Luxury villa where new Madeleine McCann suspect raped a 72-year-old

Revealed: Luxury villa where new Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner raped a 72-year-old US tourist is just a ten minute walk from apartment where the toddler vanished 18 months later

  • Christian Brueckner, 43, broke into the secluded home two years before the three-year-old went missing  
  • The villa, called Casa Jacaranda, is just a ten-minute walk from the Ocean Village apartments in Portugal  
  •  Brueckner has been linked to the 2015 disappearance of five-year-old girl called Inga Gehricke in May 2015
  • A friend who lived above his shop claims he was violent, beating up his underage Kosovan girlfriend 
  • German detectives investigating Brueckner have contacted the family of six-year-old René Hasee, who vanished from beach in Algarve in 1996, to say they are looking into his case again 

The paedophile suspected of abducting Madeleine McCann carried out a brutal rape at a beach front villa less than a mile from where the three-year-old disappeared in 2007.

Christian Brueckner broke into the secluded home two years before Maddie went missing from her family’s apartment in the resort of Praia da Luz.

A 72-year-old American woman was tortured and raped by Brueckner who filmed the savage attack. He was jailed last year for seven years by a German court after DNA evidence linked him to the assault.

The villa, called Casa Jacaranda, is just a ten-minute walk from the Ocean Village apartments where Maddie was sleeping in a ground floor apartment when she was snatched 13 years ago. 

The dramatic development comes as it was reported paedophile Brueckner, 43, vowed on a web chat to ‘grab himself a little something and abuse it for days’.

He fantasised in an online chatroom in September 2013 about kidnapping and sexual abusing a child, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. 

He allegedly added it would be safer ‘if the evidence is exterminated afterwards’. The German word he used, vernichten, is the same word the Nazis used for the final solution. 

It also emerged tonight how German detectives investigating Bruecknerhave contacted the family of René Hasee to say they were looking into his 1996 abduction again.

The six-year-old from Elsdorf, Germany, was on holiday with his family in Aljezur – just 25 miles from Praia da Luz, in the Algarve –  when he vanished on June 21, 1996. 

Andreas Hasee, René’s father, revealed an investigator from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) contacted him today – the first time he had heard from police in 20 years.

As police in Britain and Germany appeal for witnesses who could help convict prime suspect Christian Brueckner, it has also emerged today: 

  • German detectives investigating Brueckner have contacted the family of six-year-old René Hasee, who vanished from beach in Algarve in 1996, to say they are looking into his case again; 
  • Brueckner has been linked to the 2015 disappearance of five-year-old girl called Inga Gehricke in May 2015. Inga, who had blonde hair and blue eyes, was dubbed ‘Germany’s Maddie McCann’;
  • The mystery caller who spoke with the German paedophile minutes before Madeleine was abducted has been named as Diogo Silva by Portuguese media; 
  • More details of his child abuse has emerged including a sex attack on a nine-year-old girl and exposing himself to a six-year-old;  
  • A friend who lived above his shop claims he was violent, beating up his underage Kosovan girlfriend and cruelly locking up his dogs in a shop ‘for weeks’ while the couple went on holiday to Spain and Portugal;
  • Brueckner is reportedly eligible for parole this weekend as police desperately try to prove he snatched Maddie and hunt for his ex-girlfriends who could help unlock the case.

A map of the area of Praia de Luz in Portugal showing the suspect’s house and the McCanns’ holiday apartment which was nearby

Christian Brueckner broke into the secluded home (pictured) two years before the three-year-old went missing from her family’s apartment in he resort of Praia da Luz

Casa Jacaranda (pictured) is in a secluded position detached from a small block of apartments and a cluster of other smaller villas

Brueckner (pictured) was arrested for attacking the American woman after a former friend came forward to police revealing that he had stolen a video camera showing the assault

The villa, called Casa Jacaranda, is just a ten-minute walk from the Ocean Village apartments where Maddie (pictured) was sleeping in a ground floor apartment when she was snatched 13 years ago

Given the proximity of the two buildings it shows Brueckner was very familiar with the twisting roads around Praia da Luz having often prowled the area looking for places to break into and steal.

The 43-year-old is known to have supplemented his income from odd jobs and drug dealing by stealing from holiday villas and apartments.

One theory is that he entered the McCann apartment looking to steal and then snatched the toddler. 

Casa Jacaranda is in a secluded position detached from a small block of apartments and a cluster of other smaller villas.

The beach is a two-minute stroll from the heavy wooden doors at one of the entrances that can only be accessed by entering a code on a electronic pad.

