Madeleine McCann’s disappearance has puzzled detectives for more than 15 years – but in 2020 a new potential suspect emerged. Now, police are searching a remote reservoir in Portugal’s the Algarve that he used to visit in a renewed effort to shed further light on the case.
German prisoner Christian Brueckner was first named in connection with the unsolved mystery that summer, and officially named as a suspect last year. His yellow and white VW T3 Westfalia campervan was reportedly identified as having been near to the Praia da Luz resort in Portugal where the young girl went missing on May 3, 2007.
Three-year-old Madeleine disappeared from the bed of her holiday apartment while her parents and family friends dined 180 feet away. Her two-year-old twin siblings were also in the apartment she went missing from. Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann have been searching for answers ever since.
The Metropolitan Police took over the investigation, Operation Grange, in 2011 but they hit dead ends. There has not been another significant suspect in the case since 2007 until Brueckner.
Who is Christian Brueckner?
German prisoner Christian Brueckner is a prolific burglar and has been previously convicted for sex crimes against young girls.
He was born in Germany in 1976 and moved to Portugal in his late teens.
It is believed he lived there between 1995 and 2007 working in the food industry.
Brueckner is described as being about 6ft tall, slim and white with short blond hair.
What are the accusations against him?
Brueckner was declared a prime suspect in the case of the disappearance of Madeleine by Portuguese police in April 2022.
Already in prison in Germany for the rape and murder of a 72-year-old woman, he has now also been charged with multiple sex offences which are alleged to have taken place between 2000 and 2007.
Police in Germany claim to have “concrete evidence” that the British girl is dead though this has not been proven.
A spokesperson from the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office previously said: “The accused is the same person against whom charges were brought in connection with the disappearance of the then three-year-old British girl Madeleine Beth McCann.
“Specifically, the accused is charged with three offences of aggravated rape and two offences of sexual abuse of children.
“The investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann continues.”
The charges mentioned do not relate to the McCann case. But in May German police claim to have found new evidence linked to Madeleine inside a van belonging to Brueckner.
How was he identified as a suspect?
Brueckner had reportedly been using a yellow and white VW T3 Westfalia campervan in and around Praia da Luz – the Algarve resort where the McCanns were holidaying at the time Madeleine vanished.
German prosecutors say telecomms data shows Brueckner received a phone call on 3 May 2007 near the Praia da Luz holiday apartment from which the three-year-old went missing, but he reportedly claims to have been miles from the scene with a young German woman.
Brueckner, who has always denied any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance, insists he drove the woman, who was on holiday with her parents, to the airport in Faro for her return flight home the following day. They were stopped and photographed at a police roadblock, according to Sky News.
When Portuguese police named Brueckner an arguido – a formal suspect – on 21 April last year, it was the first time they had identified an official suspect since 2007.
Back then, they named Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann as suspects but both were later cleared.
Why is he in prison in Germany?
In April 2022, Brueckner was jailed in Germany for the rape and murder of a 72-year-old woman in the same resort - Praia da Luz - as where Madeleine went missing.
Police in Germany, who are treating the case as a murder enquiry, believe Brueckner planned to rob the holiday apartment but “moved on to a sexual motive”.
It is believed he has a total of 17 convictions including burglary as he steals from hotels and holiday let apartments.
Other cases Brueckner has been linked to
Brueckner has also been linked to other disappearances of children, including a boy, six, in Portugal in 2000, a five-year-old girl in Germany in 2015 and a number of others.
In 2020, he was being investigated over the rape and murder of Tristan Brübach, a 15-year-old boy from Germany.
Belgian authorities have also linked him to the murder of teenager Carola Titze, 16. She went missing while on holiday in De Haan, Belgium on July 5, 1996 and her body was discovered among sand dunes severely mutilated on July 11.
Other cases believed to be linked to Brueckner include that of Inga Gehrike who went missing from Saxony-Anhalt in Germany on May 2, 2015, René Hasee, six, who vanished while on a family holiday in Aljezur, Portugal on June 21, 1996 and Jair Soares who disappeared in August 1995.
Peggy Knobloch’s case has also been linked to Brueckner after she went missing in May 2001.