Madeleine – Portelas Body Farm

I am trying to write a post on one particular aspect of body decomposition – where a body is simply laid on the surface of the ground, and is not covered in any way. Two recent cases of this have intrigued me, and I’m working on a post about those.

For this current post, the theme is my Portelas Body Farm, quite possibly the first body farm in Portugal!

We have a very large plot of our own, plus access to a neighbouring one that is also quite large and very secluded. The only method of access to that is via our property.

While I can put dead bodies in our field, or the field next door, without worrying about human involvement, the issue is Gonçalo, our dog.. Gonçalo loves to roam over every inch of both plots. And at the moment, he is still an untrained puppy. His response to sniffing out food on his adventures would simply be to scoff the lot!

So I needed a more secure location to conduct animal cadaver decomposition experiments. And here it is.

This was constructed so that the two dogs upstairs could be taken to the pound, and left there to have a chance to pee and poo. The reality is that this compound has almost never been used. The two dogs upstairs simply do their toilet on the veranda, one shared by the family upstairs, including two grandchildren. Yuk!

The dogs upstairs never get taken for walks. The main issue is them running away off-lead, and nobody can be bothered to walk them on a lead. In contrast our dog, Gonçalo, is currently enjoying 4 walks/day, all off the lead, around the adventure trail in our large garden. Occasionally he wanders away to explore for a few minutes on his own, but it is not an issue because he always returns.

So we have this large, purpose built pen standing empty, and that will become my Portelas Body Farm.

It is 3m x 2m, with sides 2m high, and an open top. This will let in nearly all of the contributors to body decomposition that I am currently aware of – ants, beetles, flies, wasps and birds. I am actively working on on an academic research paper into human cadaver decomposition so my ‘known’ list may well grow.

That leaves larger ground based scavengers. I have seen no sign of mice, rats or foxes. When I moved in about a year ago, field mice were a problem in the ground level. The garden has been extensively reworked, which may explain why I have never ever seen one. I would expect mice and rats to be able to get through the grille of the Portelas Body Farm. I will need to check up on whether there are foxes in the Algarve.

There are at least two of our neighbour’s cats which visit our garden often. When the proper time comes, I can investigate their interaction with cadavers by the simple expedient of leaving the Body Farm gate open when our dog, Gonçalo, is safely indoors.

In the Madeleine McCann case, a university expert was brought in to advise on human cadaver decomposition in the Algarve, when Martin Grime and Mark Harrison were searching for her body. Unfortunately, there is no record of this expert’s advice in the PJ Files, so I have another to-do to add to my list of items to research on this angle.

That brings me to the topic of what kind of cadaver I can use in the Portelas Body Farm. It most certainly will not be human, so that I will have to pick up from academic research papers and real-life occurrences what approximates to my areas of interest.

My cadaver has to be whole (not butchered), fresh (not cooked), and to have a gut (for gut bacteria) but that seems to be the entire list of requirements. Scientists haggle over what a cadaver dog alerts to, but I prefer to go by practical results, showing that they alert to a range of animal cadavers, and training them on human cadavers does not prevent them alerting to animal remains. As Gonçalo will never be deployed on a search for a human cadaver, it is a point not worth bothering about.

Here is my candidate list of cadavers at this point in time. Shrimp/prawn/lobster – anything which has not been gutted, which seems to be mainly crustaceans, but sardines may fit the bill. Chicken – the decay cocktail from this is reckoned by scientists to be the closest to human, and we have a person who breeds chickens in our village, so I should be able to buy a non-butchered chicken for an experiment. Then there is goat. There is a large goat farm nearby, so I may be able to get my hands on a suitable cadaver. That leaves suckling pig. I don’t know of anywhere that farms pigs in the vicinity. But I have time to work on sourcing stillborn pig as I work my way through the others.

The Portelas Body Farm is still under development. Come back later to see how it gets on in real-life conditions in the Algarve.


Madeleine v Hurricane Leslie

This may seem like a post about Hurricane Leslie, which left 300,000 homes in Portugal without power over the weekend, but it is actually about cadaver decomposition.

If you want the details of Leslie, they are in English on the BBC at

Hurricane Leslie ripped through the Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, but was downgraded to Tropical Storm Leslie before it hit mainland Portugal. It was originally forecast to batter the south of the country, but it actually made landfall well to the north of Lisbon. The authorities put a warning out to the effect that people should stay indoors between 11pm on Saturday and 4am on Sunday.

