELEINE’S DISAPPEARENCE [sic].”

Madeleine, age 4, was allegedly asleep in an apartment with her younger brother and sister while her parents dined several yards away on May 3, 2007 in Praia da Luz, in southwestern Portugal.

Documenting all the twists and turns in the investigation into Madeleine’s vanishing from Praia da Luz last May would require a separate weblog. There have been suspects aplenty and sightings of the child all across the European Union. Madeleine’s physician parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, have become grim celebrities, with the ear of no less than British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (until recently that is, when it appeared as though Brown may have put some distance between himself and the couple). Multiple websites and personal profiles have been created by Americans, Britons, and Europeans alike. Message board and blog comment threads have been filled with speculation and painstaking analysis of every aspect of the truly troubling disappearance of the toddler from Leicester. A fairly concise and essentially neutral overview of the case so far can be found at Wikipedia — “Disappearance of Madeleine McCann.” [The Wikipedia entry on Madeleine’s disappearance has numerous legitimate sources of information linked in the notes.]

In the last few days, suspicion of the missing child’s parents has increased as the McCanns found themselves under heavy questioning by Portugal’s criminal investigation outfit, the Polícia Judiciária, or PJ. Early in the search for Madeleine the McCanns were naturally subject to suspicion, but by late July much of the public focus had turned away from the parents and towards some sketchy characters living near Praia da Luz at the time of the child’s disappearance.

Early today, a Portuguese language paper, Sol, reported that there was “fortes possibilidades” — a strong possibility — of Kate McCann becoming “arguida” — a suspect in her daughter’s disappearance, presumably in Madeleine’s death.

In a statement to news services such as Reuters and the AP, McCann family spokesperson David Hughes said that during Kate McCann’s continued questioning by the PJ she would no longer be done as a witness but a suspect, or “arguida.” The status of “arguida” is not quite as serious as the designation “suspect” might be in the UK or the United States. U.S. authorities, for instance, have become quite careful in the last decade or so about calling someone a suspect — many people accused of crimes have remained simply “persons of interest” right up to the moment they were in handcuffs. In Portugal, “arguida” is a legal designation that permits deeper questioning of the person under interrogation.

Fine distinctions between the meanings of “arguida” and “suspect” notwithstanding, the world press has seized on this development as a truly shocking turn of events. The McCann investigation was initially all but ignored by the American press, even as it was becoming a tremendously high-profile case across the Atlantic. The traditional media here in America are all over the story today.

Are the PJ out of other suspects and simply reverting to the most likely culprits? Statistically, harm is most often done to children by a caretaker or someone close to them. When some, including bloggers posting here at CrimeBlog.US, were hesitant to express too much suspicion of the McCanns, commentators frequently expressed the feeling that the couple was being cut too much slack.

It may be that there is forensic evidence pointing towards the McCanns, evidence that has only recently become available. This report from Reuters contained statements from another friend and spokesperson for the McCanns, Justine McGuinness:

“She will formally be declared a suspect,” said Justine McGuinness, a spokeswoman for the McCanns. “Kate knows it’s possible that she could get arrested.”

[. . .]

McGuinness said McCann had told her that police found blood in a car hired by her and her husband, Gerry, but there was no confirmation it was Madeleine’s blood. The car had been hired 25 days after Madeleine disappeared.

“They believe they have evidence to show in some way that she is involved in the death of her daughter, which of course is completely ludicrous,” McGuinness told BBC television.

If the McCanns are arrested in connection with their daughter’s mysterious disappearance, it will truly be an amazing turn of events. Kate and Gerry McCann haven’t just had the ear of the British Prime Minister, they’ve spoken to Pope Benedict XVI as well as sympathetic celebrities in Europe and the U.S.

After the initial outcry against their perceived lapse in leaving Madeleine and her siblings alone on May 3, public perception of the couple grew steadily more sympathetic. They became more comfortable as well, making multiple high-profile public statements. Gerry McCann even began to blog at FindMadeleine.com. His entry from September 6, 2007:

Day 126 – 06/09/2007

Everyone will know that Kate attended for interview as a witness with the Portuguese police today. This is only the second time Kate has been interviewed and although it was a long day, going on past midnight, this was shorter than my second interview which lasted 13 hours! The suggestion that Kate is involved in Madeleines disappearance is ludicrous. Anyone who knows anything about the 3rd May knows that Kate is completely innocent. We will fight this all the way and we will not stop looking for Madeleine.

