True Crime Analysis, Breakthroughs, Insights & Discussions Hosted by Bestselling Author Nick van der Leek

Debunk: Why the Two Abduction Reference Cases in the Netflix Documentary Don’t Apply to Madeleine McCann

True Crime Intertexuality is a valuable tool for understanding one case through the known circumstances of another. It does require more than a little expertise in true crime to understand how a reference case matches up, and how it doesn’t. Obviously if one’s understanding of either case is flawed, biased or bogus, then the reference itself is flawed, biased or bogus.

In the misleadingly titled Netflix Documentary THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MADELEINE MCCANN  two American reference cases are cited: firstly, the disappearance of Etan Patz [in 1972, in Soho Lower Manhattan], and secondly the murder of Adam Walsh [in 1981 from a mall in Hollywood, Florida].

Fullscreen capture 20190317 022919Fullscreen capture 20190317 022841

The expert prognosticating on these references is the head of a large missing person’s organisation in America. An expert in missing persons may seem like an expert in true crime and criminal psychology, but alas, true crime isn’t nearly as simple or obvious as it seems.

The obvious similarities between the abduction-sex-trafficker scenario punted by the makers of the Madeleine McCann documentary vis-à-vis the two American boys [the reference cases] are in four extremely broad, basic areas:

  1. All three scenarios involve young children.
  2. All three scenarios involve young children disappearing.
  3. Two scenarios strongly suggest the children were abducted because of a sexual motive.
  4. In all three scenarios the bodies of the missing children were never found.

That’s really where the similarities or “references” end. A proper true crime analysis reveals not so much an overlap between the Patz and Walsh cases to the McCann case, but in fact why the cases are distinctively different to what happened to Madeleine.


Although no bodies were found in all three cases, in both the Patz case and the Walsh case it is generally assumed that both boys are dead, both boys were murdered and the identities of their murderers isn’t mysterious or unknown.

In the Walsh case the boy’s decapitated head was found within a few weeks, however his body has never been recovered.

It should be noted that when it comes to children abducted by sexual predators who are strangers, the children must be disposed of quickly or else the perpetrators face a real risk of alerting family members or passersby to the taboo of an adult keeping a small unrelated child in their possession and raising suspicions. The same situation doesn’t apply when the predators are family, familiar or otherwise trusted by the victims.

The destruction of their little bodies is meant to completely conceal the circumstances surrounding their final moments, and death, from the public’s view. In a scenario where the children become famous in the media, the necessity to dispose of them, and destroy their bodies completely is even more urgent. It’s vital for the predator to make sure no connection can ever be made between the eviscerated corpse and himself.

In a genuine abduction scenario, a case can clearly be made not to alert the media and to alert the authorities discreetly, in order not to provoke, alarm, aggravate or frighten the abductor into doing something rash.

The Ramsey Ransom Note alludes to this cliche, and does so because it’s so typical.

Fullscreen capture 20190317 075600.jpg

This is why in kidnapping cases the kidnappers insist that the authorities are not contacted, and that if they are, the victim will be killed. The situation for the kidnapper becomes untenable if the victim becomes a public figure. The same applies to an abductor, except there is less incentive to return the victim [now a potential witness] to the custody of the family and/or authorities.

When I researched the JonBenet Ramsey case I was surprised at the persistence of the pedophile narrative in that case. Sure, pedophiles exist. They’re a scourge in our society. But pedophiles more often tend to lurk INSIDE families.

Where family members prey on family members this is especially true when the victim is much younger and more vulnerable. The custody and trust situation of the guardian relative to the child is what is abused, and is both a smokescreen for the crime and the cover-up [which can often go on for years, even an entire lifetime].

Child_Victims_Often_Know_The_Perpetrator 122016

When the victims are very young, as in the case of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, the perpetrator tends to be younger as well, often children themselves. Crime statistics confirm this. Thus the common abusers of very small children tend to be older children, not adults, and often older siblings.

JonBenet was abused, but she was a six-year-old beauty queen. Madeleine McCann was three-years-old when she “disappeared”, but there is no forensic evidence of abuse. The closest symptom to anything approximating a molesting scenario is that she had difficulty sleeping. [JonBenet Ramsey also struggled with insomnia and chronic bedwetting, according to the housekeeper Linda Hoffman-Pugh]. Well, so do many three-year-olds.