As it turned out, here in the Algarve we got 2 hours of rain, fairly heavy, around midnight of Saturday/Sunday, and then Leslie was gone. It is now very grey with rain at times, so it looks like our stunning extended summer has ended.

This rain is extremely welcome. We have had month after month without any rain whatsoever, and the earth was turning to dust. The water will replenish our reservoirs. It will be greeted with relief by our farmers. And for those with cultivated plots, it may cut water bills. The Algarve just needs an awful lot more rain!

A couple of days before Hurricane Leslie arrived the weather was perfect. Our Lagos airfield balloonist may have seen the bad weather forecast. In any event, the chance was taken to squeeze in one more flight.

Hurricane Leslie’s rainy weather brought a major increase in insect activity – ants, flies and wasps. The first two I know to be involved in cadaver decomposition. I will need to check up on wasps. I have seen ants at work on a dead bird and they were mighty fast in reducing it to feathers. The ants here are currently active in migration mode, in order to spread their colonies.

My current preferred site for my Portelas Body Farm will accommodate ants, flies and wasps. The weather on Madeleine’s holiday in May 2007 included at least one event of rain. So I have my starter for 10.

There will be more on the Portelas Body Farm and cadaver decomposition in future posts.

Portelas ablaze 2018

As of the first six days of October, there have already been 586 fires recorded in Portugal. On the 5th October 2018 we witnessed one of these nearby.

I was in the kitchen, absorbed in the mundane task of chopping vegetables for our chicken casserole. Above the noise of the chopping, I gradually became aware of the sound of helicopters, plural. We get the occasional helicopter from Lagos aerodrome, but this was more than one, and the chop-chop-chop f the rotor blades was continuous.

So I downed tools and went onto our veranda for a look-see. Sure enough, across the valley, there was a large fire, and a couple of helicopters carrying buckets of water to douse the blaze.

I presume the helicopters got water refills at Lagos aerodrome, because only minutes would pass between dropping one bucket load and returning with a fresh one,

The fire had already been under concerted helicopter attack, so I was seeing the tail end. And my skills at capturing live-action a long distance away have yet to be developed!

The helicopters were wonderful to watch, because they were doing aerial acrobatics trying to get their approach lined up just right.

And when they had the correct line of attack, it was bombs away.

After that burst of excitement, I headed back into the kitchen to finish prepping our chicken casserole. Our dinner was not going to cook itself.

Madeleine v Operation Grange

Has Operation Grange ground to a halt?

A search today of the Metropolitan Police site for ‘Madeleine McCann’ or ‘Operation Grange’ shows that there is nothing about either on the entire site.

A check using a Facebook page that once deliberately linked to the Madeleine section now produces a 404 page not found error.

The Met prevents the Wayback Machine from capturing its pages, so that does not help with a precise date for the removal of the Madeleine McCann information.

However, it is known that the Operation Grange remit, and the interview given by Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley shortly before the 10th anniversary, had been removed by 1 Oct 2018 latest.

That interview is still available via the Daily Mail, at

Mark Rowley retired in March 2018, so the current changes are not just a bit of timely pruning.

The important fact is that currently there is no published public communication point for Operation Grange, should Grange still exist,

It is possible that Operation Grange is working away in the background, but does not wish to deal with further input from the public. It seems more likely that Grange has ceased to exist.

If that is so, it raises dozens of ‘what next’ questions. More on those another time

Madeleine v Reported Missing

On Monday 24 Sep 2018, BBC1 ran a programme covering the disappearance of 40 year-old Michael Price. This gave a great deal of insight into missing person search procedures in the UK, and puts the search for Madeleine McCann into context.

The programme is currently on the BBC iPlayer at

This is restricted to UK viewers only, which I can’t access, so be warned that my write-up is from memory.

Michael’s partner, Claire, woke up on Easter Saturday, 2017, at her home in Northwich, Chesire, to find he had not returned there overnight. Claire called Michael’s mum, who had not seen her son. So Claire phoned the police to report him missing.

Michael had 4 children he loved, and got on well with his mum and Claire. However, he was under treatment for alcoholism, and he thought he was being pursued by 2 locals.

The description of his clothes was sparse – jeans and a green parka.

Cheshire police managed to pick up bits and pieces. Michael had picked up his prescription medicine, and then was seen on CCTV in a post office, where it looked as if he might have had a drink.

