20 May, 2024 @ 14:32
6 mins read

EXCLUSIVE: As the trial of Maddie suspect Christian Brueckner re-starts – and she would have been 21 this month – JON CLARKE traces his suspicious movements through Spain and Portugal in May 2007

MADELEINE McCann suspect Christian Brueckner stayed in at least half a dozen places around the Algarve and Spain in the month before the British toddler went missing.

As the parents of Maddie sent out a heartfelt public message to mark what would have been her 21st birthday this month, we retrace her likely abductor’s steps.

The dangerous drifter had at least one trip to Andalucia in April/May 2007, as well as many nights spent on three beaches near Praia da Luz, where Maddie vanished this month, 17 years ago.

In an in-depth investigation, the Olive Press has established the German sex offender also parked his distinctive white and yellow VW camper van at a ‘hippy travellers camp’, an isolated lake and two inland villages on the Algarve.

READ MORE: Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner’s van ‘had two hidden compartments’ including one in the FLOOR: Cops search the vehicle for DNA of ‘German Maddie’ Inga Gehricke

Brueckner’s notorious yellow and white VW camper van. Photo: The Olive Press

Talking to a series of close friends and contacts, who spent time with the German paedophile, 47, that Spring, we pieced together a forensic picture of his movements.

Above all, we have established Brueckner – who is currently on trial for five other sex offences committed in Portugal – was ‘constantly on the move’.

“He was bobbing around here, there and everywhere and was completely up to no good, in particular selling drugs,” revealed Terry Johnson, a British traveller, who was living on various beaches near Praia da Luz at the time.

“I was also moving around up and down the coast doing satellite TV installations for van-lifers and kept seeing his yellow and white van.

“He never stayed anywhere for long and always parked up away from the main groups, usually out of sight of the police.

“He was a shady guy, who we all knew to keep at arm’s length.”

We can reveal how he stayed at a trio of beaches West of the popular Algarve resort, where the McCanns were holidaying with friends.

They included Praia da Boca do Rio, Praia Amado, in Carrapateira, and Praia de Barranco, where German police released a photo of his distinctive VW Westfalia van parked up, in June 2020, when they announced he was the ‘prime suspect’ in the abduction.

READ MORE: Is new hunt for missing Inga Gehricke linked to white van once leased by chief Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner? 

Photo: The Olive Press

In particular, Brueckner liked staying up on the ‘ledges’ at Boca do Rio, which sat on cliffs between the stunning pristine beach and nearby village of Zalema, reached via a steep dirt track.

German police are certain he was here on April 7, 2007, the day a young girl, 10, was groped by a man with blonde scruffy hair and blue eyes on Zalema Beach.

Joana E, now 27, and her parents will tell Braunschweig court this month that the attacker was Brueckner and he was naked apart from a rucksack during the broad daylight attack.

They will also reveal that after sexually assaulting her while masterbating, the German-speaking man ran away up a steep path towards Boca do Río.

Despite the family giving a detailed police report the following day, the chief of Villa do Bispo police station didn’t rule the crime serious enough to investigate and it was archived.

No detective ever went out to investigate and the report was not even deemed worthwhile to send to cops probing missing Madeleine four weeks later.

It was during these next few weeks that a number of holidaymakers reported seeing an ugly-looking spotty man hanging around watching tourist apartments, in Praia da Luz.

Pic 11 Mugshot Of Christian Brueckner
Christian Brueckner

One told police (and later a Netflix documentary) that the man had acted ‘creepily’ in front of her young daughter, while a local expat schoolgirl told cops she saw a man fixedly watching the Ocean Club apartment, where Maddie was snatched, two days in a row.

And the Olive Press can reveal that in the last week of April there was an attempted snatch of another toddler in the resort.

The girl – who was just four and on holiday with her parents – looked ‘very similar to Madeleine’.

A mystery man also tried to snatch a toddler who looked similar to Madeline.

Sensationally, the family – whose identity we are not revealing – told this paper they believed they were ‘being watched’ in the days before their four-year-old was nearly grabbed by a man on a motorbike.

“We were walking home from the beach when this man whizzed past and tried to scoop her up,” the mother told the Olive Press.

“Luckily I spotted it and screamed really loudly forcing the man to wobble and drop her down,” she continued.

“He then drove up the road and up a ramp into a white van that drove off at top speed.”

