Finally, after 15 long years, the man prosecutors say was ‘responsible’ for the most notorious child abduction in criminal history, has been dragged in front of detectives and formally asked: ‘Where were you on the night Madeleine McCann disappeared?’
Christian Brueckner, a convicted paedophile and rapist who is currently behind bars in his native Germany, was told to account for his whereabouts on the evening of May 3, 2007, when the three-year-old British girl vanished from her bedroom at a resort on the Algarve as her parents ate tapas with friends at a nearby restaurant.
Christian Brueckner, who has been convicted of rape and molesting a six-year-old, was living near the McCanns’ flat in the Algarv
‘If you weren’t by the apartment she disappeared from that night, where were you?’ was one of a series of questions which the 44-year-old sex offender failed to dignify with a response.
Sources with knowledge of his recent prison interview, which was carried out by German authorities acting on behalf of their Portuguese colleagues, say that throughout the barrage of probing questions, Brueckner exercised his right to remain silent.
He was then handed a document informing him that he’d been made an ‘arguido’ — a Portuguese legal designation which elevates a witness to the status of official suspect and is usually a precursor to charges being laid.
It was the first time Brueckner, who has at least 17 prior convictions for an array of grisly crimes, has faced official questions about Madeleine, one of several small girls whose disappearance he’s been linked to in recent years.
Last night, her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann issued a statement saying they welcome the news that a German man has been declared ‘an arguido in relation to the disappearance of our beloved daughter, Madeleine.
‘This reflects progress in the investigation, being conducted by the Portuguese, German and British authorities. We are kept informed of developments by the Metropolitan Police,’ they added.
‘It is important to note that the arguido has not yet been charged with any specific crime related to Madeleine’s disappearance.
Kidnapper of Maddie, pictured shortly before she vanished in March 2007, remains unknown.
‘Even though the possibility may be slim, we have not given up hope that Madeleine is still alive and we will be reunited with her.’
Speaking through his German lawyer, Brueckner has denied any involvement in their daughter’s disappearance.
Madeleine was staying with her family at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz, a few miles from a ramshackle property the German sex offender was renting at the time. She vanished from her ground-floor bedroom, while her younger twin siblings Sean and Amelie slept close by.
Over the ensuing days and weeks, Portuguese detectives presided over a chaotic investigation marred by a series of blunders that placed them under intense pressure to crack the case.
Madeleine’s doctor parents, Kate and Gerry, were accused of neglect for having left their children unattended, checking on them every 20-30 minutes while they dined in the nearby tapas restaurant.
Beleaguered Kate and Gerry pose with an artist’s impression of her 2012 appearance, aged 9
It was against this backdrop that the term arguido was first used in relation to Madeleine’s disappearance, with police using it wrongly to describe her parents, who live in Rothley, Leicestershire.
After a year in which they faced the trauma of being wrongly suspected of murdering their missing child, the status was lifted in 2008.
This time, the arguido designation is being applied because of a legal technicality, rather than for the questionable purpose of boosting the Portuguese police’s image.Under Portugal’s statute of limitations, crimes punishable by a maximum prison sentence cannot generally be prosecuted after 15 years. That anniversary falls in the coming weeks, meaning Brueckner needed to be placed formally under suspicion before that date, in order to charge him in the future.
The scandal, of course, is that getting to this stage took so long. For had the Portuguese police done their job properly in the first place, a decade and a half of heartache may well have been avoided. As a potential suspect, Brueckner was, after all, hiding in plain sight. A troubled youth who grew up in and out of care, he was a convicted paedophile by the time he arrived on the Algarve in his late teens.
He had been jailed for molesting a six-year-old girl in a playground in his home town of Wuerzburg, Bavaria. He continued to pursue a life of crime, which saw him twice jailed in Portugal.
During a sentencing hearing in an Algarve court in 2006, a year before Madeleine vanished, a judge was told that he’d served time for child sex offences, meaning his status ought to have been well known to local police.
In fact, the reverse seems to have been true. For although Portuguese detectives claimed they had interviewed all sex offenders on the Algarve as potential suspects after Madeleine disappeared, Brueckner was not on the list. Apparently his criminal record had not been properly shared by their German colleagues.
The suspect’s name also cropped up in a file of potential suspects sent to British police back in 2011. But only because he was a foreigner who’d once been jailed, and not because they thought he was linked to any prior sex crimes.
Indeed, Brueckner began to face proper scrutiny only in 2017, after German police received a tip-off linking him to the case.
And when, in 2020, they went public with suspicions he had been responsible for the abduction, Portuguese detectives — seemingly embarrassed to have been beaten to the punch — initially sought to discredit the claim.
Brueckner had first arrived on the Algarve in 1995, as an 18-year-old backpacker fresh out of prison, and appears to have sought work in catering in the seaside resorts of Lagos and Praia da Luz.
But he soon became involved in a criminal syndicate that trafficked drugs, and later appears to have begun carrying out burglaries and other thefts in the tourist region.
Brueckner spent two months in Evora prison in 1999 for a minor offence, and nine months in 2006 after being caught stealing diesel from lorries on a garage forecourt.
In 2005 he carried out a depraved burglary during which he had bound, gagged, raped and tortured a 72-year-old American tourist in her villa in Praia da Luz. The victim was ‘grabbed by a very strong and tall man by the neck in the dark’ before being blindfolded and whipped with a metal cane. She said afterwards that he had clearly enjoyed ‘torturing’ her.
That crime went unsolved until 2019, when, following a tip-off from a former friend, Brueckner was arrested and charged.
Only then did police start investigating his potential links to 18 other burglaries of holiday apartments that had taken place on the Algarve in the early 2000s.
Several of these had involved the sexual assault of women and children, including nine cases of British girls aged six to 12. In most of the attacks, the ‘tall, wiry’ attacker seems to have carried out the sex crimes after stumbling upon his victims when he entered properties in search of valuables.
Of course, this delay in bringing Brueckner to justice meant that he was a free man in May 2007, when Madeleine disappeared from that ground-floor apartment near the gate of the Ocean Club.
A single storey farmhouse he had rented a few year earlier, which has a number of old wells on its land, is less than half an hour away from the scene; while a second building he occupied until 2006 sits on a hill above the resort, about 11 minutes away. On the night in question, he’s believed to have been living in a distinctive VW camper van, which he eventually sold in 2015 and is currently in the hands of German forensics teams.
Shortly after Madeleine vanished, with the case increasingly the subject of frenzied media attention, Brueckner suddenly left Portugal.
The fact that local police had failed to lock down the resort of Praia da Luz and set up road blocks, apparently assuming the little girl had merely wandered off, allowed him to leave without anyone noticing.
It was just one of the many blunders made by Portuguese detectives, who took 12 hours to alert Spanish border police about the missing child, and 48 hours to carry out a basic check of other guests staying at the resort.
Four days passed before they even issued a description of Madeleine.
Meanwhile, the McCanns’ apartment was not taped off until 10am the day after her disappearance, by which time dozens of people had traipsed through the crime scene and contaminated potentially vital evidence, with ash from policemen’s cigarettes later found to be one of the contaminants.
Back home in Germany, Brueckner continued his life of crime. He was jailed for drug smuggling in northern Germany in October 2011, but was then freed the following year, whereupon he moved to a town in Saxony named Braunschweig and set up a kiosk business, selling soft drinks, alcohol and cigarettes.
The business seems to have collapsed, at which point he began drinking heavily.
In 2013 he abused another little girl and was caught with child porn on his computer by his teenage girlfriend, Nakscije Miftari, who had been 17 to his 37 when their 18-month relationship began. Friends later revealed how Brueckner had beaten her ‘black and blue’ after she discovered the material on his laptop.
The net began to close in around May 2016, when police were investigating the disappearance of a five-year-old girl — Inga Gehricke, known as the ‘German Maddie’ — who had vanished during a family outing while walking in woods near Braunschweig.
Officers were carrying out a search of land near the scene — land that Brueckner had bought at auction six years earlier.
They found numerous items of children’s clothing, most of them ‘small swimsuits’, in a motorhome parked on the property.
They also discovered six memory sticks holding more than 8,000 files, mostly containing pictures and videos of child abuse. These were in a bag that had been hidden in a hole in the ground, underneath the body of his dead dog.
Brueckner was jailed for 15 months this time, for possession of child pornography. Then, shortly after his release in May 2017, he bumped into an old friend while heavily intoxicated in a bar.
It was the tenth anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance, and the venue’s television carried a news report. Brueckner is said to have told his chum that he ‘knew all about’ what had happened to her. He then showed his friend a video of him raping a woman.
The friend later went to police, leading to Brueckner’s subsequent arrest and imprisonment for the 2005 rape of the American tourist.
Around the same time, he was also convicted of drug dealing in the northern German resort of Sylt, crimes that have kept him behind bars to this day.
Brueckner’s alleged link to the disappearance of Madeleine first became public in June 2020, when German prosecutors announced that they believed him ‘responsible’ for murdering her and said they had ‘concrete evidence’ the British child was dead.
In the aftermath, it emerged that police are investigating potential links to a string of other sex crimes, many involving children.
Late last year it was reported that Brueckner would be charged this year with three offences including the rape of an Irish woman in 2004 on the Algarve.
But with no confession forthcoming, and no proof that Madeleine has been murdered, the question of whether he will ever face trial over her disappearance may revolve around the outcome of forensic work on the VW van he drove while living on the Algarve.
One Portuguese insider described the results as ‘potentially crucial’. But he added: ‘They could also be the final throw of the dice. At the moment, it’s a bit of a wait-and-see situation.’
As for Brueckner, he recently wrote to the Mail (prior to the arguido development) denying that he’d yet been interviewed about Madeleine’s disappearance.
‘It is obvious the German authorities, and especially the Department of Justice, are providing the media with information about me that is likely to make me appear contemptible,’ he complained.
The truth, however, is that Brueckner’s appalling criminal record is what makes this convicted paedophile and rapist contemptible — and why he is now officially an arguido.