The notion that a criminal would target a three-year-old child for sexual purposes as a typical scenario is absurd in the extreme. Although – tragically – grooming of young children for sex-trafficking is not completely unheard of in our society, if the child is abducted as a toddler this means the child has to be adopted and raised [fed, housed etc.] for several years, a scenario well beyond the scope of most if not all pedophiles or traffickers.

In a high-profile scenario, the costs to prevent or avoid discovery of the groomed victim skyrockets, making the “investment” worthless.  Madeleine McCann is world famous, the most famous missing child in history by a substantial margin. So, even following the theoretical concept to its conclusion [and assuming she’s still alive], the likelihood of any transaction with such a high-profile-high-risk candidate is untenable, to put it mildly.

Back to the reference cases.

Both children in the reference cases were boys, and both were twice the age of Madeleine when they were abducted. Both boys were also cute kids, which is why they were targeted both by the men  [probably closet homosexuals] who abducted them, and by the media who covered them.Fullscreen capture 20190317 022146

Those men who abducted these boys didn’t traffic them – the abuse was very brief and intended for discreet, private consumption.

But the area I want to emphasise cuts to the specific circumstances of both theses cases that are pertinently NOT similar to those in the McCann case.

  1. Both boys were abducted opportunistically, that is to say randomly in public areas.  The children weren’t studied or stalked, they were encountered by chance. There was no premeditation of the specific victim. Although the execution may have been planned, and the crime a fantasy, the identity of the specific victim was random.  In the McCann case the apartment was supposedly targeted, that is to say, not random and not opportunistic.
  2. Patz was abducted by a store keeper with the lure of a soda, and Walsh [it was theorised] through the lure of toys and candy. Walsh was in a toy store, or the toy section of a store, when he was lured into a van. In Madeleine’s case there was no lure, and apparently she [and her siblings] slept through the abduction.
  3. Both boys were murdered shortly after their respective abductions, Patz on the very same day, and Walsh within two weeks of his abduction. Despite their ages, there was virtually no attempt to accommodate, feed or raise them. There is no reason to believe if Madeleine survived her “disappearance”, that she would have been kept alive for any extended length of time, let alone twelve years, given the ongoing risk her life presented to her supposed abductor/guardian/trafficker.
  4. It took Patz’ parents several hours to raise the alarm. Patz disappeared in the morning, and his parents only alerted the authorities in the evening. In Walsch’s case, the boy’s mother spent more than 90 minutes searching fruitlessly through and around the store. They also used public-address system. Only when these measures failed did Revé Walsch finally call the Hollywood Police [at 13:55]. In the McCann case, however, both parents knew instantly Madeleine had been taken, and were scornful of the notion that she might have wandered off, or gotten herself lost. They were also contemptuous of the “slow pace” of the Portuguese cops to arrive, when in fact the police response was normal given the situation.

    The McCanns’ absolute conviction so early in the investigation knowing exactly what happened is a lot more sinister when juxtaposed alongside the responses of parents in genuine abduction scenarios. [Incidentally, Patsy Ramsey shared the same absolute certainty during her 911 call, although the bogus Ransom Note provided some reinforcement to her certainty. JonBenet’s body meanwhile was lying in the basement of the house all along. In other words, Patsy’s “certainty” was misleading, and arguably more than that – misdirection.]


Although Patz was “missing” for decades, and declared legally dead as late as 2001, 22 years after his abduction, the mystery of what happened to him was finally solved after 33 years even in the absence of recovering his remains. In other words, even though no body was recovered, there’s no doubt that the child is deceased. As such, is the Patz case really an approximate reference case for Madeleine McCann?

In May 2012 the New York Times reported:

A New Jersey man was arrested in the killing of Etan Patz, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced on Thursday, an extraordinary moment in a case that has gripped New York City’s psyche ever since the 6-year-old boy vanished in SoHo on his way to school in 1979. The man, Pedro Hernandez, told investigators that he lured Etan to the basement of a bodega where Mr. Hernandez worked at the time with the promise of a soda, Mr. Kelly said. Once Etan was inside, Mr. Hernandez choked him, stuffed his body into a bag and took the bag about a block and a half away, where he left it out in the open with trash, Mr. Kelly said.

