‘He had no interest in becoming friends’: Suspect in Madeleine McCann’s disappearance was a loner who rarely stayed in his rented villa – preferring to live in camper vans
- Suspect Christian Brueckner, 43, lived in a single-storey villa near Praia da Luz
- Building is now owned by a British couple who say they never met Brueckner
- He has been named as the prime suspect in Madeleine McCann’s disappearance
- Neighbours say he had ‘no interest in becoming friends’ and lived in camper van
Former Neighbours of the German paedophile named as a suspect in Madeleine McCann’s disappearance remember him as a loner who only occasionally stayed at a rented villa near Praia da Luz.
The single-storey red-tiled villa where suspect Christian Brueckner lived is called Escola Vehla – the old school house – and is now owned by a British couple.
‘He had no interest in becoming friends or neighbourly,’ said a 52-year-old neighbour. ‘We would see him occasionally at the villa, but he spent most of the time in his camper vans.
‘We did not have much to do with him and to be honest we’re surprised that he is the suspect in the McCann girl case. The police must know something.’
The single-storey red-tiled villa (pictured) where suspect Christian Brueckner lived is called Escola Vehla – the old school house – and is now owned by a British couple
Madeleine, then aged three, disappeared from her hotel room during a family holiday in the Algarve in 2007.
On Thursday, German authorities said she was assumed to be dead and that an imprisoned German child abuser was the murder suspect.
The two neighbours, both Dutch, said they recognised photos of the camper van that had been released as part of the Police investigation.
‘He spent most of his time in the van. We never saw him with a girlfriend. He was always on his own, not friendly at all.’
German authorities said an imprisoned child abuser was the suspect. Pictured, Bruekner
The owner of the villa, which is in a rural area surrounded by olive trees, said he bought the property in 2011 and had never met Brueckner. He confirmed British police had visited the property but declined to give any other details.
A group of men drinking on an outside terrace of a nearby bar said they recognised photos of Brueckner – but had never spoken to him.
As the investigation into what happened the night Madeleine disappeared continues, those who live in the town are hoping for an end to 13 years of association with the tragedy.
‘It was very complicated back then for everyone involved. Everyone spoke badly about Praia da Luz, especially among parents with children,’ said 40-year old Irina Itrabar, who owns a tiny beach store in the town of 3,500 inhabitants.
‘It was a tragedy for all of us. But some people have already forgotten what happened.’
In the days and weeks after Madeleine’s disappearance, members of the community rallied around.
Many helped the police in searches for clues in the surrounding area. Hundreds of people prayed in churches or gathered outside, flying balloons in a show of support for Madeleine and her family.
Madeleine (pictured), then aged three, disappeared from her hotel room during a family holiday in the Algarve in 2007
The suspect’s battered camper van. Scotland Yard released images of the VW T3 Westfalia camper van, with a white upper body and a yellow skirting, with a Portuguese registration plate
But the town also suffered a stigma. Business owners said some foreign tourists had been too scared to spend their holidays at Praia da Luz after she disappeared.
Looking at the ocean near a spot where he said friends of the McCanns had looked for Madeleine on the night she disappeared, 68-year old Luis Marques said he hoped the case was finally solved.
‘I was here when the girl disappeared. It was very weird at the time. This changed everything. All the televisions were here. A very complicated environment was created,’ Marques said.
The farmhouse where the new prime suspect in Madeleine McCann’s disappearance lived was located just two miles from where she went missing from her family’s holiday apartment
Some feared that, 13 years later, the new development could cast the town in a bad light again.
‘Back then it killed all the business, just like the coronavirus,’ said 62-year-old German tourist Petra Michel.
‘And people are trying to get back on their feet again and this whole thing is starting again.’
Meanwhile, Brueckner is serving a seven-year jail sentence for the rape of 72-year-old American woman.
The German criminal was convicted in Braunschweig district court last year for a rape he is said to have committed in Portugal in 2005.
