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

Popularity Contest: Netflix Doccie on Madeleine McCann – Episode 5 Review & Analysis

“Fightback” is the title of episode 5, but I think “Popularity Contest” is more apt. In a scenario where their daughter is missing, and a criminal investigation is underway, you’d think the fight back would involve fighting for more police resources, getting more detectives working the case, or getting out there themselves and searching, or making Madeleine’s DNA available to the authorities in Portugal using DNA from her clothing or bed or soft toys in Portugal, or investigating for themselves the possibility that Madeleine had died [had the abductor killed her]?

Fullscreen capture 20190320 183846Fullscreen capture 20190320 183857

Instead, the fightback is a popularity contest fought in the media. And the prize is nothing more or less than the McCanns’ rehabilitating their own image. Of course there’s also a cash incentive to this. When they’re considered suspects, the “income” of the fund drops, when they’re able to court public sympathy, they “income” of the fund shoots up again. And this income isn’t to be sniffed at, it eventually balloons to millions upon millions of pounds. With this war chest the McCanns can invest in even more media coverage, reputation management, legal representation, legal suits and expert advice, more PR, merchandising and all the rest.

During one spiel in episode 5 Kate McCann emphasises that 99% of people support them, and only 1% are trolls. There’s also a nice scene where they show large boxes labelled “Support” compared to a small battered, mostly empty little box where “hate” mail is kept. What the McCanns seem to be saying is they’re winning the fightback because they have popular support. Far more people love them and support them compared to a tiny minority of detractors.

Fullscreen capture 20190320 183730Fullscreen capture 20190320 183732Fullscreen capture 20190320 183734Fullscreen capture 20190320 183737Fullscreen capture 20190320 183739Fullscreen capture 20190320 183742

In a recent poll conducted on twitter, over 90% of over 3000 people who voted sided against the McCanns, blaming them either directly or indirectly for Madeleine’s death.

Then it’s Gerry’s turn to make the case against those who have “nasty” attitudes to them.Fullscreen capture 20190320 183752Fullscreen capture 20190320 183754Fullscreen capture 20190320 183758Fullscreen capture 20190320 183801Fullscreen capture 20190320 183803Fullscreen capture 20190320 183806Fullscreen capture 20190320 183809Fullscreen capture 20190320 183811

Gerry looks bemused here, rather than hurt or stung, doesn’t he? One might even say he looks a little smug.Fullscreen capture 20190320 183813

He’s still smiling as he places the solitary smidgen of hate mail in its sad, sorry, mostly empty box. Fullscreen capture 20190320 183817Fullscreen capture 20190320 183819

For all their bravado, one of very, very few instances where Kate McCann appears emotional and vulnerable, even slightly tearful, is when she talks about “what people out there” say about whether or not she loved or cared for her eldest daughter.

The docuseries then spends a little time dealing with the notion – which came from the public – that Kate McCann especially didn’t appear to be grieving, and didn’t appear very emotional after the loss of her daughter. The image below, of a shirtless Gerry McCann jogging beside Kate was taken on May 16, 2007, less than two weeks after Madeleine’s disappearance.Jogging002

In DOUBT I’ve made the case that running plays more than an incidental role to the McCann case, and as it happens, to solving it.

Fullscreen capture 20190320 184043Fullscreen capture 20190320 184047

Watch at 2:21 in the video clip below, as Kate McCann addresses the camera, begging and pleading for the safe return of her daughter.

Fullscreen capture 20190320 204402Fullscreen capture 20190320 204404Fullscreen capture 20190320 204408Fullscreen capture 20190320 204412Fullscreen capture 20190320 204414Fullscreen capture 20190320 204419Fullscreen capture 20190320 204421

Unfortunately the most damning “evidence” against the McCanns – certainly in the court of public opinion – is the least damning in an actual court. As so often happens, the public cotton on to what they regard as inappropriate affect. They did with Chris Watts [and were proved right]. They did with Burke Ramsey [and the jury is still out, and probably will be till the cows come home]. And they did the same with Amanda Knox [and were apparently proved wrong].


The fact is, emotional affect is a powerful indicator in true crime, but it’s not necessarily evidence. One thing we can say, as human beings, is when we care about a victim more than the suspect [or imputed suspect], and when we feel grief more than we see them grieving [if at all], it’s only right that we raise our hands and ask about it.