The main entrance has an entry phone system with a camera to show people calling. No one answered and many of the metal shutters were closed on the building.

Given the proximity of the two buildings it shows Brueckner (pictured) was very familiar with the twisting roads around Praia da Luz

Security cameras could be seen along the exterior of the home which is not visible from the road due to six foot high white washed wall.

One near neighbour said she thought the villa had been up for sale last year but did not attract any buyers.

The American woman who lived at the villa in 2005 has not been named as she is the victim of a sex attack.

She told police after the attack, which lasted about 15 minutes: ‘I felt that he enjoyed torturing me.’

German police made contact with her before Brueckner went on trial but she declined to fly from her home in the US to give evidence.

Brueckner was arrested for attacking the American woman after a former friend came forward to police revealing that he had stolen a video camera showing the assault.

The witness told the court that he stole the camera from his friend’s house in Praia da Luz in 2006 and that it showed an older woman being tied up, beaten and raped.

In her statement the woman said she was beaten with a metal pole.

Brueckner was charged in August last year after a ‘cold case’ team re-examined all the evidence. A hair found at the villa linked the German to the assault.

He was convicted and sentenced in December.

Brueckner has also been linked to the 2015 disappearance of a five-year-old girl called Inga Gehricke in May 2015. 

The little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes was dubbed ‘Germany’s Maddie McCann’. 

Her disappearance was only 48 miles away from where Brueckner lived on the ramshackle five-acre in the isolated of village of Neuwegersleben, south-east of Hanover.  

German detectives investigating Brueckner, 43, have contacted the family of René Hasee to say they were looking into his 1996 abduction again


Inga Gehricke vanished from Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof in Saxony-Anhalt during a family outing on May 2, 2015 in an case that detectives have been unable to solve ever since. Prosecutors confirmed they have reopened a preliminary investigation into whether Christian Brueckner (pictured in 2018) was involved in the unsolved Inga case

More than 100 officers descended on the old box factory in February 2016, digging holes looking for Inga’s body. 

The little girl wasn’t found but Brueckner’s USB stash of child sex abuse images was found on a USB stick hidden under ‘animal bones’ with police now set to return, according to German tabloid Bild. 

Brueckner was prosecuted over the child porn but he was never charged with Inga’s disappearance when the probe was dropped after four weeks.

But today prosecutors confirmed they have reopened a preliminary investigation into whether he was involved in the unsolved Inga case.  

Inga, who had blonde hair and blue eyes, had been having a barbecue with her family at an apartment complex in a forest when she disappeared.

She is believed to have wandered off to collect wood to light a campfire but never returned, prompting more than 500 people to search for her.  

What do we know about Maddie murder suspect Christian Brueckner and his criminal past?

1976: Christian Brueckner is born in Würzburg under a different name, believed to be Fischer. He was adopted by the Brueckner family and took their surname.

1992: Christian Brueckner is arrested on suspicion of burglary in his hometown of Wurzburg, Bavaria.

1994: He is given a two-year youth jail sentence for ‘abusing a child’ and ‘performing sex acts in front of a child’.

1995: Brueckner arrives in Portugal as an 18-year-old backpacker and begins working in catering in the seaside resorts of Lagos and Praia da Luz. 

But friends say he became involved with a criminal syndicate trafficking drugs into the Algarve.

September 2005:  He dons a mask and breaks into an apartment where a 72-year-old American tourist.

The victim was bound, gagged, blindfolded and whipped with a metal cane before being raped for 15 minutes. She said afterwards that he had clearly enjoyed ‘torturing’ her before the rape.

April 2007: He moves out of a farmhouse and into a campervan now linked to the crime. The farmhouse is cleaned and a bag of wigs and ‘exotic clothes’ is found.

May 3, 2007: Madeleine McCann is snatched at around 10pm from her bed as her parents eat tapas with friends yards away.

Brueckner’s mobile phone places him in the area that night.   He returns to his native Germany shortly after that. 

October 2011: He is sentenced to 21 months for ‘dealing narcotics’ in Niebüll, in northern Germany. 

In 2013 police released a photofit of a man seen lurking near the McCann apartment and Scotland Yard said that suspect last night had not yet been ruled out of the probe

2014: He moves to Braunschweig where he starts running a town-centre kiosk. He then goes back to Portugal with a girlfriend.

2016: He is back in Germany. He is given 15 months in prison for ‘sexual abuse of a child in the act of creating and possessing child pornographic material’. 

