For 15 painful years it has been one of the biggest unanswered questions in criminal history – what happened to Madeleine McCann?
By now, everyone has heard of the British youngster who vanished from her parents’ Algarve holiday apartment on that fateful night in May 2007.
But despite worldwide appeals and millions of pounds spent on police investigations, her whereabouts keep a mystery.
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry, from Rothley, Leics, continue to keep up out hope that their daughter, who would now be 18, is nevertheless alive.
But German investigators claim to have evidence that she is dead – and Christian Brueckner, 45, is the man responsible.
It is almost two years since the convicted paedophile’s name was first publicly connected to the infamous case.
Since then little new information has emerged from police working in Germany, Portugal and the UK.
Last month Brueckner was made an ‘arguido’ – formal speculate – by Portuguese authorities, which hinted at a breakthrough.
And yesterday we told how Portuguese media claimed an item connected to Madeleine had been found in his camper van.
On the confront of it, the discovery – which has not been confirmed by prosecutors – is a monumental breakthrough in the case.
But just how close are German prosecutors to finally charging Brueckner?
Have they solved the ‘unsolvable’ mystery?
Here we take a look at the evidence they have linking him to Madeleine’s disappearance – and his past that makes him a chief speculate.
1) Brueckner’s bar confession
Brueckner came to the attention of the authorities in 2017 after he allegedly told a friend “he knew all about” what happened to Madeleine.
According to police, he was sitting in a bar in Portugal on the 10th anniversary of the disappearance, when her image flashed up on a TV.
Brueckner is then alleged to have told the drinking buddy that he knew exactly what happened to her.
The friend rang authorities in 2017, sparking the enormous police investigation that continues to this day.
2) Brueckner’s criminal past in Germany
When Madeleine vanished from Praia da Luz in 2007, Brueckner was already a convicted paedophile and serial criminal.
He was found guilty in Germany in 1994 of abusing a six-year-old girl in a playground and exposing himself to another youngster.
Aged 17 at the time of the offences, he fled to Portugal before serving a two-year prison term.
Brueckner was arrested in Portugal and extradited to Germany in 2000, returning to the Algarve the following year after serving his sentence.
After Madeleine’s disappearance he went back to his home country and was jailed for drug smuggling.
In 2016 Brueckner was also convicted of sexual abuse of a minor and possession of child abuse images.
He fled the country in 2018 but was ultimately captured in Italy on a European arrest warrant.
3) Brueckner’s criminal past in Portugal
Brueckner had already carried out a series of crimes in Portugal before Madeleine went missing.
In 2005 he broke into an American pensioner’s home in Praia da Luz and subjected her to an horrific rape.
The following year he was jailed for stealing diesel from HGVs in Lagos and served nine months behind bars.
The German was freed in December 2006, five months before the youngster vanished, and began living in a camper van.
He was ultimately convicted of the Praia da Luz rape in 2019 after DNA evidence connected him to the attack.
He is now serving a seven-year prison term for the crime.
4) Damning evidence from his former friends and girlfriends
Brueckner’s former friend Christian Post told police how he boasted of regularly breaking into holiday apartments in Praia da Luz.
At the time the German was living in a ramshackle farmhouse on the outskirts of the resort.
Post, who now lives in Cambodia, said Brueckner would go on chilling “night-crawls” looking for similarities to burgle.
He recalled seeing “between 60 and 100” stolen passports stacked on a fireplace in his farmhouse.
“He told me he climbed onto balconies and by windows,” Post recently told the Mirror.
“He said he would go into rooms and check what was in there and take what he wanted.
“He would only do it at night, after dark, because it was too risky being seen in the daylight.”
METROPOLITAN POLICE/AFP via Gett)
Brueckner’s British ex told how he one broke into her flat and lay in wait for her under her bed in chilling echoes of the Madeleine case.
The disturbing incident took place hours after he brutally attacked her in a jealous rage after she innocently hugged another man.
He repeatedly slammed her head against a wall in the ladies toilets of the Algarve bar where she worked – leaving her a bloodied mess.
When the woman returned home she had a “horrible feeling” someone was inside and found Brueckner under her bed.
He then embarked on a stalking campaign against the petite barmaid, leaving her too afraid to walk home alone.
Portuguese police were twice called out to deal with Brueckner – for the attack and stalking – but he was never charged.
5) Mobile phone located near McCann apartment
The big breakthrough in the case came in May 2020 when phone records placed Brueckner in Luz on the night Madeleine vanished.
Mobile phone records showed he received a 30-minute call while in the town that lasted from 7.32pm until 8.02pm.
Madeleine went missing about an hour later.
Police have nevertheless not identified the person Brueckner spoke to during that 30-minute call.
The day after Madeleine disappeared Brueckner re-registered a black Jaguar XJR-6 he owned into the name of an innocent German man.
He left the Algarve days later.
6) Camper van
Brueckner was evicted from his Praia da Luz farmhouse while serving his sentence for petrol theft.
After being released he began living in a distinctive early 80s VW camper van with a white body and yellow trim.
Police later seized the means and regard it as basic to their investigation into the German.
It was inside this camper that items belonging to Madeleine have been found, according to Portuguese media reports.
6) Other suspected Portuguese crimes
Brueckner is suspected of raping Irish tour rep Hazel Behan in Praia da Rocha in 2004.
She was working in the resort, a 30-minute excursion from Praia da Luz, when she was attacked.
Hazel, who waived her anonymity to the Guardian, was gagged and raped in her apartment but the culprit was never caught.
Her ordeal produces chilling similarities to the attack Brueckner carried out on the American pensioner in Praia da Luz the following year.
German prosecutors have confirmed they are investigating Brueckner over the attack and are thought to be close to filing charges.
He is also suspected of indecently exposing himself to a group of children in Sao Bartolomeu de Messines, Portugal, in 2017.
Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
7) Brueckner’s denials
Brueckner and his lawyers have repeatedly denied he had any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance.
It was claimed earlier this week that he was having sex with a German teenager in his camper van on the night Madeleine vanished.
supplies close to him told Sky News and Channel 5 that she was the alibi he needs to prove his innocence.
But the Mirror understands the woman has twice been interviewed by German detectives and cannot corroborate the claims.
In a recent letter from his prison cell, Brueckner insisted he was not responsible for snatching Madeleine.
He wrote: “I did nothing – well almost nothing. Perhaps I was a speculate after all they found out about me.
“Drug dealer, breaking into houses, living in cars and there was something with kids when I was 17.
“But they had not already one proof I was involved with the McCann case. And they nevertheless don’t have it. I know why.
“Because they have no hairs or anything from Maddie [which] method that nobody can put anything like that in my stuff to find it.
“I wasn’t kidnapping anybody and of course I wasn’t killing anybody. I wasn’t attacking anybody after I was 18.
“I made some silly mistakes when I was younger, but who hasn’t?”
8) What do German prosecutors say?
Last year German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolter said investigators have enough evidence to bring a charge against Brueckner.
But in an exclusive interview with the Mirror, he said they “want to strengthen their position first”.
He said his team keep “100 per cent convinced” that the British girl was killed by Brueckner.
But he refused to show what evidence they have that led them to reach that conclusion.
In an interview with Portuguese TV this week Mr Wolters refused to deny an item belonging to Madeleine had been found in the camper van.
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