Just a few days shy of what would be Madeleine McCann’s 19th birthday, a break in the case points to everyone’s worst fears: that the young Briton was abducted, sold and killed by a pedophile sex ring that worked in and around the Portuguese resort town where she disappeared 15 years ago.
Thousands of tips and hundreds of sightings over the years led to dead ends until Christian Brückner was officially named a suspect on April 22 of this year. The 45-year-old German, who is in jail for raping a 72-year-old American in the village where McCann disappeared, denies taking any part in the crime. But in January 2022, a German documentary team found proof that Brückner did odd jobs at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz in the spring of 2007 and would have been very familiar with the layout of the multi-building resort, including exits and less traveled lanes.
That documentary led Hans Christian-Wolters, a German prosecutor focusing on Brückner’s alleged involvement, to dig into case further. Last week, he first told a Portuguese television channel and then confirmed to The Daily Beast that they have proof that he was at the center of the disappearance.
Wolters believes that Brückner was commissioned to kidnap McCann for a pedophile sex ring that then killed her—likely because of the media attention to her case, which would have made it impossible to sell her on or use her in illegal under-age pornography.
Brückner wrote a series of bizarre letters to the German journalists who asked him if he was involved. He wrote back and explained how it wasn’t him. In one excerpt of a letter, he wrote a confusing missive that at once denied and toyed with his involvement. “Where possible, only drive during the day so my battered ‘hippy bus’ didn’t attract attention, only driving on roads I needed to and, most importantly, never provoking the police,” he wrote by way of explanation that he was staying out of sight because of his alleged drug dealing, for which he was later convicted. “So, that means not committing any crimes, certainly not abducting anyone. Having said that, this was just as absurd to me at the time as starting a nuclear war or slaughtering a chicken.”
German police investigating Brückner found a cache of little girl swimsuits and volumes of kiddie porn in the camper van he was living in when he worked as a handyman. They also dug up a yard in Hanover, Germany. They did not find human remains, but they did unearth a child’s toy sand bucket in a cemented-off cellar on the premises. It is unclear if that evidence is part of the case being built against the convicted rapist.
Wolter says the new proof they have is not forensic, but local media in Portugal say it may be threads of the girl’s pink pajamas that she was wearing when she was snatched from her bed back in May 2007.
A lawyer for Brückner called the accusation “bullshit” to The Daily Mail, and said he was actually having sex with a woman he later took to the airport the evening McCann went missing.
McCann disappeared on the evening of May 3, 2007, from a bedroom in her family’s resort hotel room as her parents ate tapas with friends a few hundred yards away. McCann, then nearly 4, was taken while her infant twin-siblings slept nearby. Gerry and Kate McCann had taken turns with friends to check on the sleeping kids at regular intervals while they enjoyed an evening out when they discovered the elder of the McCann children was gone, along with a blanket.
Portuguese police first focused on McCann’s parents—both doctors—who they suggested gave their daughter a sleeping drug that accidentally killed her. After wasting months on the theory, they finally cleared the couple, but by then the trail to the real criminal or criminals had gone cold.
Brückner has not been charged in connection to McCann’s disappearance and presumed murder, but police are now searching for the woman he says he was with that night who can either corroborate his alibi or shed light into what really happened to the British toddler all those years ago.