Months before Madeleine’s disappearance, the paedophile is said to have left the farm to move into his two-tonne camper van. Madeleine McCann pictured above
He lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, including for a few years in a house between Lagos and Praia da Luz, according to Braunschweig Zeitung.
Just two years before Maddie’s disappearance, the criminal raped an American tourist, the newspaper reported.
It can be revealed he is a suspected burglar, drug dealer and paedophile who was living just two miles from the holiday apartment where Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007.
He has two previous convictions for ‘sexual contact with girls’, according to Christian Hoppe from Germany’s federal criminal police office, and the farmhouse he rented was on the footpath leading to the beach where the little girl played.
Above, an interior of the rented home where the suspect lived. Extraordinary details emerged yesterday about the German criminal currently at the centre of an international investigation
It is thought the suspect made his living by stealing from holiday apartments in the area, and he may have entered the McCann’s apartment and decided to take their daughter, say Braunschweig public prosecutor’s office.
Scotland Yard insisted it was still a missing person inquiry, but German police said: ‘There is reason to believe that there are other people besides the perpetrator who have concrete knowledge of the possible scene of the crime and, if necessary, where the body is stored.
‘We expressly ask these people to report and share their knowledge.’
Mr Hoppe, from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), said police had not ruled out a sexual motive for the crime.
He added that the suspect may have broken into an apartment in the Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz – where Madeleine was on holiday with her parents, Kate and Gerry and her twin siblings Sean and Amelie – before spontaneously kidnapping her.
In 2007, when the suspect was 30, he is said to have spent his days stealing from hotel complexes and holiday apartments and trafficking drugs, according to police.
The living room of the rental apartment where the suspect was living just two miles from the McCann’s holiday apartment
Last night it was reported that he may also have committed further sexual assaults or rapes during his time in Portugal.
Neighbours described him as an ‘angry’ car dealer who vanished suddenly, leaving a collection of wigs, fancy dress and exotic clothing. He lived in a rented ramshackle farm building on a remote hillside along a footpath that runs from above the beach where Madeleine and her family played during their week’s holiday in May 2007.
According to residents, he littered the land with old vehicles which he bought and sold for a living, which may explain how he acquired the distinctive camper van and Jaguar at the centre of the police investigation.
Pictured above and below, the Jaguar he re-registered the day after Maddie disappeared
Scotland Yard released images of a second vehicle the suspect owned
The car is a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German number plate and registered in Germany
Months before Madeleine’s disappearance, the paedophile is said to have left the farm to move into his two-tonne camper van.
Scotland Yard said he was driving the vehicle in the Praia da Luz area in the days before Madeleine’s disappearance and is believed to have been living in it for days or weeks before and after 3 May.
A former neighbour told Sky News: ‘He arrived in the mid-90s and rented the place from the English owner. He went back to Germany at one stage and moved another German guy in to look after it, then came back and threw him out on the street.
‘He was always a bit angry, driving fast up and down the lane, and then one day, around 2006, he just disappeared without a word. I think he left some rent unpaid.’
The neighbour added: ‘About six months later I was asked to help clean up the place and it was disgusting, absolutely vile. It had been trashed, with broken stuff like computers all over the place.’
The neighbour said she was contacted by Scotland Yard detectives last year. They asked her about the man, without revealing why.
The Ocean Club in Praia Da Luz, where Madeleine disappeared on May 3, 2007, during a family holiday with her parents and younger twin siblings
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry were sitting at The Ocean Club Tapas Bar and had just checked on their daughter who was sleeping in their holiday apartment when she went missing just after 10pm
This year she was visited by Portuguese detectives who showed her photographs of the man and asked more questions.
It is understood that many neighbours, friends and acquaintances of the suspect have since been interviewed as police try to establish his movements around the time Madeleine disappeared from her family’s holiday apartment.
Yesterday Scotland Yard released images of the VW T3 Westfalia camper van, with a white upper body and a yellow skirting, with a Portuguese registration plate.
They also released images of a second vehicle the suspect owned – a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German number plate and registered in Germany.