When shown a photo of Brueckner from the time she said it ‘could easily be’ the man who was watching their apartment for days before the snatch attempt.

Despite reporting the incident, Portuguese police never contacted the family for more information.

Indeed, it was only in the last couple of years that a detective from Scotland Yard – acting alongside the German BKA – contacted them.

“I really don’t understand why more hasn’t been done and why no one took interest at the time.”

READ MORE: New witness ‘saw Maddie McCann suspect flee rape of young Irish expat’: Victim felt she was being watched before Christian Brueckner ‘climbed into her home and launched four-hour assault’

ALARMING

The alarming amount of similar incidents before Maddie was taken on May 3, has never been fully recorded until now.

German police told the Olive Press they are now probing ‘a number of incidents around Praia da Luz in the months before Madeleine went missing’.

In an interview with the Olive Press in June 2020, friend of Brueckner Michael Tatschl catalogued how he had become fixated on how much money he could make from snatching and selling children.

The Austrian carpenter had lived in Brueckner’s rental home in Praia da Luz in early 2006 before sharing a cell with him in Portimao prison for eight months when found guilty of fuel theft.

He told the Olive Press he stayed in touch with Brueckner after getting out of prison in December 2006, when he moved to Orgiva, near Granada.

“Christian had lost the house (in Praia da Luz) but he was still enjoying living in the area,” he revealed.

“I think that confused the police a little as they were not sure where he was living exactly when Maddie vanished.

“Basically he had his VW and was living free, going to raves and selling drugs to the local party crowd.”

He said Brueckner turned up in Orgiva around February or March 2007 and again out of the blue in ‘late May or early June’ in a huge Tiffin Allegro motorhome.

Neither he, nor their mutual friends, could understand where he had suddenly got the money to buy the giant American vehicle.

He added he was ‘convinced’ Brueckner had made this money snatching Maddie and was ‘obsessed about making a million’

“He was always bragging about money and making money, particularly from burglaries. He even talked about selling kids, maybe to Morocco,” he revealed.

Another friend, meanwhile, told the Olive Press, she believed he spent at least ‘a few nights’ at his favourite inland lake in April 2007.

Christian’s favourite spot, the Arade lake.
Photo: The Olive Press

The German mother-of-two knew him since he first moved to the Algarve in the mid 1990s with his then girlfriend Silke.

She said he loved the ‘silence and peace’ of the inland barragems – reservoirs that supply water to the Algarve – which are frequented by dozens of hippy travellers.

In particular he loved the Arade lake, where he made a camp and where he frequently went back for periods of time for years.

The seamstress, whose mechanic husband fixed various cars and vans of Brueckner, visited the camp with him on a number of occasions.

A hippy camp which could have played host to Christian.
Photo: The Olive Press

“We went to pick up some rocks to build a wall around my swimming pool,” she told the Olive Press.

“He loved it there and had a specific spot he liked to park his VW and a place he slept nearby in the trees

“He carved a path through the trees and sculpted a big stone circle down near the water’s edge.

“I think this is where he was sleeping in the days Maddie went missing and I fear this is where he buried her body,” she added this week.

Christian was thought to frequent hippie camps in Portugal. Photo: The Olive Press

Last year German and Portuguese Police spent a week probing the lake and surrounding area, and according to sources found at least one ‘relevant’ clue.

Spookily, a makeshift shrine pointing at his camp was erected on the other side of the lake in the months after she vanished.

Finally, it’s known he was on the move inland on the night of April 3 when Maddie vanished.

His girlfriend at the time, Nicole F, revealed he parked up outside her house in the village of Foral 45 minutes from Praia da Luz on the night.

She said he phoned her at one point that evening and arrived in the early hours of the morning.

She told the Mail On Sunday he told her he was ‘coming from Tomar’ a university town five hours north of the Algarve.

Oddly, he was not there when she woke up in the morning and she said she didn’t remember when she saw him again.

The university town has been the focus of various investigations and convictions into child abuse networks over recent years, involving a number of figures, including a priest and a lawyer. 

Brueckner had a friend studying at the university at the time, it can be revealed.

Jon Clarke’s book, My Search for Madeleine, is the definitive guide to what happened to the toddler, published by OP Books and available on Amazon

READ MORE: Parents vow to ‘never give up’ in their search for Maddie as they mark her 20th birthday

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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