May 3, 2017: Brueckner is said to be in a bar with a friend when a ten-year anniversary appeal following Madeleine’s disappearance is shown on German television.

He is said to have told him in a bar that he ‘knew all about’ what happened to her. He then showed his friend a video of him raping a woman.

MailOnline understands the friend went to police shortly afterwards.

June 2017: He heads back to Portugal and extradited again to Germany. The reason was a sentencing of the Braunschweig district court to 15 months’ imprisonment for the sexual abuse of a child. 

August 2018: After his release from prison he lives on the streets. But he was jailed again for drug offences. 

First Prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters addresses the media during a press conference on the Madeleine McCann case at the public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig

September 2018: Brueckner is arrested in Milan, Italy and extradited to Germany and put on trial for raping the American tourist in 2007 after a DNA match to hair found at the crime scene.

July 2019: He is jailed for 21 months for drug dealing in the northern German resort of Sylt.

August 2019: Brueckner  is charged with the rape of the American tourist in Praia da Luz in 2005.

December 2019: He is convicted of rape of extortion of the tourist based on DNA evidence. He is given a seven year sentence, but this has not been imposed pending an appeal. 

June 3, 2020: Scotland Yard and the German police reveal that that they have identified a suspect in the Maddie McCann case

June 4, 2020: Prosecutors in Braunschweig, where he lives, say they believe Madeleine McCann has been murdered, says spokesman Hans Christian Wolters. He is named in the German press as the prime suspect.

Met Police sources blast ‘lacklustre’ approach of their Portuguese colleagues and accuse them of sitting on their hands over the biggest Madeleine McCann breakthrough in 13 years

By Paul Thompson in Praia Da Luz and James Fielding

Police in Portugal came under fire tonight for their lacklustre response to the biggest potential breakthrough in the abduction of Madeleine McCann since she first disappeared 13 years ago.

Investigators were accused of being ’embarrassed’ by their failure to solve the crime originally and failed to issue any new appeals for information after convicted German paedophile Christian Breuckner was identified as the prime suspect.

Breuckner, who is currently in jail in northern Germany, lived on and off in the Algarve for 18 years, was in Praia da Luz on the night Madeleine vanished and was convicted last year of raping a 72-year-old woman in the holiday resort in 2005.

But while police in the UK and Germany have launched public appeals for help in tracing the movements of Breuckner, their counterparts on the Algarve have remained silent.

Christian Brueckner, pictured with a friend in 2011, was adopted as a baby after being given up by his birth mother and began abusing children as a teenager

This is Christian Brueckner’s home in Braunschweig near Hanover, where he had lived before he fled to Italy and was arrested over the rape of an American in Praia da Luz

‘He gave me his Jaguar – but he never mentioned Maddie’, says friend who let Christian Brueckner live in his attic after he fled Praia da Luz

A friend of Christian Brueckner let him live in his attic just after he fled Praia da Luz, and even looked after the Jaguar at the centre of the Madeleine McCann probe, it was revealed today.

‘This is still unimaginable,’ said Augsburg resident Alexander Bischof, who says he met him 12 or 13 years ago. ‘He said he needed help and was looking for an apartment in Augsburg’.

He was driving a Jaguar, which he bought from the ´mutual acquaintance. ‘Because I’m also a Jaguar lover, we had a topic of conversation right away,’ says Bischof.

At one point he offered Brueckner the opportunity to stay with him and his wife if he wanted to.

He said Brueckner was ‘often underway – sometimes he traveled to Portugal, sometimes to Sylt, to Munich. In between, he spent nights sleeping in my attic.’

Otherwise, he stayed in his VW bus. Most of the time he went to Portugal, where he is said to have had a girlfriend. Once he took them into Augsuburg to meet his girlfriend where they spoke to each other in English.

‘At some point I reached the conclusion that he was involved with drugs,’ he added, and was in prison in Portugal for two or three months, during which time he handed over the Jaguar car to him.

‘When he came out, he was back here quickly, I didn’t know more at the time,’ he says. Later, he gave the car over to an acquaintance in Munich. ‘He always made surprisingly quick decisions,’ he added.

After some time Bishop distanced himself from Brueckner. ‘He uses my living quarters and he’s involved with drugs – I couldn’t handle that,’ he said.

‘I thought I couldn’t do that,’ Bishop said. ‘After a few years the law stood at my door. The police wanted to search the living quarters where he had stayed.’

At that time he learned that he had ‘some things in his past.’ He did not know what. Only that it would be a ‘capital crime’. During a re-interrogation, the officials mentioned the name ‘Maddie’.

