Christian Brueckner was flagged as a key Madeleine McCann kidnap and murder suspect seven years ago by police but the report was ignored by German authorities.
According to German magazine Spiegel, police in Braunschweig sent a report about him being a prime suspect to the Federal Criminal Office (BKA) in 2013, two years before Inga Gehricke, ‘Germany’s Maddie McCann’, disappeared. It was ignored.
Braunschweig police were monitoring the 43-year-old around the clock at the time.
The report was triggered after an appeal from British police on a German unsolved crime show, on which the news about Brueckner was also broadcast this week.
Christian Brueckner (pictured left, in a mugshot in 2018), 43, was flagged as a key Madeleine McCann (right) kidnap and murder suspect seven years ago by police
Spiegel went on: ‘One person did submit a tip about Brueckner but the resulting report from police in Braunschweig to the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation was apparently not acted upon, much to the consternation of the local investigators.’
Brueckner was born to a woman named Fischer but given over to youth authorities at an early age. Between 1992 – when he was 16 – and 1994 he lived in a facility for young people with learning difficulties.
A neighbour told German newspaper BILD: ‘There were only bad young people there.’
During this time he committed his first burglary and received a suspended jail sentence. He finished his high school education and embarked on an apprenticeship as a car mechanic.
But in September 1993 he sexually abused a girl aged six in a playground.
In May 1994, three days before he was due to answer in court for the offence, he attempted to assault a nine-year-old girl.
He was given a two-year suspended jail term. A woman who lived near his residential home told Bild: ‘I moved away because I feared he would attack my child.’
He broke the terms of his suspended sentence in 1995 to flee to Portugal with his then girlfriend.
Hans Christian Wolters, a spokesman for Brunswick prosecutor’s office, addressing the media in Braunschweig, northern Germany on the new suspect in the Madeleine McCann case
The two kept themselves afloat with casual jobs and moved into a house in Praia da Luz. The relationship soon broke down and Brueckner then had a string of casual affairs.
He worked as a waiter and handyman but began to break into tourist hotels and guest houses to rob them of valuables.
When he and a friend tried to steal diesel fuel from a marina, he was caught and had to serve 258 days in jail.
In 2005 he raped and robbed an American widow, 72, in her house on the Algarve.
At his trial for the offence in Germany last year it emerged he had taken videos of other sex attacks. A pair of swimming goggles with the lenses painted grey were worn by one victims so she would not be able to identify him.
On 16 June 2013 Brueckner committed another ‘sexual abuse of children’. In September of that year, according to Spiegel, he wrote in an online chatroom to an acquaintance that he wanted to ‘capture something small and use it for days.’
When his acquaintance pointed out that this was dangerous, Brueckner replied: ‘Oh, if the evidence is subsequently destroyed…’
Brueckner, pictured in a German bar in 2011, is also alleged to have confided in a friend that he ‘knew all about’ what had happened to Madeleine
The German suspect had lived in a warehouse outside Praia da Luz for several years but moved into a campervan just before Madeleine vanished
In 2007 he moved back to Germany, living in Dresden, Augsburg and in a caravan in Hanover. Until 2008 he trades drugs on the North Sea island of Sylt.
From December 2012 to 2014 he ran a kiosk in Braunschweig, where German media say he also hosted drug parties.
But the business failed and he began living rough and drinking heavily.
Bild said: ‘He constantly collected criminal charges. For theft, bodily injury, drunkenness in traffic, forged papers. The number of procedures is difficult to calculate. A life out of control!’
In early September 2019, police began investigating a missing person case. A girl, little Inga Gehricke, a delicate 5-year-old with blond hair, disappeared in May 2015 in the countryside of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.
It was a difficult case, but the police discovered a possible connection to the case of another missing girl – also a blonde, the most famous 3-year-old in Europe.
Madeleine McCann disappeared in May 2007 in Portugal. Like Inga, she has never been found.
In the case of Inga, it is thought that Brueckner played a role. His face could also match a police facial composite image in the Madeleine case.
At the time of her disappearance, he was living in the area around Praia da Luz, the resort where the McCanns were spending their holidays.
It was the place where he had raped the American woman two years earlier.
In 1994, he was convicted for the first time for sexually abusing a child. He was convicted a second time in 2016. He also collected child pornography.
Spiegel wrote: ‘The person who is believed to have destroyed the lives of the McCanns The person who is believed to have destroyed their lives is named Christian Brueckner, a man with a troubled life behind him.
‘He grew up in a home, graduated from a lower secondary school and quit his vocational training. He moved from job to job and place to place, and the only constants in his a muddle of a life have been crimes, trials and convictions.
‘Nothing seemed stable in his life – he changed girlfriends, jobs and the crimes he committed on a whim. In 2011, he was handed down a suspended sentence of one year and nine months, a result of having started a drug operation in 2007 to supply marijuana to the German island resort of Sylt.
‘As he strayed through life without any fixed abode, social stability or moral inhibitions, the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance picked up again in 2011. This time in England.