His trail led to an area beside the River Dane, known for drug dealing. Michael had been spotted looking unsteady on his feet and dropping drugs.

Detailed searches were carried out on the route between Claire’s home and Michael’s mum, and those places where he had been sighted. Michael’s prescription medicine was found in 2 places near the River Dane. There was no sign of Michael despite extensive searches, including the use of a helicopter with heat-seeking equipment.

The police were able to rule out the two suspect locals.

The operation followed up on reported sightings of Michael, to no avail.

As time went by, the search operation was effectively called off.

His family became aware that people thought Michael had been found, so they around town taping up missing posters, to make it clear he had not been sighted.

About a year after Michael disappeared, Cheshire police looked at the case again and decided to have another attempt at finding him. This time they brought in a specialist search coordinator. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, so I am going to refer to him as the SSC.

The SSC drafted in two cadaver dogs. These alerted twice, but both times it was to animal remains.

The river was mapped and an anomaly was found. When it was checked out by divers, it was found to be a concrete slab.

The SSC examined the possibility that a body entering the River Dane could have been washed into a larger river it joins, the River Weaver.

Nearing the end of the second operation, with avenues nearly exhausted, the toe of a trainer was spotted near a brook in woodland in Leftwich.

This turned out to be the body of Michael Price. There was no foul play involved. It seemed Michael had slipped down an embankment and died at the bottom.

Portelas – Oktoberfest 2018

The Oktoberfest in Munich started on Saturday 22 Sep 2018,

And I thought I would like to emulate this in Portelas. So I armed myself with a 1 litre glass jug we use for things like fresh lemonade made from our lemon tree. Getting my hands on a 1 litre bottle of beer was easy, though the lager was not German.

So on Sunday afternoon, I poured my litre of lager into my makeshift stein and settled down to watch Arsenal v Everton live on my lounge TV. As an Arsenal supporter, I enjoyed the win over Everton.

But the beer did not go down so well, literally. With a 2 hour duration for the programme, I thought I would get through a litre of lager quite easily. But by the end, I still had a lot of beer in my stein.

Since I have no intention of practising drinking faster, I am going to have to admit to being too old to do Oktoberfest properly.

I am not giving up on the idea of Oktoberfest in Portelas entirely. I simply need to trim it down a bit to a midi-Oktoberfest. That should make it easier to obtain an authentic German lager, and I have been thinking about tapas items to accompany the beer.

There is no stand-out football today or tomorrow, but in the spirit of Oktoberfest, I may have another go tomorrow, when Bayern Munich takes on FC Augsburg.

Madeleine v Corrie McKeague

Corrie McKeague went missing in the early hours of 24 September 2016 in the Bury St Edmunds area of Suffolk, England. Before disappearing, he worked as a Royal Air Force Regiment gunner.

McKeague was last seen on town centre CCTV footage, entering a cul-de-sac which contained a number of wheelie bins. His mobile phone was tracked by masts along a route between Bury St Edmunds and a landfill site near Barton Mills. Suffolk Constabulary were initially reluctant to search the site for McKeague’s remains.

Whilst McKeague’s disappearance remains under investigation and the case continues to attract widespread publicity, the belief by authorities and the family, is that McKeague was crushed to death by the bin lorry and his remains are at the Barton Mills landfill.

Suffolk Constabulary have spent more than £2.1 million investigating McKeague’s disappearance, making it one of the most expensive missing persons investigations that the force has conducted and in the words of Suffolk police, brought unique pressures on the force. The search for McKeague was stood down in March 2018.


McKeague joined the RAF Regiment in 2013 and was posted to No. II Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment based at RAF Honington after his initial Regiment training at the same base. McKeague is a Senior Aircraftman gunner and medic on the squadron.

In January 2017, April Oliver, aged 21, announced that she was pregnant with McKeague’s baby. Neither she nor McKeague were aware of the pregnancy at the time of his disappearance. They had been dating for 5 months. Miss Oliver was on a holiday in America when McKeague disappeared, but cut the holiday short to return to the UK.