When Bishop first heard about the murder allegations he was shocked. 

He said; ‘We never talked about young children, our conversations were about cars, football and Portugal, men’s stuff.’

A Scotland Yard source said: ‘The Portuguese authorities’ stance on this latest development is at odds with the Metropolitan Police and German police but it has been that way from minute one.

‘The fact is that Portuguese authorities were embarrassed on a global stage at the time because the crime scene was completely destroyed, there was no forensic recovery of anything of any value etc.

‘There may be slight embarrassment again that its German Police who have identified a chief suspect that could be the biggest lead yet in the investigation.

‘But it is still has to be a Portuguese investigation as this disappearance – and now possible abduction and murder – happened under their jurisdiction.’

Today, there was no police activity in the resort of Praia Da Luz where Madeleine vanished in 2007.

No posters or TV appeals have been made by police who are seeking new information about the 43-year-old suspect who lived in two different houses in the area and dabbled in countless different jobs.

Portuguese detectives based in Faro are awaiting information from German investigators before launching any new inquiry into the three-year-old’s disappearance.

‘The investigation is being directed from Germany,’ said a police source. ‘There are three forces involved in this, but the majority is coming from Germany.’

Locals in Luz said they too were surprised that the police were not making any fresh appeals for help.

‘Given the new information and how specific it is, I would have though the police could have been more active,’ said a British bar owner who has lived in the resort over 20 years.

‘The McCann case had a traumatic effect on the community here and tourism was affected and the police did not exactly come out of it with their reputation bolstered.’

Shop assistant Mariana said she thought the Portuguese would do all they could to solve the mystery.

‘Anyone who has grown up in Praia knows all about the girl going missing. I have seen all the new appeals, but there is nothing from our police.

‘I would have expected them to be more active as the girl was last seen here and it all leads back to Praia da Luz.’

A Dutchwoman named Julia, who has lived in the resort for over 30 years, added: ‘They must have been aware of this man and what he was like, but did nothing.

‘Now is their chance to redeem themselves and help find her body. Most people here believe the McCann girl to be dead. It is too long for her to be found alive.

‘Have you seen any police out asking questions ? I haven’t. I just don’t understand why more is not being done.’

However, a woman who works in a pharmacy near the seafront said she was not surprised by the lack of appeals.

‘They will just be going over old ground. There is nothing new for them to do.’

The latest developments in the Madeleine case have been widely reported in the Portuguese media with photos of the little girl prominent on newspaper front pages while

TV news bulletins have also led with the latest developments.

In the UK, detectives from Operation Grange – the Met Police inquiry to find out what happened to Maddie – released photos of a VW camper van and Jaguar car they see as critical to the investigation.

Both cars were used by Breuckner when he was based in Portugal.

Police have the vehicles but want anyone who saw them around the time the youngster went missing to contact them.

In Germany, police appealed for witnesses to come forward during a broadcast on the ZDF channel.

Police in the UK said they have received 270 calls and emails following the release of new information and the appeal for help.

Brueckner is understood to have been dismissed as a suspect back in 2008 by the Portuguese police.

Justizvollzugsanstalt Kiel in northern Germany where Brueckner is currently being held in jail

Police say Brueckner may have been living in this campervan at the time Madeleine vanished

It is not known if he was even interviewed or made a statement about his whereabouts when the youngsrer disappeared from her family’s villa in the Praia da Luz.

At that time he did not have a criminal record, despite drug dealing and carrying stealing from hotel rooms.

In 2005 he raped a 72-year-old American woman after breaking into her apartment and filming the assault.

It was only after he showed the footage to a friend in Germany that he was arrested a hair found at the scene linked him to the attack.

Breuckner is currently serving a jail sentence in northern Germany for the attack.

Meanwhile the Portuguese lawyer of Kate and Gerry McCann said they have ‘new hope’ and ‘want to know the truth’

Rogerio Alves, who has traditionally assisted the McCanns as their criminal lawyer, said this week’s revelation police have a new suspect means the 13-year-old mystery could be closer to being solved.

Mr Alves told respected Portuguese daily Jornal de Noticias: ‘A new lead publicised by the police, which is therefore not an anonymous lead or a frivolous one, is obviously going to give the family hope.

‘The family want this investigation to continue because the case is still active and hasn’t been resolved. Madeleine’s parents want to know the truth.

‘They hope this lead can lead to the discovery of the truth, so we will be able to know what happened, what crime was committed and who committed it and what happened to Madeleine and whether’s she alive.’