Inga Gehricke, pictured, dubbed as ‘Germany’s Maddy McCann’, who vanished from a forest in Saxony-Anhalt near the German town of Stendal on May 2, 2015
German detectives investigating Christian B, 43, have also contacted the family of René Hasee, above, to say they were looking into his 1996 abduction again
‘In May 2011, then Prime Minister David Cameron ordered that everything be reviewed again – every page in the file. Madeleine’s parents had requested as much in a letter to him.’
The district court of Braunschweig wanted to send Brueckner to prison in early 2016 in a case involving the sexual abuse of a child, but he once again flew to Portugal only to be extradited back to Germany in 2017.
In December 2019, the Braunschweig regional court sentenced him in the case of the rape in 2005 in her home in Portugal.
The judgement in that case has not been finalized yet. A single hair proved the key piece of evidence and he is now being held in a prison in Kiel, Germany. He could soon be facing additional charges.
In December 2017, Germany’s BKA received two tips from Scotland Yard in the Madeleine case. One of them directed suspicion to Brueckner.
An informant, likely a former colleague from Portugal, claimed to have recognized him from the police sketches.
Investigators with the BKA’s Department SO25 set up a special commission that began its work with the utmost secrecy. The proceedings in the Madeleine case were conducted by the public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig because Brueckner had his last official residence there.
They are investigating him on suspicions of murder, with a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s offices saying the assumption is that the girl is dead.
So far, investigators have built the case against him on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
He knew his way around Praia da Luz and apparently specialised in break-ins. He has also abused children in the past. The authorities also believe they know which mobile phone he used on May 3, 2007, ‘with a probability bordering on certainty.’
The girl disappeared between 9:10 p.m. and 10 p.m. Calls were made during that period of time on the mobile phone in Praia da Luz. He cancelled his car registration the day after Madeleine’s disappearance.
Spiegel added: ‘What’s lacking is concrete evidence. The BKA has distributed photos of a VW Transporter van that he might have been driving on the day of the crime. It has also released the number of the mobile phone the suspect used that night to call a stranger from Praia da Luz. They have requested help from possible witnesses to fill in the gap between what is known about Him and what is believed to be true about him.
‘Profilers at the BKA describe him in their report as a psychopath who is capable of anything. A man who nevertheless – or precisely because of this – had a charismatic aura and impressed the people around him. Most felt exploited, taken for a ride and cheated afterward.
They paint a picture of a manipulative narcissist who could appear charming, but was only trying to get money he would never pay back or sexual gratification.
‘He was very engaging, dominant and sociable, he seemed like a hopeless dreamer who always had big plans,’says one companion. ‘I knew he was up to no good. Drugs and such. But I had no idea that he had sexually abused children.’
‘The man says it was no secret that the police were always after him. One former girlfriend had regularly called the police because Brueckner had allegedly beaten her.
The suspect is said to have lived at this property, situated between resort of Praia da Luz and Lagos, named Escola Vehla – meaning ‘old school’ – during his time in Portugal
German Federal Police have released a photo of a Volkswagen camper van, used by a suspect who may be connected to the disappearance of Madeleine 13 years ago
Police have also released a picture of a Jaguar which was used by Brueckner in Praia da Luz, Portugal, by a suspect who may be involved in the disappearance of Madeleine
‘It was conspicuous that he had boasted about a sudden financial windfall after he returned from Portugal in 2007. Friends remember him telling them that he had found cash in a pile of clothes, large sums of money, after breaking into a home in the Algarve.
‘In addition to a mobile home, he also used the money to buy a derelict factory property in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
‘Apart from money, he was likely interested mostly in sex. Officials found numerous references to his preferences on hard drives – and violence often played a role. The investigators also discovered child porn. Witnesses testifying in the regional court in Braunschweig during his trial there claimed they had seen sex videos with animals and also ones in which he raped women.
‘In a chat with an acquaintance in September 2013 he wrote that he wanted to ‘capture something small and use it for a few days.’ The other replied that this would be dangerous.
And B. countered: ‘Oh, if the evidence is destroyed afterwards.’ Notes about the chat are in the investigation files of the Stendal police in Saxony-Anhalt, which prosecutors, BKA investigators, lawyers and future police officers studying at the police academy evaluated.
‘The random way in which he apparently chose victims for his sex drive and the brutality he apparently subjected them to also occupied investigators in the case of the 5-year-old Inga from Saxony-Anhalt.
‘She had visited a facility of the Diakonisches Werk, a Protestant charity organization, in Stendal with her parents and disappeared in May 2015. At the time the suspect was living around 90 kilometers away in an old house in Neuwegersleben.
‘In addition to child porn, investigators also found children’s clothes for girls in a trailer on the property, although he had no family.
The authorities believe that Christian Brueckner knew an employee of the Diakonie facility near which Inga disappeared. The uncertainty could end for her parents in much the same way as for the parents of Madeleine. There is no comfort, no hope. But there is the prospect of truth, of certainty. That, though, is far more than they have had until now.’
