Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: On Moving and Hiding Bodies
Getting stuck with a corpse is not one of those events we anticipate ever having to deal with, unless we are an experienced serial killer. For the uninitiated, panic is the primary emotion at the moment one finds themselves with a dead body and desperation and fear are panic's close companions. Fear of ending up in prison for the rest of one's life, desperation to prevent such a repercussion, and, panic, as one tries to get rid of the damning evidence in a short period of time.
The problem with unpremeditated crimes is that one usually has little time to think, to cover up what has occurred, and get rid of evidence sufficiently. Most nonserial killers also have the added problem of the victim being connected to them in some way; a wife, a husband, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a child. The police will be showing up on one's doorstep and one has to actually report the person missing at some point and one needs an alibi. Serial killers target strangers (or mild acquaintances) and no one has a clue they are connected in any way to a crime in their community. They have ample time to dump or hide bodies and toss clothing or weapons. By the time a serial killer becomes a suspect, often he doesn't need to worry about an alibi because years have gone by.
Not the same situation for a domestic homicide. The body of the victim usually is lying in the middle of one's living room floor or dead in the bedroom. The person is going to be missed shortly - at school, at work, by friends and family. And we often quickly suspect a relative if that relative was the last to see the victim alive, especially if he doesn't report the individual missing for days. So what the panicked perpetrator needs to do is get rid of the body immediately, try to stage some sort of abduction, and then report the person missing as soon as possible. This way, he looks as innocent and as concerned as he can and, if lucky, he can try to establish some alibi though this is often difficult (and nearly impossible without involving family or friends).
Because of the fear of what the autopsy will discover and the possibility of DNA and trace evidence linking back to the perpetrator of a domestic homicide, it is common for the offender to attempt to hide the body extremely well or destroy it entirely. Serial killers and sex predators often just dump the body like garbage a mile or so from their home, not worrying all that much that any evidence will be connected back to them unless they have their DNA in the CODIS system and a match will identify them.
So when a body isn't found after someone goes missing out of a house, police tend to take a strong look at whomever was at the same location as the victim at the time the person disappeared. This does not mean there aren't some serial killers who work harder at hiding bodies; they may bury them on their property, feed them to pigs, or toss them down mine shafts. But, it is far more common, especially with child sex predators, to dump the body quickly, usually within an hour of two of the abduction, rape, and murder of the little victim. Very few children taken for sexual purposes under the age of five aren't found dead and found dead fairly quickly; those that remain missing often are cases in which abduction is not proven and the parents are person-of-interest.
|On the Beach in Praia da Luz Early in the AM|
So, on May 3, 2007, if Madeleine McCann did die in Apartment 5A in Praia da Luz and her father or mother or both found themselves in that unexpected nightmare of dealing with a body, what would they do?
Kate and Gerry would likely fear arrest and imprisonment for one or both of them for murder - even if for second degree homicide as in an overdose or an overdose leading to an accident, or for manslaughter due to neglect and an accident - if there was something the autopsy would uncover.
They would have to get rid of the body, any evidence of Maddie's demise, stage an abduction, and he and Kate would need need alibis that would cover the time that Maddie would have been "abducted."
If Maddie died in the vacation apartment, it would seem the McCanns were successful at all of the above, barring the alerting of the cadaver and blood dogs to locations and items in the apartment and hire car.
And the most important aspect of the cover-up issues is the losing of the body permanently; no body, rarely an arrest.
The history of missing children with parents who are suspects has proven this over and over. In just the last few years we have in the United States a number of cases that come to mind: Haleigh Cummings, Ayla Reynolds, Sky Metalwalla, Jhessye Shockley, Kyron Horman, and Lisa Irwin.
No bodies, no arrests although at least one parent is a top person-of-interest in all of these cases.
So, let's say Gerry really was seen by the Smith family at 9:50 pm, dumped Maddie's body, and then hurried back to the Tapas restaurant. Why would he bother to move her body? Why not let the police find it and think an abductor took Maddie, killed her, and got rid of her?