German prosecutors to search abandoned box factory where they found child abuse images belonging to Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner as they reopen investigation into unsolved abduction of girl, five, in woods in 2015

Police will search an abandoned box factory in Germany where the prime suspect in the Madeleine McCann case lived in a caravan shortly after a five-year-old girl vanished nearby in 2015, it was revealed today.

Prosecutors have re-opened the investigation into whether Christian Brueckner abducted Inga Gehricke after she was grabbed from Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof in Saxony-Anhalt during a family outing five years ago.  

Her disappearance on May 2, 2015 – almost eight years to the day after Madeleine vanished in Portugal on May 3, 2007 – was only 48 miles away from where Brueckner lived on the ramshackle five-acre in the isolated of village of Neuwegersleben, south-east of Hanover.

More than 100 officers descended on the old box factory in February 2016, digging holes looking for Inga’s body. 

The little girl wasn’t found but Brueckner’s USB stash of child sex abuse images was found on a USB stick hidden under ‘animal bones’ with police now set to return, according to German tabloid Bild.

Brueckner was prosecuted over the child porn but he was never charged with Inga’s disappearance when the probe was dropped after four weeks.

But today prosecutors confirmed they have reopened a preliminary investigation into whether he was involved in the unsolved Inga case. 

Police are set to return to this abandoned box factory in Neuwegersleben, Germany, where Christian Brueckner lived in a caravan and hid child porn among animal bones. Police raided it in 2016 looking for missing Inga Gehricke

It is not clear if the paedophile owned the abandoned box factory or part of it – but he is known to have been living there in a caravan behind its gates


Inga Gehricke vanished from Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof in Saxony-Anhalt during a family outing on May 2, 2015 in an case that detectives have been unable to solve ever since. Prosecutors confirmed they have reopened a preliminary investigation into whether Christian Brueckner (pictured in 2018) was involved in the unsolved Inga case

More than 100 police officers descended on the site in February 201 (pictured), digging holes looking for missing Inga

It came as documents revealed by Spiegel allegedly show Brueckner fantasised in disgusting online chats about the kidnapping and sexual abuse of a child in September 2013. 

He is said to have told one acquaintance he wanted to ‘capture something small and use it for days’, and that it would be safer if ‘the evidence is destroyed afterwards’. 

Brueckner is currently behind bars in Germany serving 21 months for dealing drugs. 

While he was in prison last December he was also found guilty of raping a 72-year-old American tourist in Praia da Luz 18 months before Madeleine disappeared. The seven-year jail term for this conviction will not start until his appeal has been heard. 

Inga has often been labelled the German equivalent of Madeleine, who went missing aged three during a family holiday on the Algarve in Portugal on May 3, 2007.

Now, it is believed that police investigated Brueckner, 43, in February 2016 over the disappearance of Inga, according to Saxony-Anhalt newspaper Volksstimme. 

Detectives reportedly discovered a device at his home containing child pornography and it has been said he had no alibi for the day in question when Inga went missing.

Also, one day before Inga’s disappearance, he was at the wheel of a car in a parking accident at an autobahn service station in Helmstedt 55 miles from where Inga lived.

But it appears no further action was taken against him in relation to Inga, which has been questioned by lawyer Petra Kullmei, who represents the girl’s mother.


Christian Brueckner (left), 43, is now the prime suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (right), who vanished from her family’s holiday apartment in Portugal on May 3, 2007


Inga’s disappearance on May 2, 2015 was almost eight years to the day after Madeleine vanished in Portugal on May 3, 2007

Mr Kullmei, who is calling for a new investigation, told Volksstimme: ‘The file was closed again only four weeks after starting work. I think that’s not very ambitious.’

However, Stendal Public Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Birte Iliev said today: ‘It is now being examined whether there is any new evidence in connection with the murder suspect in Braunschweig.’ 

Brueckner, who has been labelled a ‘multiple sexual predator’ by prosecutors, is said to have been convicted of a child sex offence in Germany when aged just 17.

Yet the drifter, who reportedly has as many as 17 criminal convictions, was apparently overlooked by Portuguese police during their Madeleine probe.

Brueckner, who is in jail in Kiel, Germany, was also convicted of raping a 72-year-old US widow in her Algarve home 18 months before Madeleine disappeared. 

But Brueckner only became a suspect for Scotland Yard in 2017 when he is said to have told a friend at a bar he ‘knew all about’ what had happened to Madeleine. 

Madeleine disappeared while her parents, from Rothley in Leicestershire, were having a meal with friends at a tapas bar close to their apartment in Praia da Luz.

