For 15 painful years one of the biggest unanswered questions in criminal history has been: what happened to Madeleine McCann?
By now, everyone has heard of the young British woman who disappeared from her parents’ holiday apartment in the Algarve that fateful night in May 2007.
But despite appeals around the world and millions of pounds spent on police investigations, his whereabouts remain a mystery.
Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry, from Rothley, Leics, continue to hold out hope that their daughter, now 18, is still alive.
But German investigators say they have proof she is dead, and Christian Brueckner, 45, is the man responsible.
It has been nearly two years since the convicted pedophile’s name was first publicly linked to the infamous case.
Since then, little new information has emerged from police working in Germany, Portugal and the UK.
Last month, the Portuguese authorities made Brueckner an ‘arguido’, a formal suspect, hinting at a breakthrough.
And yesterday we told how the Portuguese media claimed that an item related to Madeleine had been found in her motorhome.
At first glance, the discovery, which has not been confirmed by prosecutors, is a monumental breakthrough in the case.
But how close are German prosecutors to finally indicting 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 the prime suspect.
1) Brueckner’s Bar Confession
Brueckner came to the attention of authorities in 2017 after he allegedly told a friend that he “knew everything” about what happened to Madeleine.
According to police, he was sitting in a bar in Portugal on the 10th anniversary of the disappearance, when his image appeared on a television.
Brueckner is then alleged to have told the drinking partner that he knew exactly what happened to him.
The friend called authorities in 2017, prompting a massive police investigation that continues to this day.
2) Brueckner’s criminal past in Germany
When Madeleine disappeared from Praia da Luz in 2007, Brueckner was already a convicted pedophile and serial criminal.
He was convicted in Germany in 1994 of abusing a six-year-old girl in a playground and exposing himself to another boy.
He was 17 years old at the time of the crimes and fled to Portugal before serving a two-year prison sentence.
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 returned to his home country and was imprisoned for drug trafficking.
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 eventually caught in Italy on a European arrest warrant.
3) Brueckner’s criminal past in Portugal
Brueckner had already committed a series of crimes in Portugal before Madeleine disappeared.
In 2005 he broke into the home of an American retiree in Praia da Luz and subjected her to a horrific rape.
The following year he was jailed for stealing diesel from heavy vehicles in Lagos and served nine months behind bars.
The German was released in December 2006, five months before the young man disappeared and began living in a caravan.
He was eventually convicted of the Praia da Luz rape in 2019 after DNA evidence linked him to the attack.
He is now serving a seven-year prison sentence for the crime.
4) Damning evidence from his former friends and girlfriends
Brueckner’s former friend, Christian Post, told police how he bragged about regularly breaking into holiday apartments in Praia da Luz.
At the time, the German lived in a dilapidated farmhouse on the outskirts of the complex.
Post, who now lives in Cambodia, said Brueckner would continue to “walk the night” chillingly looking for property to steal.
He recalled seeing “between 60 and 100” stolen passports stacked in a fireplace at his country home.
“He told me he climbed onto balconies and through windows,” the Post recently told the Mirror.
“He said he would go to the rooms and check what was in there and take what he wanted.
“I only did it at night, after dark, because it was too risky to be seen in daylight.”
METROPOLITAN POLICE/AFP via Gett)
Brueckner’s ex-British recounted how he broke into her apartment and waited for her under her bed in a chilling echo of the Madeleine case.
The disturbing incident took place hours after he viciously attacked her in a fit of jealousy after she innocently hugged another man.
He repeatedly hit her head against a wall in the ladies’ toilets of the Algarve bar where she worked, leaving her bloodied.
When the woman returned home, she had a “horrible feeling” that someone was inside and found Brueckner under her bed.
He then embarked on a campaign of harassment against the little waitress, leaving her too scared to walk home alone.
Portuguese police were called twice to deal with Brueckner, for the attack and harassment, but he was never charged.
5) Mobile phone located near the McCann apartment
The big breakthrough in the case came in May 2020 when phone records placed Brueckner in Luz on the night Madeleine disappeared.
Cell phone records showed he received a 30-minute call while in town that lasted from 7:32 p.m. to 8:02 p.m.
Madeleine disappeared about an hour later.
Police have yet to identify the person Brueckner spoke with during that 30-minute call.
The day after Madeleine’s disappearance, Brueckner re-registered a black Jaguar XJR-6 he owned in the name of an innocent German.
He left the Algarve days later.
Brueckner was evicted from his Praia da Luz farmhouse while serving his sentence for gasoline theft.
After he was released, he began living in a distinctive early 1980s VW camper van with white bodywork and yellow trim.
The police subsequently confiscated the vehicle and consider it essential to their investigation into the German.
It was inside this caravan that items belonging to Madeleine were found, according to Portuguese media reports.
6) Other alleged Portuguese crimes
Brueckner is suspected of raping Irish tour manager Hazel Behan in Praia da Rocha in 2004.
She was working at the resort, a 30-minute drive 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.
His ordeal bears chilling similarities to Brueckner’s attack on the American pensioner in Praia da Luz the following year.
German prosecutors have confirmed that they are investigating Brueckner for the attack and are believed to be close to pressing charges.
He is also suspected of exposing himself indecently to a group of children in Sao Bartolomeu de Messines, Portugal, in 2017.
Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
7) Brueckner denials
Brueckner and his lawyers have repeatedly denied that he was involved in Madeleine’s disappearance.
Earlier this week it was claimed that he was having sex with a German teenager in his motorhome the night Madeleine disappeared.
Sources close to him told Sky News and Channel 5 that she was the alibi he needed to prove his innocence.
But The Mirror understands that the woman has been interviewed twice by German detectives and cannot corroborate the claims.
In a recent letter from his prison cell, Brueckner insisted that he was not responsible for kidnapping Madeleine.
He wrote: “I did nothing, well almost nothing. Maybe I was a suspect after everything they found out about me.
“Drug dealer, breaking into houses, living in cars and there was something with children when I was 17 years old.
“But they didn’t have a single piece of evidence that I was involved in the McCann case. And they still don’t have it. I know why.
“Because they don’t have hair or anything from Maddie [which] it means no one can put something like that in my stuff to find it.
“He wasn’t kidnapping anyone and of course he wasn’t killing anyone. He wasn’t attacking anyone after the age of 18.
“I made some dumb mistakes when I was younger, but who hasn’t?”
8) What do the German prosecutors say?
Last year, German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolter said investigators have enough evidence to bring charges against Brueckner.
But in an exclusive interview with the Mirror, he said “they want to strengthen their position first.”
He said his team remains “100 percent convinced” that Brueckner killed the British girl.
But he refused to reveal what evidence they have that led them to that conclusion.
In an interview with Portuguese television this week, Wolters refused to deny that an object belonging to Madeleine had been found in the caravan.