Admittedly, there had been a strangely blasé tone to many of Gerry’s previous blog entries. He still sounded at times like a man on holiday. Gerry’s entry from September 4:

Day 123 – 03/09/2007

After dropping the twins off Kate and I popped into church for 10 minutes to pray for Madeleine. Spent most of the day going through mail, e-mails and I had a number of calls to make. It was good to spend some time with my family and Sean and Amelie certainly enjoyed their auntie’s dinner- sometimes it is hard to beat mince and ‘tatties’!

A bereft father struggling to keep his fear and anxiety at bay, or a tone-deaf narcissist unable to perceive the shallow nature of such a statement? There seemed to be an inappropriate, perfunctory, almost business-like tone to the post quoted above: Dropped off the kids, check — prayed for the missing kid, check — sorted mail, e-mail, phone calls, etc…. another day at the office.

The fact is, there have been many moments in the McCann investigation when there was “BREAKING NEWS” of one form or another. Blogging about the case slacked here at CrimeBlog.US in part because of this — entries would be half-written only to discover that a sighting of the missing girl was false, or that a new suspect was no longer a suspect.

Discussion of the McCann disappearance continued in comments left on blog posts, though. It was clear that many readers were daily seeking some new development, some sign that the little girl with the teardrop eye might one day come home again. Even as British posters gave the McCanns the benefit of the doubt and Portuguese readers seemed more and more cynical, suspicious of the situation, this hope for Madeleine still seemed to be one point on which the two views agreed.

This desire to find that hope inside this story brings up another spectre raised by heavy suspicion falling on Madeleine’s parents. Implied in allegations of new forensic evidence and naming Gerry and Kate suspects is a terrible conclusion — Portuguese authorities believe the child is dead, and that she may have been dead since May 3, 2007. If the McCanns being named ’suspects’ can be called a shocking development, this is the core reason for the shock. While there was a possibility that Madeleine had been abducted by a stranger, there existed a glimmer of hope that she might still be alive.

The possibility that both parents had a hand in her disappearance suggests strongly that Madeleine is long gone, and may never be found.

Even new suspicion directed at Madeleine’s parents may prove unfounded, in the end. Gerry and Kate, in that case, will have been through more hell than most parents could ever imagine.

The Fire, The Professor’s Wife, The Mystery, Pt. 2…

Read the first blog entry I wrote about this mystery out of Rhode Island here: “The Fire, The Professor’s Wife, The Mystery.”

Projo.com, the website for the Providence Journal, has posted an interesting update on one of their blogs about the case: “Firefighters found gas cans in missing woman’s home.” Quoting from the news blog:

The gas cans were found last Thursday, shortly after 9 p.m., as firefighters tried to quell flames tearing through the home of Joseph P. Matoney, a URI accounting professor, and his wife, Adrianne Lynn Matoney, a former URI employee.

Firefighters also noticed the “strong odor” of a petroleum-based substance, said police Sgt. Joel Ewing-Chow, who asked Judge William C. Clifton to allow police to search the house. Firefighters removed one of the cans and gave it to the police…

One of the Matoney children, Daniel, said ‘there never were nor should there by any gas cans in the living area of the residence.’

Adrianne Lynn Matoney’s Toyota Camry, found over 20 miles from the home on French Road, bore no signs of a struggle. Additionally, no note was left behind. Matoney’s fate is a mystery.

The Matoney family also issued a statement yesterday. It read, in part:

We would like to thank the authorities, our friends and the community for their efforts to locate our mother and wife. We hope these efforts will continue until she is found. We thank everyone for all your support, help and prayers. We are confident you understand our need for privacy during this time…

There is nothing typical about this missing persons case so far. I will update this entry as needed.

Where is Wade Steffey?

