At the end of April 2007, it’s spring in the Algarve, even if the weather is particularly gloomy. It rains often. While the sun shines, the temperature becomes pleasant, but the nights are cold and windy.
On the morning of April 28th, Madeleine, aged 3, goes to Leicestershire airport to board a flight for Faro, accompanied by her parents, Gerald McCann and Kate Healy, both 39, doctors, living in Rothley, England, and by her brother and sister, Amelie and Sean, twins aged 2.
The family is taking a short holiday – one week – until the following Saturday, May 5th. Madeleine seems at the same time happy and anxious. In Faro, where she arrives at around 2pm, she boards the minibus provided for tourists by the tour operator, to travel the 70 kilometres that separate her from her destination: the Ocean Club holiday complex at Vila da Luz, not far from the town of Lagos.
The McCanns are traveling in the company of the Payne family, composed of David Payne (41) and his wife Fiona (35), doctors, their daughters Lilly and Scarlett (aged 2 and 1 respectively) and Diana Webster, aged 63, credit manager, Fiona’s mother. One hour earlier, at around 1pm, the other members of the group of holiday-makers had arrived from London: the Oldfield couple – Matthew Oldfield (38), doctor, Rachael Mampilly (37) human resources manager, and their daughter Grace (19 months) – as well as the O’Brien couple – Russell O’Brien (37), doctor, Jane Tanner (36) marketing manager, and their daughters Ella and Evie (aged 3 and 1 respectively)
David Payne is the organiser of the trip. These couples have spent their holidays together for several years. In January 2005, while Kate was pregnant with the twins, they stayed for a week in Lanzarote, an island in the Canaries. In September 2003, the McCanns and their friends Matthew Oldfield, Rachael Mampilly, Russell O’Brien and Jane Tanner spent a week in Umbria in Italy, where they went to attend David and Fiona Payne’s wedding. In September 2005, Gerald, Kate and their daughter Madeleine, then aged 2 years and 4 months, went to Majorca, in Spain, for a few days of relaxation with the Paynes and other friends
On their arrival at the Ocean Club, the McCanns are allocated apartment 5A, on the ground floor of one of the apartment blocks, the back of which looks over the swimming pool, the tennis court and the Tapas restaurant. This apartment is on the corner of the building with a public road running alongside. The other couples are accommodated in apartments 5H (Payne family), 5D (O’Brien family), and 5B (Oldfield family); 5B adjoins 5A and is close to 5D. Except for 5H, on the first floor, they’re all on the ground floor.
Access to the front door of apartment 5A is through the car park in front of the building. It is surrounded by a 1 metre high wall, with an opening in the middle. Another wall, of the same height, separates the building from the car park with an alley facing the central part of the building. You have to go along the road that runs alongside this wall to get to the front door of apartment 5A. It’s a very basic wooden door without any specific security system, fitted with a lock that opens with a key. Anyone approaching this door has to go past the window of the bedroom where Madeleine, her brother and her sister sleep.
Behind the ground floor apartments there are small gardens whose side gates open onto a walkway that separates the building from the leisure area of the Ocean Club. Apartment 5A’s small garden opens directly onto the public road. From inside the apartments, the gardens are reached via French windows which have very little security, and only a blind shutting them off from the outside.
The resort complex of the Ocean Club does not stand in a private area; the various buildings of which it is composed are spread throughout the village. The roads serving the club are public. Some of its properties are separated from each other by 2 kilometres – this is the case with the Millennium restaurant. There is no video surveillance system or private security; access to the leisure areas is not controlled either
Vila da Luz is one of a number of villages built in the years 1960-1970, when the Algarve became a very popular tourist destination, particularly with the British. Drawn by the mildness of the climate and the hospitality of the inhabitants, they built lots of little white houses, interpreting in their own way the architectural style of the region. They took an interest in the Algarvian culture and society and their relations with the local population developed in a harmonious way.
BRIEF DETOUR VIA THE HISTORY OF VILA DA LUZ
The predecessors called it the beach of Our Lady of Light. It was a little fishing village standing in a bay, benefiting from the fact of an advantageous geographic situation. The fine sandy beach stretches as far as the famous volcanic rock – Rocha Negra – with vivid sandstone cliffs in the background. The remains of an ancient fort dominate the highest points, probably erected to protect the villagers from potential attackers coming from the sea.
A paved walkway bordered by palm trees runs along the seafront.
If you take the road that links the Luz church to the beach, you notice on your left the ruins of the Roman thermal baths; through their cellar run numerous tunnels, which for more than fifty years, have been used by children to reach the beach. A good part of Luz is built over remains from the time of the Romans. Under the reign of King Alphonse III, there was whale hunting here; more recently, there was an active tuna processing factory. With the explosion of mass tourism, the region has become a particularly popular holiday destination and most of its revenue comes from this fast-growing industry. That sector nowadays employs over 80% of the population.
