"There's also the feeling that anybody who could have possibly been interrogated has already said all that could be said," one public official said of the 2007 disappearance of the British 3-year-old.
In Praia da Luz, the words "McCann circus" have been graffitied below "Stop" on some traffic signs.
The stark message reflects the feelings of frustration and ennui that have built up among some residents of the town over the 13 years since a British toddler, Madeleine McCann, vanished from her family's rented holiday apartment when she was 3 years old.
This month, journalists and camera crews returned to Praia da Luz, in Portugal's southern Algarve region, after German authorities identified a 43-year-old German sex offender as the main suspect in Madeleine's abduction and said they were investigating.
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The suspect, who was named as Christian B., is in prison in Germany on a sentence for a drug offense. He is also appealing a conviction for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American in her home, which was also in Praia da Luz.
His phone records reveal he was still in the town the evening of May 3, 2007, when Madeleine was left sleeping alongside her twin siblings, while her parents and their friends had a tapas dinner at a restaurant within their holiday resort.
But while the trickle of information about Christian B. and his past whereabouts and crimes has made the newspaper headlines, it is difficult to find anyone in Praia da Luz who has welcomed the revival of the police investigation. Few also sound hopeful about its outcome.
"People have got tired of listening to all the theories about Madeleine, and I think that it is understandable that nothing feels very new after 13 years" of various police leads turning out to be cold, said Hugo Pereira, mayor of the municipality that includes Praia da Luz.
"There's also the feeling that anybody who could have possibly been interrogated has already said all that could be said," he added.
Some residents also questioned why significant police and media resources have continued to be devoted to the search for one missing girl while other similar unresolved crimes had in the meantime been archived.
José dos Santos, a local night guard who was working on the evening that Madeleine vanished, said Praia da Luz ranked "much above average" in terms of safety, without any violent crime reported on the properties that he has looked after for decades.
After Madeleine vanished, "everyone helped" to search for her, he said, but nowadays "it is more than normal that everyone is fed up with the boomerang effect every year," resulting from new and diverging police leads.
For a time, Portuguese authorities considered Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, as suspects, but they were formally cleared. Still, dos Santos said many people felt uneasy about special treatment afforded to the parents, who had an audience with the pope at the Vatican a few weeks after Madeleine vanished.
"I think everybody should be treated the same way," he said. "This case had more attention and used more resources from the institutions, both Portuguese and worldwide. Imagine how many parents the pope would have to receive if he received everyone whose children disappear."
Paul Mikhelson, the British owner of a cafe that sits along the town's cobblestone promenade, said some of his employees had been questioned this past week by journalists about a cellphone number reportedly linked to the German suspect, which turned out to be another red herring.
Disappearances had happened more often elsewhere, so "I don't understand why this particular case remains the center of so much attention and we cannot let sleeping dogs lie," Mikhelson said. "I think we all just want this book to get closed now, no matter how it is done."
While living in Portugal, Christian B. held several jobs, including as a hotel waiter, selling newspaper ads, and working at some point for a swimming pool and awning maintenance company, according to German court records.
He also imported and sold cars. Authorities released photos of a Jaguar that he owned, as well as a Volkswagen van.
In the Algarve, authorities said, Christian B. and an unidentified girlfriend rented a white-and-yellow house that is along a dirt track, off the main road that leads to Praia da Luz. Surrounded by scrubland and deep water wells, the house is now vacant.
In another house where the suspect stayed, at the entrance to the inland village of Monte Judeu, the current owners recently put up signs warning journalists against trespassing on private property.
A villager said he would not speak to the media because he did not want to risk "getting my name in the paper and then on a new police list."
He added that "600 feels like more than enough," referring to the 600 people who were considered persons of interest by the police during the course of the investigation.
German police are also looking at whether Christian B. was involved in a few other unresolved missing children cases, including that of a 6-year-old German boy, René Hasee, who disappeared while on a beach in the Algarve in 1996.
Another reopened investigation concerns Inga Gehricke, who was 5 when she disappeared in 2015 near a property that he owned on the outskirts of the German town of Stendhal.
Christian B. has more than a dozen previous convictions, including for assaulting a child in Germany when he was still a teenager. He has also been sentenced for child pornography, drugs trafficking and a series of burglaries, some committed in the Algarve.
According to German court records, he broke into hotels and stole gas from boats moored in local marinas. His conviction for the 2005 rape was partly based on material obtained from his own video camera.
Madeleine and her family stayed in the Ocean Club, a resort owned at the time by a British travel operator, Mark Warner.
The Ocean Club opened in the 1990s, when Praia da Luz was completing its transformation from a sleepy fishing village into an international tourism destination particularly popular with families from northern Europe and still described by the mayor as "our British condominium."
The German police announcement came just as Praia da Luz, which has a resident population of only 3,500 people, was slowly coming back to life after months of lockdown restrictions because of the coronavirus. Portugal's beaches reopened this month.
"The last thing that we need after being hit by the coronavirus is to have the Madeleine case now prove detrimental to the return of tourists," said Mikhelson, the cafe owner.
Ana Campino named her souvenir shop in Praia da Luz "The Thread of History," because she sews the dolls that are on sale. Now, she said, "it's become awful to live in this never-ending story" of the search for Madeleine.
Campino said she still felt plenty of sympathy toward the McCann family because "I know that I would never have given up the fight if I lost one of my own children, and it is very clear to me that Madeleine's parents must find out the truth."
Written by: Raphael Minder
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