Inga, who had blonde hair and blue eyes, had been having a barbecue with her family at an apartment complex in a forest when she disappeared.

She is believed to have wandered off to collect wood to light a campfire but never returned, prompting more than 500 people to search for her.

Brueckner had lived in this remote villa overlooking Praia da Luz from 1999 to 2006 

Police dogs also failed to pick up the scent of Inga who had been wearing a butterfly T-shirt, blue jeans and her hair in two plaits and vanished at about 6.30pm. 

Brueckner had lived in a remote farmhouse overlooking Praia da Luz from 1999 to 2006 and may have been living in a campervan at the time Madeleine disappeared.

But not long after Madeleine vanished in 2007, he left Portugal and returned to his homeland – where he was later said to own the property in Neuwegersleben.

In 2014, he was said to have been living in Braunschweig, near Hanover, where he told friends he had opened a local shop and worked from 7am until midnight.

Sources have said that a German national serving time in prison in northern Germany would likely face trial in his homeland rather than be extradited to Britain.

The Metropolitan Police in London has always insisted that if the suspect is a UK national, it will push for them to be charged and prosecuted in Britain.

But in the case of a foreign suspect, it would be extremely difficult to extradite them to the UK for a crime committed overseas. 

The Portuguese authorities could seek to pursue the case as the offence occurred there. But sources said the German investigation would be likely to take primacy.

Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann are pictured in London in October 2014

Madeleine’s parents are ‘encouraged’ by the results of the latest appeal over their daughter’s disappearance, their spokesman Clarence Mitchell said today.

Scotland Yard’s Operation Grange received more than 270 calls and emails less than 24 hours after revealing details of the new suspect.

Mr Mitchell said her doctor parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, from Leicestershire, are ‘trying to maintain as normal a life as possible’ and awaiting updates from police.

‘Two hundred and seventy calls and emails isn’t a bad result, given it was 13 years ago,’ he said.

‘They certainly will be encouraged to know the appeal is yielding results already and hopefully within that there will be crucial bits of information the police can act upon.’

How the unsolved case of missing Inga Gehricke, five, involved a search team of 500 people after she wandered off to collect wood

Inga Gehricke, five, had been having a barbecue with her family on May 2, 2015

The disappearance of five-year-old Inga Gehricke during a trip to a forest area in Saxony-Anhalt prompted a huge search involving 500 people.

She had been having a barbecue with her family at an apartment complex in Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof on May 2, 2015 when she disappeared.

The girl is believed to have wandered off to collect wood to light a campfire at about 6.30pm but never returned.

Police dogs also failed to pick up the scent of Inga who had been wearing a butterfly T-shirt, blue jeans and her hair in two plaits.

One of the main suspects was former security guard Silvio Schulz, but he denied involvement police were never able to prove any link.

In July 2016, Schulz was handed a life sentence for murdering two children, one of them a four-year-old Bosnian boy snatched from a migrant registration centre the year before.

Police also allegedly investigated Christian Brueckner and found a device at his home with child pornography, but could not prove any link to Inga’s case.

In June 2017, officers formally dropped the probe into Inga’s disappearance. 

Inga had been on the trip with her parents Victoria and Jens-Uwe Gehricke, as well as her three siblings Maxim, 15, Julius, 13, and eight-year-old Freya.

Speaking in April 2017, Mrs Gehricke told Stern magazine that her ‘feeling tells me that she is still alive’, while her husband said: ‘I still have the hope that she will be found. But the hope that she will come back alive goes to zero for me.’

Bungled from the start: Taking so long to suspect a man with Christian Brueckner’s profile is just the latest in a long line of apparent blunders that have dogged the Madeleine McCann inquiry – right from those fateful first hours

Police face serious questions over why it took a decade to identify convicted sex offender Christian Brueckner as a key suspect.

Portuguese detectives are under renewed scrutiny after it emerged Brueckner had been convicted of paedophile offences in 1994, when he was 17, before he arrived in Praia de Luz.

He received a two-year sentence in Bavaria for ‘abuse of a child’ and ‘sexual acts against a child’, according to German magazine Der Spiegel, which reported he has at least 17 entries on his criminal record.

The Daily Mail can reveal that Brueckner emerged as a ‘person of interest’ for British police early on in a major Scotland Yard review of the case that started in 2011.

Cashing in: Ex-Portuguese police chief Goncalo Amaral. He wrote a book accusing the parents Kate and Gerry McCann

Shameful treatment: Kate (pictured in 2007) and Gerry McCann had to live under the shadow of suspicion

However, even after this was upgraded to a multi-million-pound full investigation two years later, he did not emerge as a key suspect until 2017.

Portuguese detectives have been widely criticised in the past over a string of elementary mistakes which hampered the investigation.

At the time of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, Brueckner was known to have previously lived two miles from the resort where she vanished and was still living in the area in his campervan.

Sources said that if Portuguese officers had done basic groundwork, including comprehensive door-to-door inquiries, and identified known sex offenders including foreign nationals living locally, his name could have emerged as a potential suspect within months.

Last night, a source said that Brueckner’s name cropped up after Met detectives began probing the case but there was no firm evidence then linking him to Madeleine’s disappearance.

Taped-off: It was hours before the crime scene was protected. Portuguese police officers are pictured on duty in Praia da Luz

‘He was an itinerant whose exact whereabouts on the night could not be established,’ the source added. ‘This is why he was not treated as a suspect at that stage.’ It was only in 2017 that Brueckner emerged as a potential key suspect, after German police were tipped off about his possible involvement.

According to German law enforcement officials, Brueckner lived almost permanently in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007.

Portuguese police closed the inquiry into Madeleine’s disappearance in 2008 after claiming there were no more leads to pursue. The inquiry was shelved after the missing girl’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were wrongly implicated in the case.

Amateurish: police smoked in the McCanns’ apartment. Pictured: a forensic expert takes a sample from the blinds of the apartment where the family were staying in 2007

THE PROLIFIC CRIMINAL

According to Der Spiegel, Brueckner’s criminal record contains 17 entries and he has been investigated for ‘driving without a licence, assault, serious theft and drunk driving’. The magazine reported that according to the Federal Central Register, aged 17 he stood trial in Bavaria in 1994 for ‘abuse of a child’ and ‘sexual acts against a child’. The district court of Wurzburg imposed a two-year ‘youth sentence’, of which he served only part.

It also said yesterday that in October 2011 the district court in Niebull, northern Germany, jailed Brueckner for 21 months for drug offences, while in 2013 the district court in Braunschweig, near Hanover, jailed him for 15 months for ‘sexually abusing a child and possessing child pornography’.

He was last in court in Germany in December over the rape of a 72-year-old American tourist in the Algarve in 2005, for which he received a seven-year jail term.

Julian Reichelt, editor-in-chief of Bild, said the new key suspect – who is fighting his rape conviction – is currently in prison in the German city Kiel.

Not revealing the suspect’s full name, Mr Reichelt said: ‘Everything we have heard so far publicly has been around and basically known to police in Germany and Britain for years.

‘We are hearing that there was an additional push towards looking at ‘Christian B’ another time and that’s when the police reviewed all the pieces again and opened a murder case investigation.

‘He has been convicted of child abuse as early as 1994. He was born in 1976, he’s 43 years old.

‘That means early in his life already there was a record of child abuse. And it wasn’t the only time.

‘There are numerous other convictions, drug convictions, driving under the influence, driving without a licence. It is a huge, numerous page-long criminal record that we have seen.’

Pictured is a sketch that was done of a suspect by the detectives working on the case – which features only hair

THE BOTCHED PORTUGUESE INQUIRY

The disappearance of Madeleine from the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz in May 2007 was mishandled by Portuguese detectives from the very beginning.

The immediate aftermath of a child going missing – the so-called golden hour – is seen as a critical phase of a case by experienced detectives. But Portuguese officers, woefully out of their depth according to British police sources, took four days even to issue a description of the missing girl.

They failed to lock down the resort or set up road blocks because they assumed she had just wandered off.

The McCanns’ apartment was not taped off until 10am the following day, by which time dozens of people had traipsed through the crime scene and contaminated potentially vital evidence.

Ash from policemen’s cigarettes would be found among contaminated forensic samples from the flat. Not all the staff and guests at the Ocean Club were traced and interviewed. Those who were interviewed were not always properly eliminated.

And a photofit picture of an early suspect consisted of nothing more than the sketch of a face with hair parted on one side but with no eyes, nose or mouth.

Portuguese police closed the inquiry into Madeleine’s disappearance in 2008 after claiming there were no more leads to pursue. The inquiry was shelved after the missing girl’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann (pictured), were wrongly implicated in the case

The catalogue of mistakes and official complacency was almost endless and culminated in a shameful shadow of suspicion over Kate and Gerry McCann, who were treated as suspects themselves until their ‘arguido’ (suspect) status was removed in 2008, the same year as the inquiry into Madeleine’s disappearance was formally suspended. There were, declared the Portuguese police, simply no more leads to pursue.

Maddie police: We need more money to keep probe going

Scotland Yard has requested more funding for its £12million search for Madeleine McCann.

It has reportedly applied to the Home Office for more money so it can continue its nine-year investigation, known as Operation Grange.

The investigation was launched in 2011 and it has already received more than £12million in special grants from the Home Office.

Last year it was given £300,000 so it could continue for another year. Officers insist that the decision to make a new public appeal over the latest development was not connected to a request for further taxpayer funding.

The original Portuguese investigation was shelved in 2008 and Madeleine’s parents used public donations to pay private investigators. They continued to lobby successive home secretaries to launch a British police investigation and finally succeeded in 2011, when then Home Secretary Theresa May announced a Scotland Yard review of the case.

Operation Grange initially had 29 officers working on it. They took 1,500 statements from potential witnesses and collected more than 1,000 exhibits.

Detectives travelled regularly to the Algarve to liaise with their Portuguese counterparts and oversaw exploratory digs in the area around Praia da Luz, where Madeleine vanished.

By 2015 the inquiry was scaled back and the number of officers was reduced to four. But funding continued every six months to keep the investigation open.

In 2018 police said the inquiry had examined 60 ‘persons of interest’ and investigated 650 sex offenders. By June last year Operation Grange had received £11.75million and was expected to be given a further £300,000.

It is not known how much Scotland Yard has said it will need to continue its current line of inquiry, which involves liaising with police in Germany.

Money is given by the Home Office through special grant funding, which is available to any police forces facing significant or exceptional costs.

Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann have continued to raise money to fund a private search. The couple launched a crowdfunding appeal after she vanished and raised nearly £2million within ten months. They also won financial backing from wealthy benefactors.

The Home Office refused to comment on the funding application which is due to be considered later this year.

In 2016, retired police officer Goncalo Amaral, who had led the search for Madeleine, won his appeal against a court ruling that he libelled her parents.

The McCanns had sued the ex-police chief over claims he made about them in a book.

They were initially awarded £358,000 damages by a Portuguese court. But Mr Amaral’s successful appeal meant his book criticising the McCanns could be sold again. Portugal’s supreme court later rejected an appeal by the couple.

VITAL PHONE CLUES NOT PURSUED 

It was only after Scotland Yard, at the behest of then prime minister David Cameron, launched a two-year review of the McCann case in 2011, that evidence was properly accessed and analysed.

Basic groundwork, including research into mobile phone data in Praia da Luz on the day that Madeleine disappeared, was not done until an elite team of Met officers on Operation Grange were asked to investigate. Although the Policia Judiciaria had this information at the time she vanished, they did not find out who the phones were registered to – even though cell-site analysis is a crucial investigative tool and the catalyst for solving countless crimes.

The oversight seems more critical now, after Scotland Yard released details this week of the phone number believed to have been used by Brueckner on the night Madeleine disappeared.

Speaking in October 2013, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, then leading the Met inquiry, said officers were examining a ‘substantial amount of data’ from thousands of mobile phones thought to belong to people who were in the resort of Praia da Luz in the days just before, during and after Madeleine’s disappearance. ‘This is not just a general trawl,’ Mr Redwood said.

‘It’s a targeted attack on that data to see if it assists us to find out what happened to Madeleine McCann at that time.’

Officers had so far been unable to attribute a ‘large number’ of mobile numbers, he added, admitting that it was difficult to do so with phones bought six years previously on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Jim Gamble, the former head of the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said he had recommended the ‘cell dump’ was looked at again in his 2010 review of the case.

Speaking in 2013, he said it appeared the data ‘wasn’t properly or appropriately interrogated’ at the time. In UK investigations, he would expect the data to have been examined almost immediately, he said, but the ‘complex nature and geography’ had made it more difficult.

The senior Scotland Yard detective who oversaw the two-year-review of the McCann before he retired told the Daily Mail in 2013 it was ‘perfectly probable’ that information that could identify the suspect responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance was already in the Portuguese files.

‘Of course, there is a possibility she is still alive,’ said former Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell. ‘But the key is to investigate the case and, dead or alive, we should be able to try to discern what happened..’

With German prosecutors saying they believe Madeleine is dead, there appears very little cause for optimism, her case now effectively a murder investigation. Forensic tests on Brueckner’s old campervan have not yielded any clues.

With no body, no forensic evidence and no confession, detectives may struggle to gain justice for her and her family.

 

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