It’s very difficult to cover up [which is a contrivance, and a way of masking authentic motives and feelings] and show genuine emotion at the same time. Covering up requires careful thinking and anticipating what the next question or move might be. It often happens in true crime that the suspect feels the best “face” to show to the crowd is nonchalance. They imagine grief will appear as guilt, but only a guilty person would think that way.

Fullscreen capture 20190320 184054Fullscreen capture 20190320 184056Fullscreen capture 20190320 184100Fullscreen capture 20190320 184105Fullscreen capture 20190320 184107Fullscreen capture 20190320 184112Fullscreen capture 20190320 184114

I love the way the docuseries has the McCanns PR person explain that the McCanns were “advised” not to show emotion, as this might be detrimental to their daughter. So imagine the abductor is sitting somewhere, with Madeleine in a cage, and he sees the parents looking unemotional. Is this going to encourage him to…do…what?

On the other hand, if the McCanns appear distraught and upset, this is going to make the abductor NOT want to return the child?

The reality is, whether the McCanns were instructed to be emotional or unemotional, there is a lot of inappropriate smiling going on, especially when they’re asked about whether she might be dead or not.

For all their posturing about the support, it’s clear the online vitriol [which continues today] is so severe, even newspaper editors felt they had to shut down the interactivity [the comments] of their coverage of the McCann case.

The docuseries neglects to mention that the McCanns felt so agitated and imperiled by negativity directed towards them, they elected to threaten British bloggers and social media users with lawsuits.

Kate McCann is poised to SUE social media users – Daily Mail

Kate and Gerry McCann Threaten to Sue Bloggers

Madeleine McCann’s parents hit by ‘150 vile tweets a DAY from online trolls’ – The Sun

Investigation into McCann internet trolls launched by police – Telegraph

Madeleine McCann’s parents urge vile trolls to stop posting ‘awful abuse’ on their website as they back new rules BANNING criticism of their decision to leave the girl alone in an apartment – Daily Mail

‘Twitter troll’ who abused Madeleine McCann’s parents found dead – Telegraph

Troll Who Harassed Madeleine McCann’s Family Found Dead – Psychology Today

It’s also more than a little disingenuous of the Leicester Mercury to cry “neutrality” and editorial standards after the fact, when anyone who dared to criticize or accuse the McCanns were sued.

Fullscreen capture 20190320 202821

Of the first five episodes, I found the fifth the most troubling and upsetting by far. Probably the worst moment was when the Portuguese journalist Sandra Felgueiras expressed her feelings of disdain to the Portuguese cops for lying to her about DNA evidence.

The DNA narrative was a HUGE PR and legal victory for the McCanns, and turned the tide of popular, investigative and legal opinion back in their favor, and as result, this remains the official status quo today.

“There was no evidence to show that Madeleine was the source of the DNA…”

Fullscreen capture 20190320 202836


  1. CBH

    It’s that modus operandi (similar to what Ramseys did) which had some speculating back then that the McCanns may have even premeditated Maddie’s “vanishing” (especially with Gerry saying things like, ‘Afer the first year, we will……’ as if he knew there’d be years of this).

  2. CBH

    I might add that the smugness and smiling on the part of the parents seems sociopathic.

  3. Sylvester

    If she died days before the staged abduction then the parents are more sinister and uncaring than anyone could have thought. If Patsy Ramsey seemed over the top (and likely propped up with valium) in her television appearance, then Kate McCann seems under the top or underwhelmed. Maybe this is how they moved through life – having massive medical school debt they cut corners, still made their lives about them, and didn’t properly look after their children. And no matter what they have to get out there for their run.

    • Sideaffected

      Why do you think she died days before? I honestly don’t have a firm opinion. I know they’re involved I just don’t know to what extent, how, where, why, etc. Accidental makes much more sense (and that’s definitely what I believe about Ramseys-I do not think they wanted to kill her) but they’re doctors. Surely they wouldn’t accidentally overdose their daughter? If not that, how can you accidentally kill your daughter? It defies logic that it’s an accident or on purpose, but she wasn’t kidnapped. I’m genuinely befuddled. She looks like the “perfect” child. Something they’d want to show off. Like Jonbenet and unfortunately my own Mother. Would love to hear you guys’ theories! Cause I know I won’t hear about umm government pedophile rings, satanic cults, you know-the usual.

      • nickvdl

        Accidental makes much more sense (and that’s definitely what I believe about Ramseys)>If JonBenet’s death was accidental, why was she strangled, bludgeoned, tortured and sexually interfered with? I don’t think you’ve figured out what accidental death is. Maybe someone should explain it to you.