Detectives say it is significant that the day after Madeleine’s disappearance, the paedophile re-registered the car in someone else’s name back in Augsburg, Germany, even though the vehicle had never left Portugal.
The last photograph taken of the little girl shows her smiling next to her little sister Amelie and their father Gerry
A photograph of the bedroom from which Madeleine was snatched in May 2007, which was included in police files released in August 2008
The Jaguar is believed to have been in the Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007 and was originally registered in the suspect’s name.
German police said there were indications that he could have used one of these vehicles to commit the crime and they want to trace anyone who remembers seeing them parked up anywhere.
Detectives revealed last night that the suspect lived more or less permanently in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007. He worked occasionally in the catering business in the Lagos area. But police believe he was really earning his living by committing burglaries of hotel complexes and holiday flats as well as trafficking cannabis.
In 2013, Scotland Yard revealed that a blond man had been seen lurking near the 5A apartment about 4pm on the day that Madeleine was snatched.
He was described as white, aged 30 to 35, thin, with short, light-coloured hair and spots on his face possibly caused by shaving. Last night detectives said the e-fit of the man released in 2013 had ‘not been ruled out’, suggesting he may resemble the new suspect.
A blond-haired man was also seen on the balcony of a nearby empty apartment and in the stairwell of the McCanns’ block.
Police believe a mobile phone call made by the suspect could be the key piece of evidence that unlocks the mystery which has puzzled detectives the world over for 13 years.
At 7.30pm on May 3, 2007, he made a call which places him in Praia da Luz. For half an hour he chatted to a mystery person before ending the call at 8.03pm.
Three-year-old Madeleine was snatched from her bed sometime after 9pm.
Yesterday Scotland Yard took the highly unusual step of releasing the suspect’s Portuguese mobile phone number – 00351 912 730 680 – and that of the mystery witness he spoke to. The unidentified witness, who used the Portuguese phone number 00351 916 510 683, was not staying in the area at the time of the call.
On May 3, 2007 Kate and Gerry McCann went to a small tapas bar metres away from their apartment to dine with friends. But when Kate returned to do a routine check on their children, she found that Madeleine had disappeared
The suspect’s name was given to the Metropolitan Police in 2017 after the 10th anniversary.
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell said: ‘We know a lot about the suspect, but we need to know more about his movements on the night Madeleine vanished and in the days before and afterwards.
‘We know he was in the resort on the night, about an hour before Madeleine was last seen about 9pm.
‘He took a phone call on his Portuguese mobile from another Portuguese mobile. The call lasted half an hour.
‘While this male is a suspect we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry.’
German police said inquiries were homing in on two properties near where the toddler vanished and last night they appealed for anyone who could provide information about the rooms the man used to come forward.
Scotland Yard is launching a joint appeal with the BKA and the Portugal’s Policia Judiciaria, including a £20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible of Madeleine’s disappearance.
Last night, as more details emerged about the suspect, there were questions about why police took so long to release the information. Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who is leading the British investigation, said Scotland Yard knew a lot about the man who became a suspect when officers received critical information in 2017. It emerged that since then Scotland Yard had been secretly working with German and Portuguese police to piece together his movements.
Yet Scotland Yard chose to make the information public only when the German police announced their appeal yesterday.
Yesterday Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy denied the timing was anything to do with seeking extra funding for Operation Grange, which has cost £12 million so far.
Mr Cranwell said: ‘We know a lot about the suspect, but we need to know more about his movements on the night Madeleine vanished and in the days before and afterwards. It’s more than 13 years since Madeleine went missing and none of us can imagine what it must be like for her family, not knowing what happened or where she is.
‘Following the ten-year anniversary, the Met received information about a German man who was known to have been in and around Praia da Luz.
‘We have been working with colleagues in Germany and Portugal and this man is a suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.
‘The Met conducted a number of enquiries and in November 2017 engaged with the BKA who agreed to work with the Met.
‘Since then a huge amount of work has taken place by both the Met, the BKA and the Polícia Judiciaria. While this male is a suspect, we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry.’
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