Madeleine McCann, in 2007
For the past four months Gerry and Kate McCann repeatedly insisted on one thing: They would not be leaving Portugal with-out their daughter Madeleine, 3, who vanished on the night of May 3 from their rented holiday apartment. But by the early morning hours of Sept. 9 that brave front lay in ruins, as the McCanns, trailed by reporters, exited to England from the town Praia da Luz without their child – and suddenly and stunningly under suspicion that they might be responsible for her disappearance and death. To the couple and their many supporters around the world it was a turn of events that defied belief. "We're entirely innocent," Gerry told a British paper. "We thought we were in our worst nightmare, but now it just keeps getting worse and worse."
And far worse may be coming in the weeks and months ahead. Aside from formally naming the McCanns as suspects, Portuguese officials have declined to lay out their case. But now, according to numerous reports, they believe the McCanns may have sedated their daughter, that she died, perhaps accidentally, and that the British couple, both 39 and physicians, hid the body for weeks before disposing of it. Gerry McCann's sister Philomena told PEOPLE that in an extraordinary two days of interrogation, Portuguese investigators offered Kate a deal: Admit to killing your daughter and receive a sentence
of no more than two years. Said Philomena: "They tried to get her to confess." According to police sources, the McCanns, who were free to leave the country as long as they promised to stay at their home in Rothley, England, could soon be formally charged in the death – a prospect that the couple insist is only diverting attention from the search for Madeleine. "It is ridiculous," said Kate of the cloud of suspicion. As Gerry's brother John McCann told PEOPLE, "It doesn't stack up. I'm trying to be calm but inside I'm seething."
Certainly the McCanns make an unlikely pair of suspects. Married for nine years, they met when both were working at a hospital in Glasgow. Says Philomena: "After a night out Gerry returned home and told us he had met the girl of his dreams." Gerry went on to become a respected cardiologist, and Kate, who had wanted to become a doctor since she was a teen, a general practitioner. After years of struggling to conceive they used fertility treatment to give birth to Madeleine. Just over a year later they had twins Sean and Amelie. Their home in Rothley, in Leicestershire, is comfortable but hardly extravagant. Both are fitness buffs who enjoy socializing. "They have many friends," says Kate's father, Brian Healy, "but their main thing is their family."
On Newsstands Now
- Amy Robach: 'I'm Lucky to Be Alive'
- Paul Walker: Inside His Tragic Death
- Julia Roberts: Choosing Family Over Hollywood
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine