Gonk on holiday – birthday bash

Just after Christmas 2018, my wife and I went on our first holiday together for 7 years. Our puppy Gonçalo came with us, to celebrate his first birthday.

We had one week away in a villa that we have visited around 8 times in the last 15 years. It is on the Eastern side of the Algarve, miles beyond Faro, so it obviously has no connection to Madeleine McCann. Or does it?

I deliberately wanted a week away where I did nothing about Madeleine McCann. You are missing lots of photos that just might help you explain her disappearance, because I deliberately chose to NOT spend our holiday documenting such items of interest. It was to be Gonk’s birthday bash, and our first break in years.

But I cannot switch my brain off.

Gonçalo was good as gold. It took us 2 hours on the EN125 to get there. Then 2 hours to get back. No pees, no poos, Plus excellent behaviour. And Tthat gave me plenty of opportunity to look at the scenery on both sides of the EN125.

I found that I was espying every mobile phone mast along the route – singletons and clusters. And water towers, because where there is a water tower, there is a phone installation.

At the villa, which is just north of Olhão, I took Gonçalo out to explore his new domain. That meant 4 walkies a day, each lasting half an hour or more. Plenty of new smells for Gonçalo to savour, and the villa plot is enormous, so plenty of new territory for him to get familiarised with. He loved it.

Our main failure on the trip was that the restaurants in Olhão were crammed with customers both inside and out, so we couldn’t get somewhere quiet to bring Gonçalo with us. Our single meal out was in the drive-through of Olhão McDonalds! Fortunately, I enjoy cooking at home, and the little shops in our nearest village were well stocked. The meat from the village butcher was particularly superb!

All in all things fitted together well. My wife was busy on her phone and PC. I had deliberately left my PC behind to get a break, so I was happy concocting snacks and meals in the kitchen. While Gonçalo was pleased to go exploring and adventuring in the villa grounds.

As I’ve said, the villa plot is enormous, and it is on a hillside. There a large flattish interior portion, used as an Algarve garden. That means it is low maintenance, it is stuffed with exotic plants, and there is always something in bloom, even on New Year’s Day. Beyond this garden, there is a huge extended area, that is hilly, with gullies, dense trees, and tough scrub.

As Gonçalo dragged me around the terrain, I found I was wondering how many bodies I could hide there, and whether a police search of the type used for Madeleine McCann would find them. I reckon that the number I could hide is around 20 cadavers. That is on just one single plot.

At some point in the future, I need to go back to Luz to make an inventory of the ‘wastelands’ within the primary search zone for Madeleine, The term used out here is ‘land banking’. In other words, you buy anything from a smallish plot to a vast area, with no intention of developing it immediately. You simply squirrel it away, and let the others get on with building around it, thereby increasing the value of your plot. The mound searched by Operation Grange in central Luz in 2014 fits that description perfectly. Called ‘wasteland’, in reality it is an extremely valuable location that has been land banked.

But let us return to the subject of the villa near Olhão, and Gonçalo’s first birthday and first holiday. We went out onto one of many patios around the villa, in order to have tea/coffee and just a little something to eat, in the sunshine. This is Gonçalo saying “Are there any more snacks?”.

The early morning refreshments were over. Gonçalo likes a small sip of tea, but even that was gone. So Gonçalo looked at me and said. “The weather is wonderful. We’re refuelled. Come on you old bag of bones. There is exploring and adventuring to be done. It’s time for walkies!”

So we went for another walky. There were so many potential cadaver sites to check out.

P.S. Please look at the sky in the photographs. We were sunbathing on Gonk’s holiday on New Year’s Day. The weather when Madeleine McCann disappeared is another topic that I am working on.


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 – the magnificent six – Heri

Heriberto Janosch González is next on my list of six people I consider to have more expertise than most in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

I have met Heri, and I consider him to be an affable man, easy to spend time in his company. This does not mean I agree with his views on the case. But where his views differed from mine, we were able to get on amicably, and explore alternative theories. I learned quite a lot about the disappearance in a very short time from Heri, so I am grateful.

Heri has recently told me that he has given up on the Madeleine McCann case. He has reduced his blog to just a summary page, at http://espacioexterior.blogspot.pt/ This is a shame, because his blog contained a vast amount of useful information.

It would appear that within a few months my Magnificent Six has dropped to just 4 active members. Though I have been on the case since only mid-2014, I have already seen a number of stalwarts fall by the wayside. Often, information disappears with such a departure, and unless you have a site copy, you are somewhat stuffed.

I am nowhere near to giving up on Madeleine’s disappearance, but if I reach that stage, this blog will be left intact to float off into the mists of time.