From the Indy Channel:

Purdue University on Wednesday released information about a student who has been missing since early Saturday morning.

Wade S. Steffey, 19, has not had any contact with his friends or his father since Saturday.

Steffey, a freshman from Bloomington, has short, brown hair and brown eyes. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs about 150 pounds…

Last time anyone saw Wade Steffey, he was at a fraternity house on the Purdue campus. He used his ATM card around 1 a.m… and he hasn’t used it since.

In the Indianapolis Star, Sopia Voravong wrote about the worry and dismay expressed by Wade’s family and friends. Wade Steffey wasn’t the kind of guy who would just up and disappear:

Steffey, an aviation technology major from Bloomington, is a straight-A student on a full-ride, academic scholarship, Cox said.

He has no known health problems.

The FBI in Lafayette, the West Lafayette Police Department and the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department all are assisting in the search.

K9 units from the Tippecanoe County and Porter County sheriff’s departments tried to track Steffey’s scent Wednesday from the fraternity to an ATM in the Ford Dining Hall at 1122 W. Stadium Ave., where his bank card was last used, then to his nearby residence hall.

All locations are within a half-mile on the northern edge of campus.

Investigators do not know whether Steffey was the person who withdrew $50 from the walk-up ATM at 1:11 a.m. Saturday because the machine’s camera was broken, Cox said.

Police also found no activity on Steffey’s student identification card, which he would need to swipe to get into Cary Quad after hours…

In short, Wade Steffey’s disappearance is completely at odds with his past.

That’s the conundrum when a missing persons case comes up for me as a crime blogger — this may not be a crime. It may be misadventure, it may be a personal choice.

So I have to go with expressions of suspicion by police, and such an expression is present here: “This is suspicious because it’s completely out of character…” ~ Capt. John Cox of the Purdue University Police Department.

Wade Steffey’s MySpace has already begun to receive worried comments. Early this morning, a young woman with the screen name “Spicoli” wrote, “Wade, we all love you and miss you. Come home, safely.”

Wade wrote a few blog entries in the weblog attached to his personal profile. On September 29, 2005, Wade wrote about getting into Purdue:

woo soo i got into purdue. no big surprise there. they are giving me 9500 dollars in merit based scholarships just cuz im smart. im not positive im going there but i think i might be able to go for freeee and thats quite tempting…

Apparently the temptation took.

While the National Honor Society member and graduate of Bloomington High School South was obviously smart, as evidenced by his academic achievements and scholarships, he was also an athlete and an Eagle Scout.

Do achievers walk out on life? Sometimes. But a lifelong pattern of responsibility rarely breaks one day at 19.

And as evidenced by “Spicoli’s” comment, Wade would not do that sort of thing.

In her MySpace weblog, another friend of Wade’s, Laura, was clear on that point:

His name is Wade Steffey, he’s 19 years old and has been missing since early Saturday morning. He was last seen at a party on Purdue’s campus Friday night or early Saturday morning. His ATM card was last used at 1:11am on Saturday morning. His roomate returned to campus on Monday and found the lights on, his computer on, but no Wade. Nothing was gone, so he hadn’t packed anything for a trip. It’s not like him to just pick up and leave without telling anyone where he is going. He’s a straight “A” student and has always been a great kid…

Wade Steffey’s cell phone goes to voice mail, and that 1 a.m. transaction on Saturday, January 13, there’s been no other activity on his account. He’s vanished into thin air.

Stories of missing young men, regardless of their skin color or station, do not often receive the attention given to stories about missing young women. That’s because there’s a perception, frequently true, that young men may often be the ones responsible somehow for their vanishing.

I read about a developing story like the disappearance of Wade Steffey and vividly recall something that happened when I was in college.

I was pulling into the parking lot across from the on-campus apartment where I lived with three other guys. It was 11 at night, and early spring.

A tall guy wearing a leather coat was walking down the sidewalk that bordered the lot. He was nice-looking, clean-shaven, and his dark clothes looked more expensive than mine. He could have been a student. But the moment my headlights crossed him, he cut his eyes towards me and slowed his pace. I didn’t know the guy, and up until that moment, he’d been walking off-campus, towards the main road. Immediately, I became suspicious.