On the night of 23 September 2016, McKeague was out drinking with friends in Bury St Edmunds. He had driven himself to the town with the intention of leaving his car overnight. He separated from his friends in the early hours of 24 September, after leaving the Flex nightclub on St Andrews Street South. The doorman at Flex recalls asking McKeague to leave because he was too drunk to stay. He remarked that McKeague was ‘no trouble’ whatsoever and that they chatted afterwards on the street outside. McKeague was in the Mama Mia’s takeaway restaurant, reportedly his usual takeaway restaurant, between 1:15 am and 1:30 am. The last known sighting of McKeague was on CCTV at 3:25 am on Brentgovel Street, walking into the “horseshoe area” where there were a number of wheelie bins. There was no footage of him ever emerging. CCTV footage also suggested that McKeague had slept briefly in a doorway before waking up and moving on. It is not believed that he intended to walk back to his base, RAF Honington, which is 10 miles (16 km) north east of the town.

Nicola Urquhart, his mother, has stated that her son has never walked back to Honington on any previous occasions. However, leaving on his own, getting food and sleeping for a short time have all been cited by his friends and his mother as something McKeague has done in the past.

McKeague was not reported missing until the 26 September (the following Monday) when he failed to report for work. Since he was reported missing, the Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue team (SULSAR) have been involved with the police in searching the area around Bury St Edmunds and Honington alongside the RAF’s own search and rescue teams which have been bolstered by searches involving police helicopters.

Early theories

On the morning of McKeague’s disappearance, his Nokia Lumia mobile phone had moved from Bury St Edmunds to Barton Mills, some 12 miles (19 km) to the north west, along the corridor of the A1101 road. Phone data indicated that this journey took 28 minutes, which meant that it could not have been carried the distance by someone walking on foot. In October, Suffolk Constabulary seized a bin lorry that was said to have contained his mobile but the line of enquiry led to nothing. It was noted that the bin lorry seized was only carrying a weight of 15 kilograms (33 lb) and so could not have been carrying McKeague himself[ as he weighs around 90 kilograms (200 lb). This led to searches being carried out along the lorry’s route between the two towns. The mobile phone was either switched off at 8:00 am, ran out of battery power or was damaged and it was not found.

One focus of the investigation has been whether or not someone gave a lift to McKeague as he was walking back to his base. His mother stated that Corrie would have accepted a lift if offered to him, as he would offer a lift if he was driving and saw someone walking on their own. She also appealed for anyone who might have given him a lift to come forward, even if something untoward had happened. Police believed that McKeague was not in Bury St Edmunds.

The investigation also covered parts of the Hollow Road Industrial Estate in Bury St Edmunds and Great Livermere, a small village close to RAF Honington on McKeague’s supposed route back to his base. Along with the British Transport Police, the Suffolk Constabulary searched along railway lines in the area and some of the roads were closed to enable thorough searches.

CCTV evidence

In November 2016, it was revealed that in the two hours between 3:00 am and 5:00 am on the morning of 24 September 2016, 39 people could be seen on the same CCTV camera as the last one to record McKeague’s last movements. Despite repeated inquiries and appeals, 23 of these people could not be identified.

Urquhart statement and mobile phone

In December 2016, Urquhart publicly went on record as saying that Suffolk Constabulary were not properly investigating her son’s disappearance. The appeal fund raised in Corrie’s name had attracted funds of more than £50,000 by the end of December 2016 and Urquhart was considering hiring a private investigator to pursue lines of enquiry which she believed the police had failed to follow.

In January 2017, the back of a mobile phone was found close to where the last signal from McKeague’s phone was detected. However, as the part contained “no essential components”, such as a SIM card or any electronic parts, the police said it would be impossible to link it with the disappearance and that no further analysis would be performed. However, police announced they were examining McKeague’s activities on swinger websites. His family had provided Suffolk Constabulary with his username for at least one site.

Landfill search

In February 2017, police started searching the landfill previously identified as being the last place his mobile phone was located when it connected to a tower. This was in the belief that McKeague had slept in a bin in the horseshoe area and had been crushed to death when the bin lorry collected the contents of the bin and transported them to the landfill site. Whilst Suffolk Police stated that McKeague had gone and slept in a bin in the Horseshoe area, his family said that they did not believe this version of events. They point to the fact that he was proud of his appearance and if necessary, he could have gone and slept in his car which wasn’t very far away.

The search was planned to cover 1,100 square yards (920 m2) to a depth of 25 feet (7.6 m) and was expected to take ten weeks. By May, they had sifted through 3,000 tonnes of waste.

On 5 June, it was announced that police were finding “items from the right time” and place of McKeague’s disappearance. About 4,430 tonnes of waste had been searched.