Heri’s blog still contains both a phone number and an email address. I will not copy those in case Heri chooses to remove them from his page in future.

When we met, Heri was living in Madrid. He spoke in English that was not fluent, but it was a lot better than my night school Spanish, so we conversed in 95% English and 5% Spanish.

One final point on Heri. I outlined just one potential theory to him, quite different to Heri’s. By that time, I had given up on sending information to Operation Grange, due to the persistent lack of response. Heri urged me to send this quite different theory to Operation Grange. Eventually I did. As usual, I got no response. But in the run-up to the 10th anniversary, I got a communication from Heri that Panorama wanted to talk to me. That talk took place, and one chunk of the Panorama 10th anniversary special appears to be based around my theory. I presume the conduit was Heri, as he was interviewed on that programme.

Madeleine – the Farm Of The Poppy

As it was the 99th anniversary of the end of WW1 recently, I thought it would be interesting to show our home – The Farm Of The Poppy.

Portugal was neutral in WW2. It tried to be neutral in WW1, but it got sucked into the conflict. Madeira and the Azores were shelled by U-boats, and the Portuguese sent artillery units to fight on the Western Front. There is a war memorial to the Portuguese dead in one of the main squares of Lagos, and I visited that on Luz Tour #7.

By pure coincidence, our new home is called The Farm Of The Poppy. Note poppy is singular. The plot almost certainly was farm land once, but poppies were never a crop. It is simply a pleasant name to stick on the front of the house.

The connection, or non-connection, to Madeleine is simple. It takes about 25 minutes to get from here to Luz. Our US visitor has just made that journey, with the aim of watching an Algarve sunset. After a walk on the beach they ate at the Paraíso, the restaurant used by the Tapas 7 on the afternoon of May 2007.

I have not checked the search radius that was used for Madeleine, but I’m pretty confident we are outside of it. So think 25 minutes by car, and let me talk you through The Farm Of The Poppy.

The plot faces roughly south-east at the rear. Look near dead-centre and there are 3 larger trees and a shiny metallic object. Those are roughly 120m or so down the garden, and represent the half-way mark.

There are lots of plots in and around Luz that make our garden look tiny, so do your own arithmetic on how many men would be require to search just one house and one plot of the thousands within the search perimeter.

The Farm Of The Poppy is on 4 levels.

At the bottom are 3 ageing, decrepit outhouses. They were stuffed with the previous owner’s junk. Now they are stuffed with our family’s junk. I could hide more or less anything human-sized in there. There is also in there somewhere a commercial-sized chiller. And the outhouses have a working electricity supply. Though the chiller is not in use at the moment because it is under so much junk.

By the way, the thing in the outhouse that looks like a small car is a tiny BMW look-alike, bought for our 2-year-old’s birthday.

Just above the outbuildings, you can see the underbuild. That’s where us oldies live. Most of it is obscured by our lemon tree in the centre. We converted what was a large garage to be our lounge. Before that, it was filled with yet more of the previous owner’s junk.

Above that, with the 4 arches, is the main level, where the kids live. Although that looks high at the rear, it is actually at road level on the other side. That layer is 3-bed, lounge, kitchen-diner etc., and I suspect was once the only real living area in The Farm Of The Poppy.

Perched on the roof is the final level, another bedroom with two small windows on this side. It has larger windows on the other side, which is cooler in summer.

This is around 150m down the garden. The shiny, metallic object from the first photo turns out to be a light trailer. The brown heaps on either side are the remnants of a row of trees that have been trimmed. One could conceal a large object under that lot, and finding it would take a great deal of manpower.

This is the bottom of the garden, perhaps 250m from the house. Most of our land is unfarmed but flat, so concealing a body requires digging harder than Scotland Yard’s Operation Grange did in 2014. But if you look closely, you will see other challenges. Much of the east and south sides of our property are unfenced. We simply have a ditch and bulrushes. A searcher’s nightmare.

Our neighbour’s property poses different challenges. Three houses, building supplies, a chicken coop, and a goat pen. Our house did have a pig pen, but it had to be removed on order of the Câmara.

All photos were taken on he 99th anniversary of the end of WW1. I will commemorate the 100th anniversary with something a little more sombre and respectful. This was simply a test run to check out some of my planning.

One final thought. If we had lived here in June 2014, when Operation Grange was digging up central Luz, I would have had no reason to visit the dig. Consequently I would not have got interested at all in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. It would simply be an event that passed me by a fair distance away.

Madeleine v Algarve soil

Here is the second of two attempts to dig a hole in the Algarve by purely human effort.