…It is unclear whether investigators have been able to corroborate the account Mr. Hernandez has provided. Without any trace of human remains or other forensic evidence, any possible prosecution of him would face significant evidentiary hurdles.

…Mr. Hernandez, who was 18 at the time Etan vanished, worked as a stockboy in a bodega at 448 West Broadway that is now an eyeglass store, Mr. Kelly said. Etan disappeared on the first morning his parents allowed him to walk alone from the family’s home on Prince Street to a school bus stop on West Broadway.

Mr. Hernandez was working in the basement, which had a separate door to the street, Mr. Kelly said. Etan was at the bus stop when Mr. Hernandez led him away and to the basement, Mr. Kelly said…Mr. Hernandez’s name was mentioned in a 1979 detective’s report as part of the investigation into Etan’s disappearance, Mr. Kelly said. The report listed him as an employee of the bodega, but Mr. Hernandez was never questioned by investigators, Mr. Kelly said.

“I can’t tell you why, 33 years ago, he wasn’t questioned,” he said. “We know that other people in the bodega were questioned.”

A woman interviewed by The New York Times last month who ran a playgroup in SoHo at the time Etan disappeared recalled seeing mounds of garbage bags in the days after the boy vanished, which included Memorial Day weekend. “I always thought there were so many garbage bags out and why did they not search them,” said the woman, Judy Reichler, who now lives in New Paltz, N.Y. “For three days everyone piled bags on the street and then they got picked up.”

In the McCann case it appears the McCanns have not been questioned by British authorities. And when Kate McCann was questioned by the Portuguese police, she refused to answer. That’s the real mystery behind this case.

More: NOT IN THE FRAME: Maddie cops say they have ‘no reason’ to investigate Kate and Gerry McCann as they rule out four suspects – The Sun

Top British cop says Madeleine McCann’s parents are ruled out as suspects in her mysterious disappearance – The Mirror

Madeleine McCann: police target 38 potential suspects identified in review – The Guardian

British detectives open new investigation after reviewing all evidence into disappearance of three-year-old from Portugal

Redwood said none of the individuals was connected to Madeleine’s family or friends who were with her parents on holiday at the time. The Met team’s work leads them to believe Madeleine was abducted in a criminal act by a stranger.


  1. KerryA

    There’s seems to be a lot of ‘public gaslighting’ in this case. The statement that your child ‘walking into another aisle at the store’ is the same as leaving three small children alone for hours in a foreign apartment is absolutely ridiculous. I was living in Australia at the time this case happened and my British friends there were quite irritated with the McCanns putting it out in the media that leaving your children unattended for hours was ‘normal behavior for British parents ‘. My husband and I are MD’s and if anything, we were more anxious with our children’s care as we realized how quickly a serious accident can happen and saw this often with patients. It is totally mind blogging how this group of doctors were so casual with their small children being left alone night after night – that is of course unless they were all sedating or drugging the children regularly. This scenario makes the only sense to me as to how they all reacted and closed ranks so quickly – they had a lot more to lose than custody – but possibly also their medical licences. Incidentally, I have watched a YouTube video several times by statement analyst Peter Hyatt on one of the McCanns interviews – calls it an embedded confession – and it is really fascinating (anyone interested can search for Peter Hyatt Madeleine McCann, I think it was on Richard Hall’s channel originally). I have not read Nicks books on this case yet as I am still on his Watts and Van Breda books but I certainly will be reading them in the future. There is so little on this case that is not biased in the McCanns favour. I would love to see Nick talk about the role of lying in society in general (if he hasn’t already) as we see these false images and messages so often in these crimes – it’s like a type of mass delusion or hypnosis to get the public to believe and accept that blue is black and the moon is made of cheese even when it goes against all common sense and instinct.

    • nickvdl

      unless they were all sedating or drugging the children regularly. >>>There’s your answer.

      • Ralph Oscar

        So it was an accidental OD?

      • Ralph Oscar

        That idea, regularly drugging/sedating the children, is very foreign to me – I simply have difficulty imagining any parent being willing to do that. Because *I* am not. But we’ve already discussed that it’s a likely explanation for why Shan’Ann Watts’ children had such early bedtimes and long naptimes when they weren’t being tended by people-who-were-not-Shan’Ann at the preschool. Parents used to say, “If only they came with on/off switches!” Now, apparently, some do.

