Still No Sign of Madeleine

updated 04/28/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/28/2008 01:00AM

On the morning of their last day together, Kate McCann was having breakfast with twins Sean and Amelie, age 2, and 3-year-old Madeleine. "Mummy," Madeleine suddenly asked, "why didn't you come when we were crying last night?" The question struck Kate as odd, she would later tell police. Yes, she and husband Gerry had left their rented vacation apartment in Portugal, but they had checked on the children frequently. And a neighbor had been home the whole night and heard nothing. Still, Kate and Gerry talked it over, and "we decided to watch over the children more carefully at night." Just hours later, Madeleine was gone.

This May 3 it will be one year since Madeleine vanished from her bedroom as her parents dined at a tapas restaurant a hundred yards away. Since then, an investigation has yielded plenty of twists but precious few answers. "We want Madeleine back, and we continue to feel hopeful because there's no evidence of any harm being done to her," says her uncle John McCann. "But we need a lucky break."

For Kate and Gerry McCann, who were first cast as victims and then named suspects before being seen as victims again, it has been a year of roller-coaster emotions. Most recently, on April 10, leaked documents revealed details of their first interviews with investigators soon after Kate discovered Madeleine was missing. The interviews—which the McCann camp claims were intentionally leaked by the Portuguese police to make the couple look negligent—include Kate's recollection of Madeleine's troubling question that morning. But the McCanns believe their daughter's anxiety suggests an intruder may have cased her bedroom one night before snatching her.

The conduct of the Portuguese police throughout has been controversial. Last summer, rumors surfaced that forensic evidence implicating the McCanns had been found in the trunk of a car they rented weeks after Madeleine disappeared. In September police named them official suspects. But investigators never revealed the results of any forensic tests, and on Feb. 3 Alipio Ribeiro, Portugal's chief of police, admitted to "a certain hastiness" in pointing the finger at the McCanns. The damning forensic evidence "doesn't exist," says the family's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell. "Madeleine was never put in their car. The police do not have a case."

Some British tabloids were equally distrusting of the McCanns, running dozens of stories suggesting they were guilty. But the McCanns won a libel judgment against the Daily Express and the Daily Star, which were forced to fork over more than a million dollars and run a front-page apology on March 19. "We acknowledge that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this theory," the Express declared, "and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance."

A victory, yes, but hardly a comforting one for the McCanns. With money raised through the family's not-for-profit Find Madeleine fund, they continue to pay private detectives to search for their daughter. They are encouraged by findings that show younger abducted children are less likely to be harmed than older ones. "We will not give up hope," Gerry McCann, who with Kate has been lobbying lawmakers for a European version of the U.S. Amber Alert system, recently said on their Web site. "Someone somewhere knows where Madeleine is." Back home in Leicestershire, England, the couple are "trying to give Sean and Amelie as normal a time as possible," says Mitchell. "The children know Madeleine is not there, but the family still talks about her and says that everyone is looking for her. But it's not a normal family life at all. It will never be normal until Madeleine comes back."

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