Murder of Joana Cipriano

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Joana Isabel Cipriano
Born (1996-05-31)31 May 1996
Disappeared 12 September 2004 (aged 8)
Figueira, Portugal
Status Not Found
Nationality Portuguese
Parent(s) Leonor Cipriano (mother)
Investigating force Polícia Judiciária, Portimão
Charge Murder
Convicted Leonor Cipriano (mother), João Cipriano (maternal uncle)

Joana Isabel Cipriano (born 31 May 1996) disappeared on 12 September 2004 from Figueira, a village near Portimão in the Algarve region of Portugal. An investigation by the Polícia Judiciária, Portugal's criminal police, concluded that she had been murdered by her mother, Leonor Cipriano, and her mother's brother, João Cipriano, after witnessing them engaged in incestuous sex. Her body was never found.[1]

The mother and uncle confessed to police in October 2004; the uncle said he had cut the girl's body into pieces before disposing of it somewhere in Spain.[2] Joana's mother withdrew her confession the day after signing it, alleging that she had been beaten during a 48-hour-long interrogation. The police officers accounted for the bruising on the mother's face and body by maintaining that she had thrown herself down some stairs in the police station in an effort to commit suicide.[3] Both the mother and uncle were convicted of murder and sentenced to 16 years in jail.[4] It was the first murder trial in Portuguese legal history to take place without the discovery of a body.[5]

Five officers were charged with a variety of offences as a result of the allegations of assault; three were acquitted.[6] One of the two officers who was convicted, Chief Inspector Gonçalo Amaral, led the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the British girl who went missing in May 2007 from the nearby resort of Praia da Luz. Amaral was not present during the alleged assault, but was accused of having covered up for other officers; he was convicted of having falsified police documents in the case and received an 18-month suspended sentence.[7]

Several similarities between the cases—both girls vanished without trace within 7 miles (11 km) and less than three years of each other, in both cases officers failed to secure the crime scene, both mothers mounted campaigns to find their daughters and both women were accused of involvement—prompted Joana's family to appeal in 2008 for police to investigate whether there was a link between the disappearances.[5]

Disappearance and charges[edit]

External image
Leonor Cipriano, holding a poster of her daughter.

Joana, eight years old at the time, was last seen at around 8 pm on the evening she disappeared, after being sent to buy milk and a tin of tuna from a local store. A neighbour saw her around 200 yards from her house, walking back from the store. Her mother launched a local campaign to find her daughter, distributing posters around the neighbourhood.[5]

The prosecution argued that Joana was killed because she had seen her mother and João Cipriano, her mother's brother, having sex. Leonor Cipriano confessed to killing her daughter after nearly 48 hours of continuous interrogation. Her brother confessed to having assaulted Joana, and said he had cut her body into small pieces, placed her inside a fridge, then put the fridge inside an old car that was taken to Spain to be crushed and burned.[2] When he was asked if he had sexually abused her, he said, "I did not harm her, I only killed her."[8]


Allegations of police misconduct[edit]

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Bruising on the mother's face after she was interviewed by police.

Leonor Cipriano retracted her confession the day after making it, claiming she had been beaten. She suffered extensive bruising to her face and body, which the police said was caused by her throwing herself down some stairs in the police station in an effort to kill herself.[3] Five officers, including Gonçalo Amaral, head of the regional Polícia Judiciária in Portimão at the time, were charged with a number of offences. The indictment alleged that several of them had kicked her, hit her with a cardboard tube, put a plastic bag over her head, and made her kneel on glass ashtrays.[5]

Three officers, Leonel Marques, Paulo Pereira Cristovao and Paulo Marques Bom, were acquitted of torture.[9] Amaral was not present at the time of the alleged beating but was accused of having covered up for the other officers, which he denied.[10] He was convicted of perjury in May 2009 for having falsified documents in the case, and received an 18-month suspended sentence.[7] Another officer, António Nunes Cardoso, was also found guilty of having falsified documents and received a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence.[9]

Comparison to McCann case[edit]

The village of Figueira is only seven miles from Praia da Luz, where Madeleine McCann disappeared on 3 May 2007.[11] In both cases the mothers launched campaigns to find their daughters and in both cases the local Polícia Judiciária investigated the possibility that the mothers had killed their daughters.[4]

A child protection specialist, Mark Williams-Thomas, who believes that Joana's and Madeleine's disappearances are related, said that the disappearance of two children unknown to each other, within a period of four years in a seven-mile radius, would be a huge coincidence, especially considering that Portugal is a small country with few abductions.[11] Before Joana's disappearance, the previous first-degree murder of a child in the Algarve region was in November 1990 and involved a British girl, nine-year-old Rachel Charles, who was abducted and murdered in Albufeira. Her body was found three days later; a British mechanic, Michael Cook, a friend of the family, was arrested and convicted.[12] Leandro Silva, the common-law husband of Leonor Cipriano, said in 2007 that "the only difference between the McCanns and us is that we don't have money."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paul Hamilos and Brendan de Beer, "Detective leading hunt for Madeleine sacked after blast at UK police", The Guardian, 3 October 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Prosecution unveils horror of girl’s death", The Portugal News, 14 May 2005.
  3. ^ a b David Rose, "Lies, beatings, secret trials: the dark side of police handling Madeleine case", The Daily Mail, 16 September 2007.
  4. ^ a b Fiona Govan, "The detectives working as the world watches", The Daily Telegraph, 26 May 2007.
    • Danny Collins, Vanished, John Blake, 2008 (paperback edition).
  5. ^ a b c d Alex Watts, "'Disturbing Similarities' With Madeleine", Sky News, 12 May 2008.
  6. ^ Fiona Govan, "The detectives working as the world watches", The Daily Telegraph, 28 May 2007.
  7. ^ a b "McCann detective guilty of perjury", Press Association, 22 May 2009.
  8. ^ Sara Marques, "Eu não lhe fiz mal, só a matei", IOLDiário, 5 September 2007.
  9. ^ a b "Maddy police chief falsified evidence", The Olive Press, 2 June 2009.
  10. ^ Paul Hamilos and Brendan de Beer, "Detective leading hunt for Madeleine sacked after blast at UK police", The Guardian, 3 October 2007.
  11. ^ a b Alex Watts, "Girl's Case 'May Solve McCann Mystery'", Sky News, 14 September 2007.
  12. ^ Neil Tweedie and Richard Edwards, "Have police failed Madeleine?", The Daily Telegraph, 12 May 2007.
  13. ^ Fabiola Antezana, "Detective in McCann Case Investigated For Beating Convicted Child Murderer", ABC News, 26 September 2007.