Madeleine McCann case: How Christian Brueckner became prime suspect in toddler's 2004 disappearance

In 2017, police received a tip from an unnamed person that Christian Brueckner had made a drunken confession that he knew what had happened to Madeleine

                            Madeleine McCann case: How Christian Brueckner became prime suspect in toddler's 2004 disappearance
Christian Brueckner and Madeleine McCann (Getty Images)

There have been countless specials and documentaries on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the three-year-old who went missing from a Portuguese resort in 2007. The latest to join the list is 'Prime Suspect: The Madeleine McCann Case', which is available to stream on Discovery+ and examines the role of Christian Brueckner, who was revealed to be the prime suspect last year, in the investigation.

The documentary series features friends of the suspects, an ex-girlfriend, and other key persons in the case, including Brueckner's defense counsel, the German prosecutor, and the former Portuguese investigator. While Brueckner's lawyer, Friedrich Fulscher, believes that Brueckner may never face any charges, the chief investigator handling the case, Hans Christian Wolters, said he is sure that Brueckner is behind the disappearance and possible murder of the little girl, and that if the public were to see the evidence, they would agree.


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In this handout photo, released September 16, 2007, missing child Madeleine McCann smiles (Getty Images).

Madeleine disappeared from her bed in a holiday apartment at a resort in Praia da Luz, in Portugal. Her whereabouts remain unknown and German prosecutors stated in 2020 that they assume that she is dead. In June 2020, German prosecutors named Brueckner as the main suspect and claimed to have "concrete evidence" to prove she was dead. The evidence has not been released to the public.

So, how did the police zero in on Brueckner as the prime suspect in the case? 

It was in 2017, that the police first received a tip from an unnamed person that Christian Brueckner had made a drunken confession that he knew what had happened to Madeleine.

When the German police looked into Brueckner, they discovered that he had a criminal past - including a case that would tie him to the same resort from which Madeleine was abducted. According to CBS News, official German court documents obtained by '48 Hours' revealed that Brueckner was first arrested at 15 years old for theft in 1992. In 1994, he sexually abused a child in Germany and fled to Portugal. Five years later, he was extradited to Germany to serve his sentence. Following his release, he returned to Portugal, and resumed a life of crime, stealing from hotels and holiday apartments.

Police cars stand in line during a search at an allotment garden that belonged to Christian Brueckner on July 28, 2020, in Hanover, Germany (Getty Images).

It is also reported that Brueckner was living in his house in Portugal during the time of Madeleine's disappearance, which was one mile away from the resort the child disappeared from. Police also discovered that on the night Madeleine disappeared, Brueckner's cellphone received a call, pinning Brueckner's cell phone location at or near the location of the McCanns' apartment. 

Brueckner also left Portugal suddenly on the day after Madeleine's disappearance, placing his Jaguar in someone else's name and moving back to Germany, settling in the small city of Braunschweig. A 2014 search of Brueckner's apartment in the town led to police discovering 391 photo files and 68 video files containing child pornography. He was charged with child pornography and for abusing a five-year-old and was sentenced to 15 months in prison for both crimes.

A search of an abandoned factory once owned by Brueckner led police to discover USB drives containing photos and videos of child abuse, some of which were produced by Brueckner. Police also found three girls' swimsuits inside an RV owned by Brueckner which was on the factory grounds.

In December 2019, Brueckner was sentenced to seven years in prison for attacking a 72-year-old American woman in the same resort that Madeleine disappeared from, the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz. The rape took place in September 2005, one year after Madeleine's disappearance. Brückner is currently serving his sentence in jail in Kiel, northern Germany.

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