Madeleine – body decomposition and discovery

If Madeleine was killed and her body was deposited on the surface of the ground in the Algarve, what is the likelihood that her corpse would be found? As she has not been found, that leads on to consideration of body decomposition in the Algarve. This is purely hypothetical re Madeleine’s possible demise, but reality permits a reasoned analysis.

I know of two relevant named cases – Michael Price, who disappeared and was found on the surface of the ground in England, and Luís Miguel Grilo, who disappeared and was found on the surface of the ground in Avis, to the east of Lisbon.

This article focuses instead on two unnamed males found after suicide by hanging, in Italy. I have included one photo of human body decomposition that is relevant to this analysis. If you are easily upset by such graphics, please stop reading this post now.

The norm for studying human body decomposition in scholarly circles appears to be to use pigs as a substitute. These are thought to decompose in a manner similar to human cadavers. In this Italian report however, the dead bodies were both young male suicides, with death by hanging.

The full article is in English in the journal Forensic Sciences Research, at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/20961790.2017.1418622

Both bodies were found 34 days after death (PostMortem Interval – PMI). Both were in isolated wooded areas. But the decomposition had proceeded in quite different ways.

In the first case, the body had remained suspended, about 1m above the ground. This reduced the number of insect maggots able to access the body – they dropped off onto the ground. The upper torso was unclothed, and that in turn had led to drying out (dessication by sun and wind) and mummification.

I see no reason to suspect Madeleine McCann was suspended, so this first case is of limited interest, merely highlighting the differences that occur compared with a body lying on the surface of the ground, at a different ambient temperature.

In the second instance, the head had come clean off the torso, so both head and body were lying on the ground. This separation was attributed to insect activity, which starts with the soft parts of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, and proceeds down the throat.

In this case the body was fully clothed, but insects had had complete access to to the corpse at higher ambient temperatures, and the remains were nearly skeletal.

The decomposition process depends on ambient temperature, and a nearby weather station recorded an average of 25.1C, a high of 36.0C and a low of 12.0C for the 34 days in question. The key measure used is accumulated degree days (ADD), and for this case where putrefaction was the driver, the ADD score was significantly higher than that for the mummified one (dessication). In plain English, it was warmer over the 34 days after death.

I am no expert on insects, so I cannot say whether insect types in Italy are similar to those in the Algarve. However, the report rattles off several insect types as if these are fairly standard in human cadaver decomposition. So I am working with that assumption for now, at least until further reading confirms or changes this.

The four relevant examples I am aware of (the two here, plus Grilo and Price) are all lacking in detail regarding body discovery. The only scrap of knowledge I can garner is that discovery was not the result of large-scale predator activity. At the risk of sounding flippant, there were no buzzards circling in the air, hovering over a corpse. Until I can ascertain the precise reasons for discovery, it also seems unlikely that this was associated with insect activity.

In the case of the two Italian suicides, it appears that remoteness was a key factor in selecting the sites, which may explain why the bodies went undiscovered for 34 days after death.

One other point in the report that strikes me as significant is the difference between scientific test conditions, where temperature is controlled and steady, and real life, where the temperature fluctuates significantly over the course of 24 hours.

My Portelas Body Farm is open to the elements, so I will have a real-life 24 hour fluctuating cycle, but that means I have no actual control over the average temperature, the high, the low, or the accumulated degree days measure.

It’s very early days on this particular analysis, but so far, it suggests that the search conducted by the GNR for a body in the week following Madeleine’s disappearance was unlikely to find a corpse simply deposited on the ground in a remote location.

What I need to check next is on the insect populations in the Algarve in general, and in the Portelas Body Farm (aka my back yard) in particular.

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Madeleine – the house on the hilltop

Mark Harrison, National Search Adviser, produced a search proposal for Guillhermino Encamação, the Algarve Regional Director of the Portuguese Judicial Police. This proposal was dated 23 July 2007.

The emphasis in the search had changed, to one where concealment or disposal of a corpse was the consideration.

That search proposal contains an odd statement. “An inhibiting factor is that since the disappearance of the child [Madeleine] an old empty house adjacent to the Trig Point on the Rocha Negra has been demolished and all rubble removed. If she was concealed within this property the search would be unlikely to detect her now.”

I was under the impression that this would be a scenario where Martin Grime’s dogs, Eddie and Keela, would be deployed, but I am not the National Search Adviser, and Mark Harrison was.

I have visited the trig point and not seen anything that might equate to a demolished house, so where was this house on the hilltop? It turns out that there are two locations to consider.

Google Earth gives clear views of the area on 22 June 2007 and 5 Oct 2013. The 22 June 2007 date is important, because it is a month before Mark Harrison’s report. The 2013 date simply helps to make sense of the 2007 images.

Here is one house on the hilltop in 2013.

This is on the Boavista complex, but judging by its gate it is not open to members of the golf club. It is a private, high-end luxury villa, possibly belonging to one of the owners of Boavista.

Here is the same property in 2007, one month before Mark Harrison’s report.

This has extensive foundations laid, plus structures that may be for underfloor heating. Madeleine McCann disappeared on 3 May 2007. The photo was taken 6 weeks after she vanished. An earlier photo does make it look as if there was an older property on-site. However, 6 weeks is simply not enough time to demolish the old structure, dispose of the rubble, dig new foundations and build to the level seen in the June 2007 photo. This is not Mark Harrison’s house on the hilltop, so it is time to look at the other contender.

This is a clubhouse that was built in 2007, here shown as it looked in 2013. It appears to be at the final hole of the golf course. It is on a prime location that overlooks the valley down to Luz. And here it is in relation to the private villa, also in 2013.

The key photo is from 22 June 2007, shortly before Mark Harrison’s report.

At that point in time, the foundations of a previous building were being removed. The photo suggests that there was a basement area, which would have formed a good hiding place for a body, at least until the construction work started.

The photo also suggests that the previous structure was quite large. I don’t have any information about this previous property, so I need to do a bit of digging. The building seems to have been extensive, and it was located on a prime spot overlooking the valley. I am intrigued as to its story, and why it fell into such disrepair.

The following screen shot is a little earlier, from October 2006. Despite being extremely fuzzy, it reinforces the idea that the previous structure was indeed large and substantial.

Where is the Time Team when you need it most?

Madeleine – Paulo Rebelo 2018

This is a brief update on Paulo Rebelo, the detective who took over in the Madeleine McCann case when Gonçalo Amaral was removed.

I have not tried to follow Rebelo’s career development. I found this fragment by pure chance because it appears in a current murder investigation that I have been tracking. The video contains a 7 second section where Rebelo explains, in Portuguese, the financial details of a family firm. It is hardly riveting stuff, and the following photo says all you need to know about Paulo Rebelo in 2018.

The active murder case is the Grilo investigation, and I intend to do a post or two on it in future. It offers certain insights into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, plus it happens to be a case of human body decomposition, which is where my interest started.

The principal actors are triathlete Luís Miguel Grilo, who was murdered, his wife Rosa Grilo, and her lover, António Joaquim. Also in the plot are 3 extremely threatening men, one white, one coffee coloured, and one black, and a connection to Angola plus a bag of diamonds.

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 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45853847

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.

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 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1453035/Assistant-Commissioner-Mark-Rowley-missing-Maddie-McCann.html

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 https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0blqjw0/reported-missing-series-2-episode-4

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.