‘I’M SURE he snatched Maddie. He was a pervert and a very strange man,’ insisted Michael ‘Micha’ Tatschl in a new book published this week. ‘I know he did it.’
Talking about his ‘best friend’ Christian Brueckner, with whom he’d lived in Portugal and spent eight months in prison, he went on: ‘He was always on the dark web. I don’t know exactly what he did, but I think it involved drugs and pornography. He was also always bragging about money and making money, particularly from burglaries. He was an excellent thief. He even talked about selling kids, maybe to Morocco … and I think he probably sold Maddie to someone. Maybe a sex ring.’
I nearly dropped my caña, as did the two other witnesses to the phone conversation, as we sat in a leafy finca garden, in the heart of southern Spain’s Alpujarras region.
We were talking about the German drifter, who had just been made the prime suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
In what was easily the strangest interview of my long journalism career, I was talking to Tatschl in Austria, while sitting in the back garden of the home he had shared with his British ex-girlfriend Emma for a number of years near Orgiva, in Granada province.
The area has long been a haven for new age travellers, also known as ‘van lifers’ and a character like Tatschl, with his pierced nipples and skull and crossbones tattoo, would happily fit into this footloose, transient community.
So too would Brueckner, who I discovered had been a frequent visitor, staying nearby often for weeks at a time.
Much to the shock of the three of us sitting there, according to Tatschl, he had turned up in late May or early June 2007, with what he described as ‘one of the most expensive camper-vans money could buy.’
If true, the timing was incredible. For his visit was just three or four weeks after Maddie had vanished in Praia da Luz, Portugal, some 585km to the west.
During that month in 2007, the whole world had been following the heart-wrenching story … how Kate and Gerry McCann’s 3-year-old daughter had apparently been snatched from her holiday apartment by an intruder, while the parents ate dinner at a restaurant nearby.
By the time Brueckner had parked up his huge Tiffin Allegro Bay RV on an area of waste ground near Tablones, the story had easily garnered 100 front pages and was fast becoming one of the biggest missing person mysteries in history.
Yet here was this dangerous German paedophile – with, as we now know, a prison record as long as his arm – brazenly driving into the backwaters of Granada province in a 30-foot long motorhome.
‘We all wondered where he’d got this expensive new van,’ continued Tatschl.
‘We assumed a big drug deal or something like that. Now I definitely suspect it was Maddie.’
I have spent the last year investigating the new German suspect for a book, My Search for Madeleine, which has taken me across the border into Portugal half a dozen times, as well as around Spain and to Germany.
I’ve analysed Tatschl’s claims at length, which are damning and include a series of rape videos that Brueckner made of a teenager and a pensioner.
I’ve studied the further rape of a 72-year-old and interviewed the Portuguese WPC who arrested Brueckner in 2017 after he exposed himself to four toddlers in a play park in Messines, on the Algarve.
I’ve analysed the German police evidence that places Brueckner outside Maddie’s apartment on the night she went missing, grilled the chief prosecutor, Hans Christian Wolters, for three hours and met nearly a dozen of Brueckner’s former friends and flatmates.
I met his mother and his mentor and visited half a dozen of his former homes, including the derelict box factory, where police found up to 20,000 videos and photos, much of it child pornography, that had been buried under the body of a dead dog.
This is my journey into the heart of darkness of paedophilia and its policing, and my conclusions on the case and its wider implications are deeply disturbing.
Now a married father-of-one, living near Graz in Austria, Tatschl has twice been interviewed at length by German police over his connections to Brueckner.
Another former friend of Brueckner, Helge Busching, had put his name forward in 2017, while a third did the same as long back as 2013, after a German TV appeal.
But few people knew Brueckner better than Tatschl, who shared a home with him in Praia da Luz, before spending eight months in prison with him after they were caught stealing fuel from lorries on the Algarve.
In a bombshell confession during their trial in December 2006 Brueckner told the judge that he had committed various burglaries and sex crimes, (yes plural) as a teenager.
For some reason the specifics were not probed. Certainly not properly logged. And that was not the first time his dangerous nature had come up in the two decades he spent in Portugal.
Shouldn’t police have taken a closer look at the sex offender when a young Irish woman was brutally raped in Lagos in 2004? Or when a 72-year-old American was viciously assaulted in Praia da Luz in 2005, for which he was found guilty a staggering 12 years later?
He lived, after all, just 900m away and was known to be an aggressive local wife-beater.
These were particularly sadistic rapes because in both attacks the assailant had rigged up a video to film the crime.
Both women recalled their assailant’s eyes and his English spoken with a German accent.
And then there was the 10-year-old German girl molested on a nearby beach just weeks before Maddie went missing. On that occasion I established that the police didn’t even bother to go out to investigate despite having a perfect description of the scruffy blond man who ran away naked.
Ultimately then, I took a look at the force employed to catch one of the most wanted and most dangerous criminals in European history.
Firstly shining a light on the leader of the initial investigation, Goncalo Amaral, who was removed after criticising British detectives and claiming they were only following leads the McCanns asked them to pursue.
Few know that Amaral – who later wrote a lucrative book claiming the McCanns killed their daughter – was charged (and later convicted) over the case of another missing girl Joana, 8, exactly ONE day before Maddie went missing.
Meanwhile, his former Policia Judiciaria (PJ) deputy, Paulo Pereira, who also wrote a book on the case, recently went to prison for seven years for his involvement in a robbery and kidnapping ring near Lisbon.
Finally, I will look, for the first time, at two other retired police officers – both English expats – lurking like a bad smell in the background.
One, a senior career detective who has spent years supporting the Portuguese police and trolling the McCanns for being guilty of the crime. And the second, a former London detective, who also defended the Portuguese investigation, while sensationally living NEXT DOOR to Brueckner for a number of years.
My book explores in depth the nondescript village of Foral, where Brueckner lived twice and where the case completely blew up, after the German appeal in June 2020.
I believe it offers a number of keys to the entire case. For it was here, some 35 minutes north east of Praia da Luz that I found a veritable nest of vipers; a place that was totally uninvestigated and where so many strange people resided and so many odd things happened.
I suspect a child sex trafficking ring was centred here and I believe Brueckner was involved.
It was in Foral that the gun-toting crook was linked to an underage teenager who got pregnant and in the nearby town of Messines where he was caught (and yet again, inexplicably, not tried) for exposing himself to children.
Some readers might get the feeling that someone is protecting Herr Brueckner. After all, he was wandering around Europe at will, hanging around children and teens, and managing to offend repeatedly with surprisingly little consequence.
And when we add in Portugal’s truly shocking Casa Pia case – involving government ministers, doctors and judges – you will start to understand why I think Brueckner was being given a helping hand.
My Search for Madeleine, by Jon Clarke, can be bought on all Amazon platforms in both digital and print formats.
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