Madeleine McCann, a British girl who vanished while her family was vacationing in Portugal in 2007, is believed to be dead, a German prosecutor announced Thursday.
“We assume that the girl is dead,” Braunschweig state prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said. “The public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig is investigating a 43-year-old German national on suspicion of murder.”
German police said on Wednesday the suspect, who was not officially named and previously lived near Praia da Luz, made a spontaneous decision to kill McCann during a break-in of the apartment where she was sleeping with family members. They are treating the case as suspected murder.
No body has ever been found. But the German statements that the young girl was assumed dead were the most authoritative thus far on her fate.
British police are working on the case with German and Portuguese officers.
Metropolitan Police (MET) detectives working with German authorities identified the sex offender as a suspect, the MET said in a statement.
“While this male is a suspect we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry,” said Mark Cranwell, detective chief inspector.
The suspect was described as white, about 6 feet tall, with a slim build. At the time of the disappearance, he is believed to have had short blond hair, possibly fair.
The man is now 43 but may have looked between 25 to early 30s in 2007.
The new suspect was convicted of multiple sex crimes, including sexual abuse of children, Wolters said in a statement. He lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007. He used to work in the catering industry.
Information gleaned by detectives suggest he supplemented a sporadic income with criminal offenses, such as burglaries of hotels and drug trafficking.
Officials said the suspect had access to two vehicles around the time of Madeleine’s disappearance. One was described as a distinctive VW T3 Westfalia campervan. An early 1980s model, with two tone markings, a white upper body, and a yellow skirting, the vehicle had a Portuguese registration plate.
The other vehicle is a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German number plate and registered in Germany.
Anyone with information about the vehicles during the summer of 2007 is asked to contact police. Additionally, anyone with information about two mobile phone numbers, of which is believed to have been used by the man on the day of the girl’s disappearance, is asked to contact the authorities. The numbers are: +351 912 730 680 and +351 916 510 683
In a statement following the announcement of the new suspect, but before the prosecutor said she was assumed dead, Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry, said in a statement: “We welcome the appeal today regarding the disappearance of our daughter, Madeleine. We would like to thank the police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine.”
“All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice. We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know, as we need to find peace,” they added.
Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for Madeleine’s parents, told Sky News that this time appears to be different from prior announcements in the disappearance.
“From everything police are saying and doing, this would appear to be the most significant lead that they are trying to close down in the 13 years since Madeleine disappeared,” he said.
Appearing on “BBC Breakfast,” Mitchell added: “Of all the thousands of leads and potential suspects that have been mentioned in the past, there has never been something as clear cut as that from not just one, but three, police forces.”
The investigation into what happened to McCann has consumed major resources, including over $15 million. Police officials last year asked for additional funding for what’s known as Operation Grange.
Officials repeatedly said they wouldn’t stop looking into the case until it “reached its conclusion.”
Madeleine vanished from a holiday rental in Praia da Luz when she was 3 years old. She was alone with her younger siblings. Her parents were out with friends.
Jack Phillips, Tom Ozimek, Reuters contributed to this report.