16.6.09

Chapter 7: Suspicious behaviour and contradictions: The Murat Case


SUSPICIOUS BEHAVIOUR AND CONTRADICTIONS

THE MURAT CASE

On May 10th, the crisis unit's meeting goes on until 2'oclock in the morning.

I receive a phone call from Sofia, who insists on my going home: our Shitzu dog is dead. She found it that morning, lifeless on the ground, with a head injury. She did everything to make sure the girls did not see it, but she didn't have the courage to remove him. When I arrive, everyone is already in bed. I place the Shitzu in a plastic bag, not sure about where I am going to be able to bury him. The ground is hard here. it's not easy to dig a hole and I hardly have the time for it. I decide to drop his remains into a bin. The animal is small, but he seems to weigh more than usual. I use my car to take her. As I am getting rid of it, I realise just how easy it is to hide a body - and how difficult it is to bury....When I get back, I discuss it with Sofia: she is afraid. She asks me to abandon the investigation and to worry about our daughters rather than other people's. For her, the dog's death is a bad omen. I reply that she is unfair, that her fears are irrational. Justice must be done for Madeleine, as for all other children and adults. It's my duty as a police officer: to seek the truth so that justice may be done.

At around 8 o'clock that morning, I drive towards Portimão. I could drive with my eyes closed; this helps me to focus on the latest developments in the investigation. All I notice is the impasse we find ourselves in. I have the impression that we are chasing a ghost. The previous night, we had reviewed Jane Tanner's witness statement in detail: the individual whom she saw parading around in the open street with a child he had just abducted seems less and less credible to us.

- And where would he go then? If, as we have assumed, he didn't have a vehicle, he must have hidden in an apartment in the area.

- On the route he took, there are several apartment blocks and two houses. They were all searched on May 5th, but nothing was found.

- A thorough search?

- More than 500 apartments were visited that day; in those conditions, only a general examination can be conducted, except where something seems suspicious. The houses in the area have gardens, swimming pools, numerous hiding places that are not easily spotted during a first visit.

Instead of taking the exit road for Portimão, I continue my journey on the motorway. I need to reconstruct the individual's path. If he had planned his crime, he probably wouldn't have taken this direction. And if, on the other hand, he hadn't planned it? I need to work it out for myself. In Vilada Luz, I park my car below the apartment blocks. Journalists are on the lookout around the apartment; fortunately, they don't see me. I walk the same route that the stranger must have taken. I arrive in front of a house with a neglected garden. Inside, there are two parked cars, whose registration numbers I note down. I communicate the numbers to the police in Portimão and wait there for the result of the check. After a few minutes, a green vehicle, driven by an individual wearing glasses, stops in front of the entrance to the house. The driver goes in quickly. His face is familiar to me but I don't know who he is. I notice a child's seat inside the car. The man comes back out a little later, supporting an elderly lady whom he accompanies towards the area of the swimming pools and the Tapas restaurant. They cross a park where a few buildings have been erected. Madeleine's parents took this route to take their children to the play centre, near the main reception area of the hotel complex. Since the start of the investigation , a team has been permanently on the premises and an apartment has been placed at their disposal. I am about to make enquiries of the police officer on duty when the individual comes back from his walk and greets him as he passes.

- You know that man?

- Yes, he presented himself to the GNR on Friday morning and offered his services as an interpreter. He is of English origin but speaks good Portuguese. He's called Robert Murat.

As the law demands, all foreign people interviewed by the police must have the benefit of an interpreter. In this investigation, the considerable number of interviews we had to conduct in record time forced us to call on the services of volunteers.

- And this guy, you checked him out? No criminal record or trouble with the law?

- No, no, it's all OK, but I didn't know he lived here. It's true that his house is on the route taken by the abductor.

- Stay here, carry on being friendly with him; I'm going to Portimão to see what we've got on him: we've got to find out more about this guy.

I immediately telephone the team to alert them. The Director of the Department of Criminal Investigation in Faro has to be involved in a meeting the same morning, where we will discuss the case of Robert Murat. We decide to request the latter's help again in order not to lose sight of him. We must act with the utmost speed, because Madeleine could be in one of the houses he has access to. The investigators continue to check the information we have about him. He is English, aged 33 and is separated from his wife. The latter lives in Great Britain with their daughter; the latter is nearly the same age as Madeleine and looks like her. The English journalist to whom he gave this information during an interview was immediately distrusting of him and the reasons that motivated him to help the police. Murat has lived with his mother in Vila da Luz for several years, but he goes to England regularly. Back from his last stay in Exeter on May 1st, he has to return there on the 9th. He is ready to postpone his departure, desirous above all, he states, of helping the police to find Madeleine.

His behaviour starts to seriously intrigue us. He often makes reference to similar cases that happened in the United Kingdom and which he seems to know in detail. He displays suspicious curiosity and seeks to know more. He offers to help us identify possible suspects. He knows the workings of the Ocean Club and the habits of the holiday-makers very well. He even, allegedly, tried secretly to access the investigation files. It is also known that he visits web sites of a pornographic nature.

His mother has set up a desk near the Tapas restaurant in order to gather and give out information about Madeleine. We don't know if this woman's actions are philanthropic in nature, or if she is hoping to keep well-informed of all the information circulating about the case. Members of the British agency CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre), take a close interest in Murat and work to develop his psychological profile.

If it's him that's holding Madeleine, we must monitor all his contacts and places he has access to. His house is therefore being closely watched. Technicians arrive from Great Britain with sophisticated equipment, capable of detecting the presence of people inside a building. Unfortunately, the characteristics of the building make this computer display impossible. So, stick to the investigations and conventional tailing. This is how we discover his relationship with a married woman of German origin, Michaela Walczuch. She is 32 and works as an estate agent. She is the wife of Luis Antonio, a Portuguese man aged 33, a technician responsible for the maintenance of swimming pools. The couple have an 8 year-old daughter and live in Faro. The relationship is strange. Michaela is still living with her spouse, and Robert visits them as if it's no big deal. All of them seem happy with this situation. And the little girl? What does she think about it?

On May 12th, the suspect rents a car, in which he drives kilometres over rough tracks for basic essentials. He explains later: that day, his mother had needed his car for her information desk. We are assuming that he noticed he was being followed.

We then decide to search his residence and the vehicles he uses. During the night of May 13th, the Prosecutor of the Republic and the judge go to the court in Portimão, where, in view of the growing suspicion and the urgency of the situation, a search warrant is issued to them.

JANE TANNER FORMALLY RECOGNISES ROBERT MURAT

Before the search, we want to assure ourselves that Jane Tanner recognises him as the individual she saw on the night of the disappearance. She is sitting inside an unmarked car, whose tinted windows allow her to see out without being spotted. The vehicle is parked at the exact spot where she was on the night of May 3rd. Robert Murat, anonymous amongst plain clothes police officers, goes up the road in the same way as the alleged abductor. Jane Tanner is adamant: it certainly is Robert Murat that she saw that night. She definitely recognises his way of walking. But does he resemble the description she painted previously?

The investigator, with whom Murat is on friendly terms, is with him in a bar until 2 o'clock in the morning. We are not about to relax surveillance. As soon as he gets home, police officers are stationed around his house in order to monitor all entrances. The crisis unit is buzzing; the teams are preparing for the search. It will be carried out at 7am - the legally designated time -, when the journalists are not yet on the streets. The operation is kept secret. We request reinforcements from the GNR. For the moment, we have no evidence against Murat, only suspicions. If we had been certain that Madeleine was in the house, we wouldn't have had to wait for daylight to intervene. Scenes of crime specialists accompany us in the search for evidence. Outside, two rainwater recovery tanks are explored with the help of divers. We pack up a few items of clothing to send to a laboratory that will carry out the search for fibres, hair, traces of blood that possibly came from Maddie. The cars are also gone over with a fine tooth comb. Laptops are seized and their contents examined by specialists. We find a cutting from a British newspaper, dated 23rd September 2006, that refers to a case of paedophilia.

THE FIRST SUSPECT

Robert Murat is placed under investigation and interviewed at the offices of the police in Portimão from 10am. He does not wish for the presence of a lawyer. He is the first suspect who will be declared arguido. As such, he benefits from certain rights, one of them being to remain silent. But he does not assert that right and responds to all questions put to him. Despite obvious nervousness, his statements are clear and precise.

We ask about the reasons for his arrival in Vila da Luz on May 1st, four days after the McCanns' - the hypothesis of planned abduction is considered. Murat could have entrusted the observation to an accomplice, who would have chosen Madeleine and observed the parents' habits as well as their pattern of monitoring the children.

We want to know more about his circle of friends and the places they frequent. During the evening of the disappearance, he remembers having heard a siren shortly after 10.30pm. He was then in the kitchen with his mother. The next morning at around 9 o'clock, he asked a passer-by what had happened, and that was how he learned about Madeleine's disappearance. He then decided to go and offer his help.

All Murat's statements are immediately checked. We check the places he says he went to with Michaela, looking for CCTV cameras or witnesses able to describe the clothes he was wearing that day. We would like to compare them with the description provided by Jane Tanner.

We ask him about a telephone call intercepted after the announcement of the disappearance. His response is very vague. We know that towards 11.30pm, Michaela phoned Murat. Then, he called a certain Sergey Malinka, and straight afterwards, Michaela. We will never know the content of these conversations; no one will give us plausible explanations. The answers are evasive: "I no longer remember," or "that was about the web site for the estate agency." Sergey Malinka is Russian, aged 23. He works in computers and lives with his parents in Vila da Luz, 300 metres from the Ocean Club. His mother, a housewife, is employed by a cleaning company that does certain apartments for the club. He is seeing a young Portuguese woman, aged 33, mother of a teenager. The wife of one of his associates, of British origin, states that in 2006, he boasted about having had sexual relations with a minor, aged 14, and related how the father had surprised them; he allegedly stated that currently he maintains a relationship with an older woman and her daughter at the same time. Interviewed, he refuted these allegations: he claims that it's vengeance on the part of his associate, unhappy with the way their shared company worked out.

Murat and Michaela intend to open an estate agency together. They were looking for a computer engineer to build a web site and had thus met Sergey. It was to discuss this that they arranged a get-together near the Ocean Club on May 2nd. Luis Antonio was seen in the area. Was he watching his wife? That speculation is hardly credible since he seemed to accept his wife's relationship with Murat.

On May 14th, the home and vehicles belonging to Michaela and Luis Antonio are searched. The couple are interviewed in the afternoon. Michaela hints that she suspects her husband. Luis Antonio, as a person responsible for maintaining swimming pools, has access to a great number of hotel or private residences, spread throughout the Vila da Luz and Lagos area. Certain buildings are closed for a good part of the year, but in spring, the pools are prepared before the summer season. Searches are ordered of all the residences concerned, without success. No trace, anywhere, of Madeleine. We're back to square one.

The discovery of a key at Murat's house revives the hope of finally getting a lead. He tells us that it belongs to Michaela, and that it must have been dropped accidentally. Where was that key before it was found at his house? In Michaela's pocket? In her bag? We learn that it opens the door of a garage where Luis Antonio stores his maintenance products. A team is sent immediately to the part of Lagos where this garage is situated. The search proves as disappointing as the others. Nothing is found. Once again, no evidence of Madeleine's presence.

FOR THE PROFILERS, MURAT IS THE GUILTY PARTY

Since Murat's first interview, which they attended, the specialists have continued to refine the profile of the suspect. They have heard about the statement from one of his so-called childhood friends, put on file by the police department: according to him, Murat had an affirmed penchant for bestiality. He recounted his attempts at sexual relations with a cat and a dog, subsequently killed, he states, with cruelty. Moreover, he allegedly attempted to rape his 16 year-old cousin. This individual describes Murat as someone violent with behavioural problems, a sexual pervert, sadist, and misanthropist. We are somewhat sceptical. All the same, according to the English profilers, there is a 90% chance that he is the guilty party. That seems to us to be a bit too easy. We think that drawing conclusions based essentially on the statement of an ex-convict is rather dangerous.

As if the memory of the McCann family's friends suddenly came back to them, all - Rachael Mampilly, wife of Matthew Oldfield, Fiona Payne, wife of David Payne, and Russell O'Brien Jane Tanner's partner - recall having seen Murat on the night of May 3rd, shortly after the announcement of the disappearance, in the immediate vicinity apartment 5A. Meanwhile, of course, Murat's picture has been shown on television and in certain newspapers. They themselves were in direct contact with him during the previous days. However, it is only on May 16th that they deliver this information to us. As for the officers of the National Guard who were on the spot, they didn't see him that night, only the next morning, when he came to offer his services as interpreter.

On July 11th at 10am, a confrontation is organised between the witnesses - Rachael Mampilly, Fiona Payne and Russell O'Brien - and Robert Murat. Nothing new comes out of it. The former persist in stating that the suspect was definitely in the area on the night of the disappearance. Murat denies the whole thing and even accuses them of lying. Each side stands its ground. The only positive aspect of this meeting: the McCanns' friends undertake to return to Portugal for the purpose of the investigation. That will not happen.

(Original translation by AnnaEsse here)

Chapter 8 A man with a child in his arms