On 21 July 2017, 20 weeks into the landfill search, Detective Superintendent Katie Elliott, of Suffolk Constabulary, announced at a press conference, that the search of the landfill had come to an end with no positive results on McKeague. A human skull was found at the site in April 2017, but was found to be from a female and dated back to before 1945. Police managed to trace the person who had sent it to landfill and they deemed there to be no suspicious circumstances.

Between February and July, the police had sifted through 6,500 tonnes of waste at the landfill site. The search will now focus on incinerated waste and the police will also initiate a comprehensive review of the investigation. Nicola Urquhart also publicly acknowledged the possibility that McKeague may never be found but has criticised the police’s decision to hand the landfill site back to the owners and sought an injunction to prevent the area where his remains are believed to be from being disturbed. Police were criticized for not continuing the search as they had stated that it was not about the money being spent on the landfill dig. A former police officer stated that if it was not about the money, then there was no reason to not go searching. Dr. Stuart Hamilton, a forensic pathologist, stated that if McKeague’s body had been in the bin lorry and it was crushed, then the rate of decomposition would have been faster than normal for a human body.

In August 2017, it was revealed that police were also sifting through “incinerated material” that was transferred from the landfill site. Occasionally, waste from the landfill is taken to Red Lodge transfer station and then on to an incinerator at Great Blakenham near Ipswich.

Release of CCTV images

On 21 September 2017, Suffolk Police released four CCTV images of people who they said could have been witnesses to McKeague’s disappearance twelve months previously.

Second landfill search

In October 2017, Suffolk Police announced another search would be started at the landfill site at Milton in Cambridgeshire. This search would focus on an area adjacent to the previous search area, but believed to contain waste taken to the site around the time that McKeague disappeared. A review of the investigation into McKeague’s disappearance by a specialist police unit based in the East Midlands, supports Suffolk Police’s theory that McKeague climbed into a bin in the ‘Horseshoe’ area of Bury St Edmunds and was brought by a bin truck to the landfill site at Milton.

Suffolk Police announced on 26 March 2018 that the search for the missing airman would be stood down as there were “no realistic lines of enquiry left”. The day after the Suffolk Polices’ winding down of the case, McKeague’s mother and brothers appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show to highlight what they cite as “inconsistencies” with the raw data referring to the weight carried in the bin lorry. McKeague’s mother stated that either the data was manipulated or “someone is lying to police”.

In April 2018, Corrie McKeague’s father, Martin, acknowledged that his son was probably dead and that he hoped to hold a memorial service in the summer of 2018.

His father later released a statement on social media that said McKeague was in the Suffolk waste disposal system somewhere but that “his remains are essentially irretrievable”. Martin McKeague acknowledged that his son was prone to sleeping in and on top of bins and that he was in the bin that the bin truck delivered to the waste site on the morning of 24 September 2016.


A retired senior Metropolitan Police detective, Colin Sutton, went on record stating that McKeague’s disappearance had not been intentional, as making preparations always leaves a digital footprint. Sutton also said that McKeague was shown walking into a cul-de-sac that was blocked off by a high wall and a fence and that there was no CCTV of him leaving it. He doubted whether McKeague would have been aware of where the CCTV cameras were located which, Sutton said, was also indicative of not leaving intentionally. The CCTV cameras, operated by the town council, did not provide 100% coverage. Even after a review of privately operated CCTV recordings, there were no further sightings of McKeague. McKeague’s uncle, Tony Wringe, said that the area off Brentgovel Street that McKeague was shown walking into on CCTV, had been physically tested and it was shown to be impossible for him not to have been recorded on CCTV if he had left on foot. Sutton said that his guess was that there was another person, or other people, involved in McKeague’s disappearance.

In November 2016, the family issued a statement on Facebook saying that they were unhappy with the police investigation. McKeague’s uncle, Tony Wringe, said that “This is a Major Investigation Team in name not function”. The family also said that a decision not to search a landfill in the Barton Mills area for McKeague’s phone had been wrong.

Police costs

By December 2017, Suffolk Police revealed that the inquiry had cost more than £1.2 million as of July 2017, more than 1,400 tonnes of earth and waste had been sorted in the second search at the landfill and that they had assessed over 2,000 hours of CCTV imagery. By January 2018, the total cost of the search was £2.1 million; with Suffolk Police having an annual budget of £122 million.