        But I decided to look it up – I posted more in another comment on the “Netflix Doccie” article – and the report I found included this:

        “I suspect that one in five [parents who admit to deliberately drugging/sedating their children] is low,” said Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, who says parents should talk to their pediatricians about proper dosage. (She adds that every doctor she knows who’s also a parent has tried this trick at some point, so don’t feel shy about telling your doctor.)

        I’ll repeat: “every doctor she knows who’s also a parent has tried this trick at some point”

        Both Madeleine’s parents were doctors.

        And in other news, I have a nephew who’s currently serving a life sentence for child molestation. He married a woman who had two children, a 9-yr-old girl and a baby boy. She divorced him when he raped her friend – the friend had come over, had too much to drink, and then slept over, only to wake up and realize she’d been raped while she was unconscious. And her husband was the only man in the house. He of course denied it, but the friend tricked him into admitting it via text. So she divorced him.

        However, he insisted that he felt “parental” toward her children and wished to have visitation, agreeing to very generous terms in the divorce and being very very very nice to her. It was the girl he was focused on – pretty little thing. Starting when she was 11 1/2, he would have her sleep in his bed with him (he lived with his devout Christian parents) even though her little brother, a toddler, was sleeping by himself in a queen-size bed in another bedroom. He would fondle the girl when she was asleep; of course she woke up when it was happening and didn’t understand. This went on for 2 years. She finally told her mom and, when the case finally came to trial, he was convicted.

        I have since learned that a study found that the two greatest predictors of a given person turning out to be a child molester are:
        1) having been molested as a child
        2) having been raised in a conservative, patriarchal religious tradition. Which my nephew was for certain.

        Also, despite him having a full-time corporate job, evenings and weekends he’d volunteer to “babysit” his brother’s and sisters’ smaller children – apparently grooming them with an eye toward the time when his present victim aged out of his preferred young-teen demographic, so he’d have a steady supply of victims.

        He was clearly heterosexual; he simply liked *children* as his targets.

        This is a roundabout way of explaining why I don’t like this observation:

        “Both boys were also cute kids, which is why they were targeted both by the men [probably closet homosexuals]”

        Homosexuals are no more likely to attack children than people of any other sexual orientation; these cases are not about passion, but, rather, control and domination. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s article, “10 Anti-Gay Myths Debunked”, refers to several studies finding “no evidence that gay men molest children at higher rates than heterosexual men”.

      • KerryA

        Yes, you are right I guess I can relate that after many years of scraping by and struggling financially through med school and residency, you finally relax and get used to a respectable and comfortable lifestyle (good job security too) and there is a powerful motivator not to lose that lifestyle. At the very least, the medical board would launch an investigation into their conduct (quite strict in the UK) and all would be at risk to lose their livelihoods. A medical degree without a license is not really very useful, and once you have been struck off one country’s medical register, any other decent countries don’t want to touch you never mind licence you. Most doctors are very mindful of their conduct (and fear even any minor complaint against them) as years of hard work and struggle can be lost in one decision by the medical board. I have no doubt that they could access many different medications for personal use (I believe Kate McCann had training in anesthesia also) But I still think it takes a good deal of nerve to regularly drug your child (or anyone) and leave them unattended – you must have a lot of confidence in your abilities!! Any little thing can go wrong, even something as mild as an underlying virus can effect the way the meds will operate in your body, especially with children who have such a small body size. The possible conduct of these people is truly astonishing, as parents and doctors. In any case, I look forward to reading Nick’s books on this disappearance.

        • nickvdl

          Are you aware of the Calpol Generation thing? Notice the date of this article:

          • Ralph Oscar

            Holy moley! What *planet* are these parents on that they’re routinely *drugging* their children just to get them to sleep? I totally don’t get this. I would *never* – no one knows what the long-term effects might be. Who wants to risk scuttling their child’s chances of successful adulthood for a night out or a couple extra hours of sleep as the parent of young children?

  2. Jenn H.

    The other two cases don’t apply because for one, the boys cases were
    abductions. There is still a big question to whether Madeleines was or
    Ralph Oscar, I can’t imagine drugging ones child to sleep either.
    Would be very worried about the effects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *