Carola Titze (left) vanished on the morning of July 5, 1996 while holidaying with her parents at a Flemish resort in De Haan, West Flanders
Madeleine McCann’s suspected murderer Christian Brueckner could been linked to a fourth unsolved child disappearance, prosecutors claimed today.
Belgian authorities are investigating whether the 43-year-old German sex offender was involved in the mysterious killing of 16-year-old Carola Titze in 1996.
Carola vanished on the morning of July 5 while holidaying with her parents at a Flemish resort in De Haan, West Flanders.
The German teenager was missing for six days before her body was found violently mutilated on the sand dunes.
In the days before her disappearance, she was allegedly seen at a disco with a German man, who policed tried to track down but failed.
Prosecutors in Bruges confirmed to local media they are now probing the possible connection between Titze’s death and Brueckner, following his naming as prime suspect in the McCann case.
Since Brueckner became detectives’ main lead in the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine from Portugal’s Praia de Lug in 2007, he has been linked to two other vanishings.
The family of German six-year-old René Hasse, who went missing in the Algarve in 1996, revealed police are re-investigating the case for the first time in 20 years.
And prosecutors have also re-opened the suspected abduction case of five-year-old Inga Gehricke – dubbed Germany’s Madeleine – from Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof in Saxony-Anhalt in 2015.
Madeleine McCann, the three-year-old British girl who vanished from her hotel room in Praia de Lug in May 2007. Christian Brueckner (left) is the prime suspect in her case
Since Brueckner became detectives’ main lead in the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine from Portugal’s Praia de Lug in 2007, he has been linked to two other vanishings (René Hasse, five, left and Inga Gehricke, six, right)
In the days before Titze’s disappearance, she was allegedly seen at a disco with a German man, who policed tried to track down with this identikit photo but failed
The case into Carola’s disappearance in 1996 went cold in 2016. At the time, police released an identikit drawing of the German man she was seen with at the disco, but he was never identified.
Mayor Wilfried Vandaele of De Haan said: ‘A shockwave went through our community when the body of Carola Titze was found in woodland in the dunes in 1996,’ according to Belgian news site VRT.
‘Of course, we too want the perpetrator to be found at long last. Let’s hope the German investigation can provide greater clarity.’
Only a month before Carola’s disappearance, six-year-old René vanished from Amoreiras beach in the Algarve.
The infant from Elsdorf, Germany, was on holiday with his family in Aljezur – just 25 miles from Praia da Luz, where Bruenecker was living.
René was last seen running towards the sea on a crowded beach before his mother lost sight of him – only his clothes were later found by the water.
The boy’s grandparents have previously insisted their grandson would never have wandered into the sea by himself and said ‘his footprints stopped in the middle of the sand’, and yesterday his father Andreas said there ‘could be a connection’ with Bruenecker.
Andreas told his local newspaper that an investigator from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) phoned him yesterday, for the first time in 20 years and said they were re-investigating the case.
It comes after prosecutors re-opened the investigation into whether Brueckner abducted five-year-old 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 five-acre site of a box factory in the isolated of village of Neuwegersleben, south-east of Hanover.
One day before Inga went missing, Brueckner’s vehicle was in a minor crash at a service station close to where she wandered away.
René was last seen running ahead of his mother and step-father during a walk on the beach to swim in the sea. After losing sight of him never saw him again; left with just his clothes lying on the beach. Pictured, it was just 25 miles from where Brueckner lived in Praia da Luz
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
More than 100 police officers descended on the site in February 201 (pictured), digging holes looking for missing Inga
Christian Brueckner’s troubled Bavarian youth
Brueckner was 17 when he molested a six-year-old girl in a public playground in his home town of Wuerzburg, Bavaria.
He only stopped groping the terrified schoolgirl when she began to scream and cry and he then ran away, a youth court was told.
Later, the then-teenage Brueckner ‘dropped his trousers’ at a nine-year-old before fleeing the scene, according to German newspaper Bild.
Brueckner, who had quit secondary school to train as a car mechanic, was arrested later for the vile acts in 1994.
At his trial at Wuerzburg District Court, he was asked by the juvenile judge what he thought about his actions and he replied: ‘I didn’t think anything,’ according to the newspaper.
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.
He refused to comment about the disappearance recently when questioned in prison by German police. A Met Police detective from the Operation Grange team is also thought to have been present at the time.
But today prosecutors confirmed they have reopened a preliminary investigation into whether he was involved in the unsolved Inga case.
Stendal Public Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Birte Iliev said: ‘It is now being examined whether there is any new evidence in connection with the murder suspect in Braunschweig.’
Petra Küllmei said: ‘Just a day before Inga disappeared near Stendal, Christian B. was seen nearby on the A2. The file was closed again only four weeks after starting work. I think that’s not very ambitious.’
The re-energised investigations came as MailOnline reveal Bruenecker carried out a brutal rape at a beach front villa less than a mile from where the three-year-old disappeared in 2007.
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.
It has also been revealed that 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.
Last night Portuguese police last night hit back at claims that Madeleine McCann suspect Brueckner slipped through their net.
Policia Judiciaria insisted the German’s name was one of those passed to British police in case files in 2012 – and said Scotland Yard had never asked them to take a closer look at him.
Deputy director Carlos Farinha said: ‘If the suspicions about this man were so obvious, he would have been the subject of requests made by the British, which were always authorised by Portugal, but those requests about him were never made.’
In an interview with Portuguese news agency Lusa, he added: ‘If the PJ is being accused of giving Brueckner a lack of priority, the same could be said of the Metropolitan Police. In theory everything could have been different but in 2007 and in 2012 we didn’t known what we knew in 2017.’
He said this week’s fresh appeal was an initiative of the German police who were convinced it could lead to additional information coming in.
But appearing to hint that the evidence the three police forces have may not be enough to bring charges and a successful prosecution, he said: ‘Suspicions about the German national have grown but unfortunately they are not enough to make him an arguido and formally accuse him.’
It also 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.
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
Christian Brueckner (pictured left) left Portugal after then three-year-old Madeline (pictured right) disappeared in 2007
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.’
Inga’s disappearance on May 2, 2015 was almost eight years to the day after Madeleine vanished in Portugal on May 3, 2007
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 was given up by his mother at birth and began abusing children as a teenager when he molested a six-year-old in a public playground, it was revealed today.
Madeleine McCanns parents are encouraged by public response
More than 270 people contacted Scotland Yard in the first 24 hours of its appeal for information about the new Madeleine McCann suspect.
Parents Kate and Gerry McCann are said to be very encouraged by the response.
They are now waiting to learn if potential witnesses have crucial information about German convicted child sex offender Christian Brueckner.
The McCanns believe the appeal was the most significant development to date in the 13-year search for their missing daughter.
Spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the couple, both 52, from Rothley, Leicestershire, were ‘trying to maintain as normal a life as possible’ for the sake of their younger children Sean and Amelie, who were toddlers when Madeleine disappeared.
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.
‘They are continuing their medical work where necessary and bringing the twins up as best they can, while shielding them from all the attention.’
Christian Brueckner was 17 in 1994 when he attacked the little girl in his home town of Wurzburg, Bavaria – and he only stopped groping her when she started screaming and crying.
But he is also said to have ‘dropped his trousers’ at a nine-year-old boy before fleeing the scene, according to German tabloid Bild.
He was born Christian Fischer in Bavaria in 1976, but was given up by his birth mother and placed in a children’s home in Wuerzburg and was adopted by the Brueckner family as a baby, taking their name.
He descended into a life of crime as a young teenager, and was convicted of his first burglary in his home town of Wurzburg in 1992, when he was 15.
Within two years, the warped teenager had progressed to sexually abusing a child, with the playground attack earning him a two-year youth sentence, of which he served only a part.
As a young man, Brueckner had dreamed of emigrating with his girlfriend of the time, and when he turned 18 – with a fresh driver’s license, and a series of court hearings still pending – he took off to Portugal with his German girlfriend, and the Algarve town of Lagos, said Germany’s Bild newspaper, which quoted him as having said: ‘We didn’t know anything about Portugal. We went to Lagos because we liked the name so much. We had a tent with us and camped in the wild.’
He eventually settled in Praia da Luz, the picturesque resort where the McCanns chose to take their three children on holiday.
For 12 years he lived there, telling family he was working as a caterer and odd-job man, when in fact he was dealing cannabis, trafficking drugs and burgling holiday homes and hotel rooms.
He was briefly locked up for diesel theft, and is also said to have traded passports and stolen goods.
He lived in Praia da Luz in a somewhat dilapidated and remote house accessed by a dirt road. ‘In terms of furnishings, it was a typical bachelor’s apartment,’ said one acquaintance.
After a decade on the Algarve, perverted 6-foot Brueckner burgled a 72-year-old American widow – and subjected her to a hideous sexual assault.
He broke into her villa near Praia da Luz brandishing a 30cm ‘sabre’, according to evidence at a court that eventually convicted him.
He beat her, tied her up, gagged and blindfolded her, before carrying out a degrading rape which he videotaped, the court in Braunschweig, Germany, heard. On the video, he finished by ripping off his own mask, a witness told the court.
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.
Justizvollzugsanstalt Kiel in northern Germany where Brueckner is currently being held in jail
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann are pictured in London in October 2014 at a function to promote Child Rescue Alert
Brueckner had lived in this remote villa overlooking Praia da Luz from 1999 to 2006. Neighbours described him as unfriendly
Brueckner broke into this secluded home (pictured) two years before the three-year-old went missing from her family’s apartment in he resort of Praia da Luz
His victim told investigators: ‘I felt that he enjoyed torturing me.’ At the time, Brueckner lived in a rented whitewashed villa on a remote hillside along a footpath that runs from above the beach where Madeleine and her family played during their week’s holiday.
Neighbours described him as an ‘angry’ car dealer, who sped along country roads, and saying that when he vanished he left a collection of wigs, fancy dress and exotic clothing.
Brueckner left Portugal after Madeline disappeared on May 3, 2007. The previous month, he had moved out of the villa and into a VW Westfalia campervan which police have now linked to Madeleine’s disappearance.
He also kept his prized 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with its German number plate. Yet the day after she vanished, he re-registered the classic British car to another person, although he was still driving it, Scotland Yard has said.
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
A map of the area of Praia de Luz in Portugal showing the suspect’s house and the McCanns’ holiday apartment which was nearby
Augsburg resident Alexander Bischof has told how he befriended Maddie McCann suspect Brueckner after being introduced by a mutual friend in around 2007 or 2008.
‘This is still unimaginable,’ says 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 Jagguar 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.’
Back in Germany, rather than keeping his head down, Brueckner continued stealing and drug dealing. By October 2011, the district court in Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, had sentenced him to ‘imprisonment of narcotics in large quantities’ for one year and nine months. The sentence was initially suspended.
By 2014, Brueckner was living in Braunschweig, near Hanover, where he boasted to friends he had opened a local shop. He claimed he worked from seven in the morning until midnight but the business, along with his relationship, failed and he began to hit the bottle and live on benefits.
German TV station RTL.DE interviewed a friend of Bruekner’s who met him in Braunschweig, and is believed to have lived above his shop.
Norbert M, whose name was changed by the TV station, said: ‘You couldn’t tell what made him tick.’
Norbert claimed his former friend was in debt to many people and was running a kiosk in the town.
The witness claimed Bruekner had an underage Kosovan girlfriend, though he had never seen the suspect with young children. He is alleged to have beaten her.
He said: ‘I heard that he left the kiosk and then went to Portugal or Spain with a girl. He then left dogs in his kiosk for weeks.
‘I can imagine that he is behind the disappearance of Maddie.’
His twisted obsession with child pornography caught up with him and, in 2016, he was sentenced by a district court there to one year and three months’ imprisonment for ‘sexually abusing a child in the act of procuring himself and possessing child pornography.’
After his bar-room claims to a friend about Madeleine, on the tenth anniversary in May 2017, Brueckner appears to have returned to the Algarve, but within a month he was arrested there under a European Arrest Warrant and extradited back to Germany.
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 just 18 months before Madeleine disappeared.
The seven-year jail term for this conviction will not start until his appeal has been heard.
His legal battle with the German authorities over the rape case means he could walk free within days having served two-thirds of his drugs sentence in Kiel prison, Schleswig-Holstein, according to the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau.
The paedophile was arrested while living on the streets of Milan in late 2018 on a European Arrest Warrant over the Algarve rape of the 72-year-old American. He was brought back to Germany and charged in August 2019.
A month earlier he was convicted of drug dealing in the German resort of Sylt and handed the 21-month term he is currently serving.
In December 2019 a court in Braunschweig, where he had lived before fleeing to Italy, convicted him of the rape because DNA from his hair was found in the woman’s holiday home – making it a 244billion to one chance it was not him, the judge was told.
But he is appealing the rape verdict on the grounds his extradition from Italy was illegal with Germany’s Federal High Court due to rule on the case, and if they find against him he will then start his seven-year sentence. German legal experts said last night that his appeal means he is on the verge of getting parole and could get his freedom as early as Sunday