He angled towards me, and I could tell by the direction of his gaze and his pace that he was coming around to talk to me.

It was raw instinct, but I backed out of the space and drove off, exiting the parking lot on the opposite side from where I’d entered. I circled campus for 15 minutes, feeling anxious and cowardly and stupid. Until I saw the same guy stalking down a main boulevard out of town, glaring at every car that passed. That was when I realized my instincts, raw as they were, had probably been correct — I’d spotted a predator spotting me. Likely just to mug me, maybe take the car — something I’d survive, physically. But still, I have wondered ever since who might have encountered the guy later and not felt that sense of alarm, or if they were alarmed, ignore the feeling out of self-doubt or guilt.

In Wade Steffey’s disappearance, the last transaction at the ATM with the broken camera… was that the beginning of a tragedy? Was Wade perhaps approached while his guard was down?

Let’s hope not, for Wade’s sake.

UPDATE 1, 1/19/07

From the Purdue Exponent, the University newspaper, an article just published this afternoon:

Dale Steffey and Dawn Adams, parents of missing freshman Wade Steffey, are hoping to drive the case to a national scope. After a community search Thursday afternoon, police are looking to expand the search to include a larger area.

Police haven’t ruled out alcohol as a factor, but several students’ stories are weakening the lead. Sources from the fraternity party and friends said that Steffey was not intoxicated. Police believe it is unlikely Steffey was drunk and wandered off, as some speculated.

A prayer service is being held Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Purdue Bell Tower.

Fliers are available on the Exponent Web site, and police and Steffey’s family are encouraging people to post them around town…

I added the link in the last paragraph of the quote.

I made some media contacts aware of Wade’s disappearance yesterday, so let’s hope his parents are able to do what they wish and make this case national. He was 19, but at this point in my life, that makes him a kid to me. Pray his family is able to bring the kid home safely.

What did you do to your wives, Roger Sweet?

(Laura James is the author of CLEWS, The Historic True Crime Blog, and one of the most gifted bloggers covering true crime online.)

Roger Sweet’s wife of seven years is missing. Things look bleak for her. And with her disappearance and the burning of her home come a whole new set of questions about the death of the first Mrs. Sweet years ago.

The mystery unfolding in suburban Detroit began with the disappearance of Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet on January 8. That was the day the Sweet’s house burned down. The small home is in Brownstown Township, a working-class suburb south of Detroit, where many auto factory workers live.

The police are citing many reasons for concern:

  • The Sweet’s marriage was disintegrating and they were estranged.
  • Police were called to the home in December on a domestic violence call.
  • Liz’s friends told police that Mr. Sweet threatened her with a handgun in November, and that Liz bought a 12-gauge shotgun to protect herself.
  • In her diary, Liz wrote of her fear of her husband and wrote that she started keeping a hammer under her couch. Police found the hammer in her burned-out home just where she said she kept it.
  • Her dentures were found in the home, and she wouldn’t have willingly left home without them.
  • She hasn’t used her credit cards or cashed her last paycheck, and her Lincoln was still in the driveway.

Liz’s diary also revealed that she believed her husband was having sex with a woman who is mentally disabled. Now Mr. Sweet is in the county jail, not held on suspicion of murder, but on rape charges. He denies any wrongdoing and says his wife must have burned down the house and committed suicide elsewhere. Cadaver dogs and police search teams continue to look for Liz Sweet.

Meanwhile, police in another Detroit suburb, Farmington Hills, have questions of their own for Roger Sweet. In 1990, Mr. Sweet’s then-wife Marlene, 38, was found dead in their home. The funeral home that handled her burial contacted the medical examiner to report dark suspicions. But Marlene’s death was ruled accidental – a head injury brought on by a fall down the stairs. An autopsy report that is now being broadcast on local TV shows a diagram of multiple bruises and abrasions on the woman’s body, dozens from head to toe.

Did Roger Sweet push his luck?

For more:

  • Detroit Free Press 1,
  • Detroit News 2, 3, 4.