Likely because of what autopsy might determine (drugs in body, head trauma, positional asphyxiation) and what the autopsy might not determine (violent sexual assault and strangulation by a predator) and trace evidence that might link back to the McCanns and no one else.
So, if the McCanns covered up the death of Madeleine, they would have to be sure her body was not found, if at all possible. Maddie's body would have to be moved to a fairly secretive location.
Some might say then that it must have been one brilliant location her body was hidden in that the police never thought of looking because it was never found. Others might say because her body wasn't found in the area, the McCanns must have nothing to do with the crime because they only had a few hours in the early morning hours to move Maddie's body to a better spot and how would they have accomplished this so well in so short a time?
Well, mostly by luck.
Luck plays an interesting role in a lot of crimes.
One would think bodies of children that families try to dispose of in a hurry should be very easy to find but they are not, often because they are quite tiny and easy to stuff into a variety of places or they get lost in a large expanse of land.
That the cadaver dogs didn't hit months later out in the open of Praia da Luz does not mean an abductor trundled Maddie out of town; it doesn't mean that her body wasn't hidden somewhere in the area for a period of time.
Although false positives are extremely rare for cadaver dogs, false negatives are more common and it is hard to prove the dogs missed a spot when, well, they missed it.
With changing weather conditions and numerous other factors, where a body may have been hidden temporarily may be overlooked by dogs, the smell having wafted off, well contained, or somehow not being noticeable enough.
False positives and negatives work like perfume; suppose a husband is having an affair with his secretary. She spritzes herself with perfume and the two go to a bar, take a walk in the park, and then come back to the bedroom he shares with his wife and has sex with her there.
That afternoon after work, the wife hears a rumor that her husband was seen at the bar and the park with this woman. She goes to both locations, and she doesn't smell the woman's perfume; the bar is too contaminated with massive numbers of odors and the park is too large to figure out where the couple may have been and even the bench the couple sat on and hugged and kissed has been rained on and wind has blown through the spot.
But, when the woman gets home, the fragrance of the woman's perfume hits her at the front door, is stronger in the bedroom, and when she picks up her husband's shirt off out of the laundry basket, she is nearly knocked out by the odor. There is no way she could be mistaken about the perfume in her house but just because she missed it at the bar and in the park doesn't mean the couple wasn't there as well.
This is an oversimplification of cadaver dogs and their abilities, but I just want you to get an understanding of why outdoor searches are so difficult, even for the best of dogs. Of course, if they alert on a spot in the middle of the landscape, this certainly is significant, but, not hitting anywhere does not hold the same importance as making a alert.
So, was Maddie hidden somewhere around Praia da Luz in a public area?
Very possibly, in spite of the fact the dogs did not discover that place.
She also could have been hidden in a private location but that would be far less likely considering the very few hours the McCanns, if they were involved, had to hide her body.
They would have to find a place quickly, nearby, within walking distance, someplace they had a clue existed.
The most likely possibilities would be where the McCanns had spent time, walked around or jogged past; it is night and one cannot spend hours scouring unknown rugged areas.
That might come later, but it would be unlikely to occur on May 4th before the sun rose.
If I were in Gerry shoes (if he was involved in Maddie's demise and/or disappearance) and had a wife or friend to help me or if I had to do it alone, here are the places I would have considered and rejected. One is anything to the west of the area of the overturned boats (where the road accesses the beach and has good temporary hiding places; see my previous blog post).Sometime after the locals and police had pretty much called it a night for searching, there would be an opportunity for Gerry or Gerry with Kate or Gerry with David Payne to find a good location to put Maddie's body.
I walked further down that direction and it is very difficult to traverse it at night. Lots of craggy, uneven rocks, and no place I could find that would be a good place to stash a body. If one went back up on the road and walked down past the houses, there is a bit of an area that one could bury a body, but that burial site would be hard to disguise.
There are some trash bins which could be a possibility but that would negate the later cadaver dog evidence in the hire car unless some object transferred cadaver odor to that location like a bag or clothing. However, the trash bins were searched and nothing found unless something was missed.
