Madeleine McCann's parents rented a car after her disappearance, drove 9,000 miles in four months raising suspicion
The car became the focus of the initial investigation after two specialist dogs gave 'alerts' for detecting human blood and the scent of a human cadaver when they were brought to the crime scene a few days later
A few weeks after toddler Madeleine McCann disappeared from the holiday rental apartment in Portugal that she was staying in along with her parents and twin siblings, her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, hired a rental silver Renault Scenic hatchback.
According to police records, the company the car was hired from delivered the vehicle to the McCanns on May 27, 2007, at their apartment in Praia da Luz. When the company representative handed over the keys to the parents, the car had only done 3,114 kilometers (1,935 miles) on the odometer.
When the vehicle was returned to the rental company on September 23 that same year, the Renault had clocked 14,443 kilometers (8,974 miles) on the odometer. In just four months after Madeleine's disappearance, the vehicle had traveled 11,227 kilometers.
The McCann's added two other drivers to the rental contract as well in the form of Alexander Cameron, Gerry's brother-in-law, and Michael Wright, who is married to Kate's cousin. It was reported that the McCann's had used the car to travel to the west and north of Praia da Luz, which is a coastal town on the Algarve, multiple times. The cell phone mast ping data from these journeys appear in the files of the Portuguese police and it shows where exactly the couple traveled.
The McCann's used the vehicle to travel into Spain and the vehicle was also used by Wright and Alexander after they flew into the country. The car that they used became the focus of the initial investigation after two specialist dogs, one for sniffing cadavers and the other for sniffing out blood, were flown into the country from the UK.
CSI dog Keela was trained to give her handler, Martin Grime, a "passive alert" by freezing in the spot where she detected human blood. CSI dog Eddie was a cadaver dog or enhanced-victim-recovery dog (EVRD) who gave a "bark alert" to the scent of human cadavers. This includes being able to sniff out a cadaver even shortly after death and this is the case even if the remains are buried, incinerated, or in water. He was specifically trained to bark only in response to that scent and nothing else.
The dogs were in Praia da Luz on July 31, 2007, and were immediately taken to apartment 5A (where the McCann family stayed when Madeleine vanished), a nearby wasteland, and the beach. Both of the dogs gave alerts behind the sofa in the living room of the apartment and Eddie also gave an alert close to the wardrobe in the main bedroom. They did not give any alerts on the beach or the wasteland.
Once the local authorities gained search warrants, they began to comb through the rented apartment the family stayed in, as well as the Renault that was hired 24 days after Madeleine went missing. Both the house and the grounds were searched on August 2 but the only alert from Eddie was when he sniffed the Cuddle Cat (Madeleine's favorite toy) in the living room. Keela did not give any alert.
The authorities then moved the Renault Scenic to an underground car park across from the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) headquarters in Portimão. 10 cars were parked about 20-30 feet apart and the line-up included the car that the McCann's had hired. Eddie gave an alert outside the rental car by the driver's door and Keela alerted the next morning to the rear driver's side inside the boot as well as the map compartment of the driver's door, which had the ignition key and key ring.
She alerted once more then the key ring was hidden in a fire bucket and again when the bucket was moved to a different floor of the car park. The press in Portugal began running stories almost immediately that Madeleine was killed inside apartment 5A.
Hair and fiber samples that were collected from the spots where the dogs alerted in the car, as well as the apartment, were sent to the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in Birmingham for DNA profiling on August 8 but the results came back as inconclusive. A month after the CSI dogs searched through the areas, the McCanns were declared as "arguidos" or formal suspects.
The status was lifted after the Portuguese police investigation was halted in August 2008. Kate and Gerry, who are both doctors from Rothley, Leicestershire, have continuously denied any involvement in the disappearance of their daughter. MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) reported previously that an expert had come forward and said that the DNA evidence from the car was not analyzed properly and if it was, it would have opened up a whole new investigation.