I’m a cold case cop – how tiniest clues can solve riddles like Madeleine McCann
MADELEINE McCann cops investigating the toddler’s disappearance are edging closer to a breakthrough after “new facts and new evidence” were discovered.
German detectives are convinced the rapist known as Christian B killed the three-year-old after abducting her from a hotel room in the Algarve 15 years ago.
Amid the latest breakthrough, reports emerged that police discovered clothing fibres from Madeleine’s pyjamas, which featured Winnie The Pooh character Eeyore, but cops have since ruled out the claims.
Christian B, who is currently serving seven years imprisonment, has categorically denied involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance and claims to have an alibi.
However, former cold-case detective Steve Chancellor told The Sun that “the biggest cases are often solved by the smallest things”.
He analysed the likelihood of finding forensic evidence at the scene and revealed how investigators look for clues in cases as old as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
Four detection methods
Technology continues to improve crime solving, but Steve insists nothing beats the four age-old detection techniques for finding hairs and clothing fibres at a crime scene.
The first is a visual scan where investigators use different coloured lights and alternative light sources in the hope of picking up a variety of colours.
Steve, who has 34 years of investigative and crime scene experience, told The Sun: “We use handheld devices that send out light at different wavelengths to try to spot foreign items.”
Secondly, they use sticky pads, which “is the best collection device for hair and fibre” on a surface level, and place it onto a piece of plastic for inspection.
If a longer time has passed, heavy tape may be the third option as it helps to pull fibres from deeper crevices and sections of seats or material.
However, Steve explains that this can complicate the searches as more fibres, hair or other particles could be dragged up.
The last option is a special handheld vacuum that has a filter, which pulls up everything.
‘Vacuum ONLY hope in McCann case’
Due to the fact that Madeleine disappeared 15 years ago, police would have been forced to use a vacuum to check for fibres or hairs.
While investigators ruled out that type of evidence being found in Christian B’s VW campervan, Steve insists it would have been deployed.
He said: “Because it was 15 years ago other methods such as visual, lighting and tapes wouldn’t have worked.”
He explained that the vacuum would lift bits from the surface of the vehicle but also “stuff deposited years ago”.
He added: “For the length of time that van had been there, I would start with a visual look and then go straight to the vacuum.
“Whatever was or wasn’t there would probably have ended up in the cracks and crevices of the vehicle, although we don’t know the interior of the car.”
Pyjama fibres are easier to detect
If it is still possible to find fibre traces, Madeleine’s pyjamas could be easier to detect than other materials, Steve explains.
He said: “It depends on the item of clothing but you’re going to have a better chance of finding fibres from a wool sweater, which gives off many, or a softer material.
“Blue jeans don’t typically give off much because the fibres are so tightly woven, however, if it’s ever cut or ripped there would be many more fibres.
“We had a man that murdered his wife and during the course of the murder his pyjama top had been ripped and we found blue fibres all over the house.”
Struggles could produce more evidence
The amount of fibres a pair of pyjamas could have released is also dependent on how well the clothing was kept.
“How many times it’s been washed? How old it is? And, are there any rips or tears? There are a lot of variables,” Steve said.
“Rips and tears are likely to occur during a kidnapping, which would cause more fibres to be deposited, or if clothing was taken off.”
Seasons could muddy evidence
Colourful clothing may seem easier to detect, but it is also dependent on where you live, while the seasons and environment could present problems.
“A blue fibre or something with a more obvious colour would be helpful, but you also have to factor in what is the fibre made of and how common it is in the area,” Steve said.
“For example, if you go to Mississippi in November, you will find a lot of white cotton fibres around because the cotton fields have just been harvested.”
However, Steve is certain investigators would have bought the same set of pyjamas Madeleine was wearing on the night of her disappearance to narrow down their search.
By doing so, investigators would know the colour make-up they would be looking for under the microscope and would compare the fibres.
Forensics key for cold cases
In investigations like the disappearance of Madeleine when multiple leads have been exhausted, relying on crime scene evidence is vital.
Steve said: “In cases like this when you have nothing else, you to look for forensics and evidence.
“It’s unlike some scenes where there is overwhelming evidence at the scene like weapons, biological fluids or blood.”
Steve recalled a number of cases that were solved thanks to fibres being found at crime scenes or other locations revelant to the case.
Among them was Wayne Williams, who is serving life imprisonment for killing two men in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1981.
Police believe he was also responsible for 24 of the 30 Atlanta child murders, which he has always denied.
There’s also Jeffrey MacDonald, who murdered his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1970, in the US and Roger Payne, who killed his wife in Bromley, London, in 1967.
Never giving up
More than £11.75million of police money and at least £750,000 raised by the McCanns has been spent trying to find out what happened to Madeleine.
Despite numerous false leads, cleared suspects and dead ends in the case, the investigation continues.
Steve believes this is the “most impressive” part because in his opinion it “does not seem like anyone has given up”.
He said: “No one has thrown their hands up and said, ‘This case can’t be solved.’
“They have gone through the process up to the point of finding the vehicle, the site, and gone looking for something.
“That’s one of the biggest things I teach – you are never going to find something if you don’t look.
“I’m very impressed that they have taken the time, gone out there and said ‘We’re not done.’”