        • thetinytech2018

          Love hearing your perspective, Nick, although that’s kinda stating the obvious as I’m commenting on your website. Did you ever read Kolar’s book on the Ramsey case, Foreign Faction? I very much like that he kept to the facts as (in my opinion anyway) other books on the subject didn’t do (I haven’t read yours yet, but I’m sure you kept it true to facts as well. )

          As of right now I’m reading up on the McCann case and simultaneously watching something about Dennis Raider. I absolutely love coming here and reading your thoughts about various high profile True Crime cases, as you don’t add the unnecessary filler and your theories aren’t ludicrous. In today’s age, I think it’s a rare thing to find someone who sticks with facts and doesn’t embellish things.

  4. Sideaffected

    Wow Nick this is one of my favorite things you’ve written! So thorough and insightful.
    Biggest standouts:
    What you described first about their “fight back” against the people that were theoretically helping them reminded me of Chris Watts’ first FBI interview when he describes the cops and friends as on “onslaught.” They’d be help to an innocent person, of course.

    That shot of Gerry is actually the definition of contempt. That curled lip-haughty, smug, inappropriate, and yes revealing-I honestly wanna snack it RIGHT off his face. He is a disdainful, arrogant and angry dude when you slow it down this way.

    That shot of Kate was shocking-the only time I’ve seen genuine anguish. If there was no context to it, I’d think “poor Kate how awful.” When you describe the context-sorry to beat a dead horse but, again, Chris Watts-the only time I heard real pure agony and that agonal breathing that’s uncontrollable, is when he says “I’m going to fuckin’ prison.”

    I get really annoyed when people say “everyone grieves differently.” Well, to an extent. But let’s face it-we are often right aren’t we? Everyone knew Chris was guilty when he did the sermon on the porch. One of the most insane and inappropriate reactions I have EVER seen is absolutely Diane Downs. Watch some of her interviews like, two days after she killed some of her kids. Giggling like a school girl. Susan Smith is similar.

    There was one case though that reminded me to be careful-this guy comes home and his wife is murdered-stabbed multiple times. His 911 call sounds like an SNL skit, He says she killed herself when she has like 29 stab wounds and then has the weirdest cry that sounds so obviously fake I laughed. He was 100% innocent. Had an alibi, it was a jealous woman for which there was irrefutable evidence. That kind of shocked me. Made me question how many others I’ve judged incorrectly. But I still think “everyone grieves differently” isn’t entirely true. There’s usually a pattern and behaviors that go along with it. They pulled this a lot with Casey Anthony-genuinely exalted and lighter than air, beaming-but no, “everyone grieves differently.” Ok, then everyone celebrates the same??

    • thetinytech2018

      As for the “everyone grieves differently” comment, I had said something similar once, and I think I said it because I was so used to hearing it. Nick actually made a wonderful point and had said that you can tell quite a bit about someone based upon how they grieve. Then it hit me, if everyone grieves differently, then why are there “7 stages of grief”? Ever since that conversation I’ve taken a keener eye when it comes to observing people that are grieving “irregularly”, if you will. It’s changed my opinion on a few cases, and I feel utterly ignorant for not noticing the slight nuances I had overlooked in the past.

  5. Ralph Oscar

    Notice in the several Kate McCann images up top, how her right hand is in a “flirt” position. People rarely show their palms casually, but when women are flirting, they’ll often show the palm, to the point of covering a cough or a sneeze with the *back* of the hand. The way Kate has her hand behind her ear, with the palm clearly visible, is a “come-on” pose, what we see when women are attempting to charm, entice, or seduce a target.

  6. julinka1981

    Omg I have just finished watching episode 5 and I am utterly disgusted how it was conducted. I do not believe for a second that her parents were unhappy about Netflix series -this series is sooooooo favorable towards them is unreal. The Spanish journalist got on my nerves “they were lying to us about DNA“ Jesus get over it. Were cadavar dogs also lying? And where were the parents on the night she has gone missing? I would have been turning every stone in the village to find my daughter,yet Kate was happy to leave the apartment and her other two kids and went back to shout Maddie’s was abducted but was happy to risk other two kids to be abducted.I am done with thi series,completely left out nagging questions we all had!

    • nickvdl

      It is upsetting. Maddening.

Leave a Reply

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