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December 17, 2007

Blame Game: The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann

Ever since her daughter went missing, Kate McCann has been accused of everything from bad mothering to murder. She's not the first mom to come under such fire. Why do we always suspect the worst?

madeleine mccann

Photo Credit: Reuters

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Every Sunday British physician Kate McCann walks to church in the tiny town of Rothley, Leicestershire, hand in hand with her husband, Gerry. She keeps her eyes directed at the ground, ignoring the whispers and comments — some sympathetic, many hostile — that trail her.

Britain has been obsessed with Kate, 39, since last May, when her 3-year-old daughter, Madeleine, disappeared from an apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, where the family was vacationing. On holiday with a group of other doctors, Kate and her husband had left Madeleine and their 2-year-old twins asleep in the apartment while they ate tapas at a nearby bar. The adults took turns checking in on all their children every half-hour; when it was Kate's turn, she returned to the table screaming, "Madeleine's gone!"

Then things got worse. In the weeks that followed, as police failed to find an abductor or even a body, attention turned to the parents. Police dogs were said to have detected the scent of death on Kate's clothes, and cops suggested that traces of the child's DNA were found in the car that Kate and Gerry rented 25 days after Madeleine's disappearance. When Kate's Bible was confiscated by police, they suggested that a page related to a dead child was especially well-thumbed. To their horror, the parents found themselves the chief suspects in their daughter's disappearance — and it was Kate, not Gerry (a cardiologist), who bore the brunt of the blame.

On the face of it, Kate McCann should have been the last mom on earth to be vilified in this way. Demure, middle-class, and Catholic, she had wanted to become a mom so badly that she had gone through IVF to conceive Madeleine. "Kate is the most devoted mother," says David Hughes, a PR adviser who has been working with the McCanns since last summer. "But right from the start, people were blogging about her, focusing on the fact that she didn't cry enough. People believe you have to behave in an ostentatious way to show your grief. If you don't wail in public, you're not upset. To me, Kate was manifestly upset — and yet she also has a good sense of humor. When you are with her, you naturally warm to her."

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