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December 17, 2007

Blame Game: The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann

kate mccan being photographed by paparazzi

Kate McCann tries to ignore the paparazzi following the disappearance of her daughter Madeleine.

Photo Credit: V. Rodriguez/Reuters

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Kate is hardly the first grieving mother to find her anguish compounded by suspicion. Time and again in the case of child death or abduction, the mom goes from victim to perpetrator in the court of public opinion. In 1997, when British nanny Louise Woodward was on trial for the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen in Massachusetts, commentators criticized the baby's mom, Deborah Eappen. A part-time ophthalmologist, she worked only three days a week, but still she was attacked for having a career — and leaving her child in the care of a nanny — when she could afford not to work.

Patsy Ramsey, whose 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, was found strangled in the family's basement in Colorado in 1996, faced a similar backlash. Over the next 10 years, until her own death, Patsy lived under suspicion — sometimes of murder, sometimes of unhealthy mothering, such as allowing JonBenet to take part in child beauty contests.

And then there's Lindy Chamberlain, the Australian mom whose infant daughter, Azaria, disappeared in 1980 while the family was on a camping trip. Despite Lindy's insistence that the baby had been taken from the family's tent by a wild dingo, Lindy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with hard labor. Her refusal to show emotion laid the groundwork for her conviction — in court and in society at large. She served four years, until the child's torn clothes were discovered in a dingo den, proving her innocent.

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