On this occasion, the requirement was to dig a small channel to fit a tiny pipe to repair our irrigation system. We’ve got water, we’ve got pipes, we’ve got a garden and we have fruit trees. But the odd pipe is broken and needs to be replaced.

Bear in mind the June 2014 dig by Operation Grange in central Luz. That was fantasy. This is reality. It is a miniscule trench that was dug into soil which was heavily watered beforehand to soften it up.

This is roughly what you can dig by hand on the Algarve, based on a lot of sweat, a lot of time, and a lot of noise. A channel to fit a small irrigation tube.

This ‘trench’ was dug by someone who is – as young as Smithman – physically fit – and who had plenty of peace and quiet to muscle through it. The result is a channel where you can bury a miniscule pipe.

I still have not worked out a valid reason why Operation Grange dug up the Mound in June 2014. Not one.

Madeleine – Picanhas Grill

Yesterday, Wednesday 19 Sep 2017, I was doing a bit of Luz Tour #7 with a visitor. Though the actual ‘tour’ part was in Lagos, I ended up in Luz on Rua 25 de Abril. My driver the took me through the centre of Luz and out on the road east towards Lagos.

Shortly after we exited Luz we came to Picanhas Brazilian Grill, and we were both hungry, so we decided to pop in for the buffet. I am not normally a fan of buffets, but this place has a good reputation, and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.

Back in 2007 this was the Restaurante Valverde. The GNR police officers who first responded (Nelson da Costa and José Roque) said they were in Valverde when the hurry up call came through to them from GNR Lagos. Valverde is used for the whole of the area from where the M537 exits Luz until it hits the N125, so the GNR car could have been anywhere on that stretch, rather than near the restaurant. That makes a time-of-arrival calculation more complex.

The restaurant has a more recent involvement in the Madeleine McCann case. When Operation Grange was digging up the Mound in central Luz, there was a day when the British officers took their lunch break at Picanhas.

I was not in Picanhas that day, but other members of my family were. The estimate was around 30 officers trooping in all in one batch while my family were getting ready to leave the restaurant.

This shows where Operation Grange officers sat. They used the two rows nearest the camera, and had all the tables pushed together to form continuous rows.

I have no idea whether DCI Andy Redwood was with them. My family is totally disinterested in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann so there was little point in asking them.

The photo shows just a small part of the interior of Picanhas. The place is cavernous and there is a dance floor which gets used every Saturday evening.

I dare say when I was taking photos of the interior, some of the guests and staff must have been puzzled by my antics. But I had a jolly time around the marina in the sun in Lagos in the morning, followed by a tasty Brazilian buffet for lunch, with a couple of photos thrown in for good measure.

Grégory Villemin via Anne Guedes

Anne Guedes dropped a link into my blog about the cold case story of Grégory Villemin. The programme was a French talk show discussion of the case. It happens to have a short section on the Madeleine McCann incident. I made the mistake of not doing some research on Grégory beforehand, so I was labouring under French that I learned over 40 years ago and have seldom used since. The case is also known as Little Grégory, the Grégory Affair, and the French equivalents thereof.

The Villemins had been getting unsigned letters and anonymous phone calls from a male threatening revenge against Grégory’s father, Jean-Marie Villemin. It appears that in France, the sender of such anonymous letters becomes The Crow – Le Corbeau.

On 16 Oct 1984, the Villemins received a phone call, saying the boy had been taken and thrown in a river. Grégory’s body was found in a river 7km away. His hands and feet had been bound with rope.

On 17th Oct 1984 the Villemins received another anonymous letter stating “I have taken revenge”.

Based on handwriting analysis, a cousin of the father came under suspicion. He was released without charges, but Jean-Marie publicly vowed to kill him. On 25 Mar 1985, Jean-Marie shot dead his cousin, Bernard Laroche, and served 5 years in prison for murder.

Also due to handwriting analysis, Grégory’s mother, Christine Villemin, came under suspicion, but was eventually cleared.

At various points in time, the case has been re-examined, due to advances in DNA testing.

In June 2017, based on new evidence, 3 people were arrested. One has since been cleared. The other two, a great-aunt and great-uncle have invoked their right to silence.

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Gr%C3%A9gory_Villemin

The programme is at https://youtu.be/_r5nMrWcij8 The section on Madeleine McCann starts around 46.30.

I do not intend getting involved in Grégory’s case. I only do Madeleine’s case because Operation Grange conducted an expensive, farcical dig in Luz in June 2014. However, Grégory’s story is sufficiently interesting to do this single post.

My thanks to Anne for bringing this case and the programme link to my attention.