The inhabitants of Lagos have made it their main holiday place. Legend has it that in May, a clever knight came to steal gold from the ladies of Lagos and fled after having accomplished the deed. For the inhabitants of Lagos, the humiliation was so great that they decided to ban the word designating the month from their vocabulary. Thus, after April comes the month….that has to come.
It is in this peaceful seaside resort that Madeleine began her brief holiday.
GOING BACK TO THE OCEAN CLUB
On the day of arrival at the Ocean Club, a small welcome ceremony is organised at the Tapas restaurant, from 5pm – 6.30pm. Everybody participates, including the children, who spend their time enjoying themselves in the play area. After this reception, the holiday-makers go to the Millenium restaurant, situated nearly 2 kilometres from the apartments, at the entrance to the village of Luz. It’s a long way and Gerald and Kate have to carry the twins. Madeleine walks all the way. Between 7 and 8pm, they dine in the restaurant with other members of the group. The return journey is also on foot. At 9pm, the children are in bed. This is how the first rather tiring day goes. The parents realise that it won’t be easy to walk that distance every day at meal times and start to consider other alternatives.
THE ROUTINE IS ESTABLISHED
Sunday April 29th
On the morning of Sunday April 29th, at around 8.40am, the McCann couple and their children again walk the 2 kilometres that separate them from the Millenium to have breakfast. Then, the children are entrusted to the play leaders – Madeleine to the day-care centre in the building that houses the main reception of the tourist complex, while Sean and Amelie stay at the playgroup, near the Tapas restaurant, that takes the youngest children. At around 12.30pm, the parents come and fetch them for lunch, play with them sometimes in the swimming pool or in the play area, then, at around 2.30pm, take them back to the play leaders, with whom they stay until 5.30pm. Sometimes the children have dinner with them.
From the first evening, the routine is established. Between 7.30 and 8.30, it’s relaxation time for the parents. After having put the little ones to bed, they have a bath and drink some New Zealand wine as an aperitif. Then, they join the other adults of the group for dinner at the Tapas restaurant. The meal starts at around 8.30 and ends at around 11pm. Meanwhile, every half hour, the parents go in turn to the bedrooms to check that everything is OK.
Madeleine will not go back to the Millenium because breakfast from now on is taken in the apartment with the family, with items purchased at the Baptista supermarket, a few metres away. The rest of the day follows what is, from then on, its usual course: 9 o’clock, the children are dropped off at the playgroup and the parents go to play tennis or run on the beach.
MADELEINE CRIES IN HER PARENTS’ ABSENCE
Tuesday May 1st
In the Algarve, May 1st is celebrated by organising family picnics; the first snails are tasted and, above all, maios are displayed – life-sized rag dolls stuffed with straw – on the sides of the roads, in windows or on the doorsteps of the houses. They represent scenes from daily life or from social satire. This popular, one hundred-year-old tradition is carried on and joyously enlivens these first days of spring.
It’s not known if Madeleine could see the maios that day. Between 10 and 11am, she plays minitennis with the children from the day centre. In the afternoon, from 1.30, her parents take her to the beach with her brother and sister, but they only stay there for twenty minutes, because the sky clouds over and the temperature falls. She eats an ice cream on a terrace. Close by, a guitarist, who looks like a tramp, is playing Latino music and collecting money. From there, Madeleine and the twins are taken directly to the day centre. Tennis court number 1 is booked by the McCanns for 2.30 to 3.30. At around 3.30, the play leaders take the children to the beach. They proceed in single file, each holding onto a long rod in the shape of a serpent, Sammy Snake. They play on the sand until 4.30 and participate in various games that are suggested to them.
During the parents’ dinner, the children again sleep alone. A restaurant employee notes on the reception register that certain members of the group get up in turn to go and make sure they are OK.
For an hour and a quarter, between 10.30 and 11.45pm, in the apartment where she is in the company of her brother and her sister, Madeleine does not stop crying and calling out for her father. She does not calm down until after her parents return.
Wednesday May 2nd
At breakfast, Madeleine asks her parents why they left her to cry the night before, and did not come back immediately. At 9 o’clock, the children are back at their respective playgroups. For an hour, between 3.30 and 4.30, like the day before, Madeleine is taken to the beach, following the usual route. In the evening, when the parents go out for dinner, between 8 and 8.30pm, she is already asleep, like her brother and sister.
Thursday May 3rd
At 9.10am, Madeleine arrives at the day centre, accompanied by her father. Between 10.30 and 11 o’clock, the day centre leaders again take Madeleine and her little classmates to the beach. She then goes on a boat trip in a yellow catamaran-type boat, which does not go very far from the shore. At 12.25, her mother fetches her for lunch and takes her back to the day centre at 2.50. At 5.30, after a jog on the beach, she goes back to fetch her, as well as her brother and her sister, and they all go back to the apartment.