From the overturned boat area, there is a bit of a beach to the east, full of rocks, which then ends at a stone structure that juts into the water before the church. There were a few places to stuff a body, but I doubt a body could have stayed hidden.
There is the drain, but, again, not a good hiding place except for an hour or two.
|From Center of Praia da Luz to West Beach|
From the location of the church over to the rocks of the Rocha Negra, there is just beach and no real hiding places. Some have mentioned the Roman Ruins which can be accessed from the boardwalk. It is a very small enclosed location and while I did find one spot one could hide a small body, for the long run, one would think a maintenance person who worked there would find the corpse.
So, that leaves the Rocha Negra itself, the obsession of Kate McCann as she mentions it again and again in her book and even called the police to say she had a dream Maddie was on a slab up on the rocks.
This is an area both the McCanns were familiar with.
One can sit on the deck having lunch at the Paraiso Restaurant and the Rocha Negra is right in front of you.
The McCanns also jogged near and on the Rocha Negra as well.
|Foot of Rocha Negra on Beach|
There are three possible areas one could try to hide a body on the Rocha Negra.
Retired British police officer, PM, and I toured the various areas to see if there was a place we felt was more likely than others that one could move a body to in the wee hours of the morning.
We located three possibilities: at the foot of the rocks on the beach or in the water, in the gullies on the slopes, and on the land on the top of the cliffs.
At the foot, it first appears this is not a bad choice (above right) and, if it were low tide one could hide a body under rocks and gravel right there at the base where the cliffs meet the sand.
However, in higher tide, this is not possible and one has to worry about the smell hitting sunbathers, joggers, and hikers on the beach. It is possible, but not probable. Dumping the body in the water only to have it come back in the tide or trying to pin it under a rock is not very wise if one doesn't want the body to resurface unexpectedly.
|Rocks to Beach at Rocha Negra|
|Rex the Dog's Grave|
Next, PM drove me up to the area where one can follow trails up the grassy hills to the very top of the cliffs.
We found a dog, Rex, buried here, so it is possible to dig a grave, although the ground is very hard at that location and one would need a shovel to be successful. Also, while it is possible to walk or run to this location (and Gerry was in good shape), it is quite far to go carrying a child, then have to dig a grave, and run back. Furthermore, a fresh grave in the hills would be quite obvious. I didn't think it would be a good choice.
|Gullies to Beach on Rocha Negra|
|Rocha Negra Gully|
Then, PM and I explored the gullies that come down the side of the Rocha Negra. This area really sparked my interest. The gullies that were accessible from the beach were only a five minute walk from downtown Praia da Luz.
One can climb up and up (I doubt many do this for hiking as they are not very inviting) and these gullies have a massive amount of rocks and gravel in them and around them which are easy to move and cover a body with.
Finding a crevice, secreting a small body, and covering it with a pile of rocks would not take that long. On a night with a full moon, one would not even need a flashlight to accomplish this. The spot would be up and out of the way of beachcombers and a good location unless one thought cadaver dogs were going to be set loose on it. At the time Maddie went missing, no one was looking for a body and as long as an abduction was promulgated and a live child searched for, the PJ weren't bringing in cadaver dogs, which they didn't, until the McCanns became Arguidos (suspects).
Right next to the beach a few metres from the gully area is a road and public parking spaces (if one wanted to remove the body later and transport it elsewhere.
The cadaver dogs did search the Rocha Negra, ascending as far as they could from the beach.
I don't know if a moved body, perhaps a well-wrapped one, might not have left a scent for the dogs to find or whether there was never a body there. But, this very accessible location on the side of the Rocha Negra would be my top choice for where I would hide a body if I only had a short period of time and couldn't go very far.
At this point, there is not enough evidence to prove in court that the McCanns are involved with the disappearance of the daughter, Madeleine, or that they moved her body or exactly where they could have moved her body if they were. But, when one puts oneself in the mind of a person desperate to hide a body, it is interesting what one sees as possibilities.
Criminal Profiler Pat Brown