Did Portuguese police let Madeleine McCann’s abductor escape justice? Investigation focused on girl’s parents… while German paedophile suspect was ‘discarded’ by detectives
Goncalo Amaral, the Portuguese ex-investigator who was in charge of the initial Madeleine probe, said his team identified the man now considered to be the chief suspect back in 2007 – but ‘discarded’ him from their investigation
Portuguese detectives who probed the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have been left facing tough questions after it emerged they identified the German paedophile who is now the chief suspect in 2007 – but ‘discarded’ him.
Goncalo Amaral, the man who led the investigation, confirmed in April last year that ‘a German paedophile currently in jail in Germany’ – now named as Christian Brueckner – was identified 13 years ago as a potential suspect.
But Amaral, who was sacked after naming Kate and Gerry as suspects in the disappearance and maintains they were responsible, said Brueckner was ‘discarded’ after detectives ‘found nothing to suggest he took Madeleine’.
That is despite revelations yesterday that Brueckner had a lengthy criminal record including burglary and child sex crimes, lived in a property just three miles from where Madeleine went missing, and can be placed in the area on the night in question using mobile phone records.
According to German media, Brueckner was first convicted of child sex offences in Germany in 1994, aged 17.
He was sentenced to two years in jail but was released early, travelling to the Algarve in 1995 as a backpacker, where he became involved in drug smuggling.
He then spent 12 years on the Algarve dealing drugs, burgling holiday homes and even raped a 72-year-old American tourist in her apartment but was never arrested.
The sex attack on the US-born pensioner could be significant because the convicted paedophile had broken into her Praia da Luz holiday home to loot it – and police have long believed Madeleine may have been snatched during a burglary.
He was then brought to the attention of Amaral as he investigated Madeleine’s disappearance in 2007, but was dismissed as a ‘scapegoat’.
Speaking to Australian podcast Madeleine in April last year, Amaral predicted that British police ‘are probably going to use a German paedophile who is in jail in Germany’ as their chief suspect.
He said that the Portuguese Polícia Judiciária, ‘investigated him at the time but found nothing to suggest he took Madeleine.’
Amaral suggested that British police had been working up cases against two German paedophiles – one of whom died a few years ago, leaving one suspect to pursue.
In the interview, he accused British detectives of ‘wanting it to be’ the now-dead paedophile.
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 last night 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, left, the new key suspect in the Madeleine McCann, right, case, whose identity is protected in Germany despite being in jail for raping a US tourist in Praia da Luz in the months before Madeleine vanished
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.’
‘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.’
As police in Britain and Germany appeal for witnesses who could help convict prime suspect Brueckner, it has also emerged:
- Brueckner has been linked to the 2015 disappearance of 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’;
- 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.
Yesterday, 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.
It comes as the family of a six-year-old boy who went missing in the Algarve 24 years ago have revealed they have been contacted by German police in the wake of the Madeleine McCann developments.
René Hasse’s father Andreas Hasee told his local newspaper that an investigator from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) phoned him on Thursday, for the first time in 20 years and said they were re-investigating the case.
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.
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.’
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 Madeleine – 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.
It is not known if he was even interviewed or made a statement about his whereabouts when the youngster 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.
The Ocean Club in Praia da Luz, Portgual, where Madeleine’s family were staying when she went missing in May 2007
Madeleine McCann would have turned 17 last month. In 2012, five years after her disappearance, her family issued an age progression efit photo to show what Madeleine may have looked like aged nine (right)
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.
Kate and Gerry McCann pictured ten years after Madeleine’s disappearance in 2017
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.’
Last night, Portuguese police hit back at criticism over the way Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner slipped through their net.
The 43-year-old sex offender only began to be treated as a serious suspect a decade after Madeleine’s May 3 2007 disappearance following a bar admission to a friend
The Portuguese Policia Judiciaria, who carried out the initial investigation, has faced questions over why Brueckner was not targeted sooner and why they have not issued new appeals for witnesses.
The force’s deputy director insisted the German’s name was one of those passed on to British police in case files in 2012 – and said Scotland Yard had never asked to take a closer look at him.
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.’
The property where suspect Christian Brueckner stayed during his time in the Algarve, Portugal
He added, in an interview with Portuguese news agency Lusa which was carried by Portuguese newspapers yesterday: ‘If the PJ is being accused of giving Brueckner a lack of priority, the same could be said of the Metropolitan Police.
The PJ chief told the Lusa reporter, in an interview published in newspapers like Correio da Manha: ‘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 from the Germany community.’
But appearing to hint the evidence the three police forces have at the moment may not be enough to bring charges and a successful prosecution, he was quoted as saying: ‘Suspicions about the German national have grown but unfortunately they are not enough to make him an arguido and formally accuse him.’
Asked about disgraced former police chief Goncalo Amaral, who has been a constant critic of Kate and Gerry McCann, he told Lusa he regretted the fact his name continued to be linked to the PJ probe and said ‘many people had worked on the investigation’ after he left the force in 2008.