Madeleine McCann, three years old, disappeared from her bed while she was on vacation in Southern Portugal with her parents. This sparked one of the most significant missing child investigations in human history.
Despite a worldwide media storm and a multi-national investigation, years went by without any answers. Then, in June 2020, German authorities revealed that they had a suspect, a sex offender who had been convicted of several other crimes. Christian Brueckner is his name.
Mark Hofmann, an intelligence and crime analyst based in Germany, says that "he absolutely matches the profile for a person who might potentially abduct or kill a little boy like Madeleine McCann."
Hofmann informs Peter Van Sant (48 Hours) that Maddie's phone was traced at the crime scene, or at least near the crime scene on Maddie's disappearance. Peter Van Sant has been following the case since 2007.
Is the arrest and conviction of Brueckner key to solving this case?
Jim Gamble, former head of the United Kingdom’s Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre, says, "When you combine those things, you get that clear focus that makes the jigsaw much more complete."
Gamble says, "For the first-time in 13 years I have to admit... I feel here is an actual credible suspect."
KATE McCANNA [to reporters, May 2007] : We'd like to say a few words about Madeleine. Madeleine is a bright, caring, funny and beautiful little girl. She is truly special. ... We need our Madeleine and Madeleine needs us. Please return our little girl.
Gerry McCann and Kate have waited more than a decade.
GERRY McCANNA [to reporters May 2007]: We won't leave any stone unturned when we search for Madeleine, our daughter.
Many years of searching have been spent since the disappearance of their daughter on May 3, 2007.
KATE MCCANN (2007 BBC interview): We need to believe in ourselves. It is what keeps us motivated and focused.
They may now be closer to discovering what happened to Madeleine.
In Braunschweig Germany in June 2020, Hans Christian Wolters, the prosecutor, held a press conference. He announced that a German suspect was Christian Brueckner (43 years old). He also shared some devastating news. He also declared that Madeleine McCann was likely to be dead.
Peter Van Sant - Mr. Wolters: It's said that German prosecutors are very tight-lipped. You need to have strong evidence to support your statement to the public.
Hans Christian Wolters We have strong evidence to show that Christian B. murdered Maddie McCann.
Peter Van Sant : But you don’t have a body? Is there a body?
Hans Christian Wolters : We don't have any forensic evidence.
Peter Van Sant - How can you be so sure?
Hans Christian Wolters - We have more evidence.
German law prohibits Wolters from using Brueckner’s full name. He also can't say what the evidence is.
Jim Gamble - I heard that the Germans had a credible suspect... my first thought was, "Here we go again."
Jim Gamble, the head of the U.K.’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre was involved in the initial investigation.
Jim Gamble Madeleine's case was complicated.
He has witnessed many leads turn into dead ends over the years. He believes that the Germans are on the right track this time.
Jim Gamble - Everyone who has touched this case, including me, is more optimistic about the German case now than they were in 13 years.
In May 2007, British doctors Gerry McCann and Kate McCann went on vacation in Praia do Luz with their family. It is a resort town in Portugal's Algarve region.
Jane Hill : The coast is beautiful. It is beautiful.
Jane Hill, a BBC News anchor, covered Madeleine’s story.
Jane Hill It was a normal, relaxing week in the sun.
Madeleine, Madeleine, and Madeleine's younger twin brother, and sister, all stayed at Ocean Club. They were joined by several families.
Jim Gamble The Ocean Club Resort was a place where families could go. They had been going there for generations. It seems safe and family-friendly.
KATE MCCANN (2007 BBC interview): It was a wonderful holiday. We had lots of fun.
Madeleine will find this particularly fun.
GERRY McCANNA [2007 BBC interview]: While she may look like Kate, her personality is more McCann-like. She is very outgoing and energetic.
KATE MCCANN (2007 BBC interview): She is very social.
Their idyllic vacation would soon end. The McCanns decided to leave their children in bed at night and go to the tapas bar 50 yards away.
Jim Gamble : This was their normal behavior. It was their routine behavior for the entire week.
Jane Hill : The friends would then take turns. Every 15 minutes, one adult from the group would return... to check on their children and make sure everything was okay.
Kate was the last to arrive and she found her twins sound asleep at 10 p.m. Madeleine was still asleep in her bed.
Jane Tanner : Kate said to me "Jane Madeleine's gone." Madeleine's gone."
Jane Tanner was among the friends that was dining with McCanns .
Jane Tanner - It's the most incongruous thing you could ever imagine. You know that a child will be taken to a safe resort. Tanner was shocked to hear that Madeleine had vanished. She said she had seen a man earlier in the evening, as she walked by the Ocean Club.
Jane Tanner. As I was walking along the road, I noticed a man walking with a child. I could see his feet and her bottoms.
Tanner shared with the Portuguese police what Tanner had seen that night. However, investigators did not appear to take any immediate action.
Jane Hill - She had a laissez faire attitude...she's gone wandering off. She may have gotten lost. We will find her. She will return. ... That was another criticism of how the police activity didn’t really get underway until the next day.
At that point, Madeleine's disappearance was making headlines around the globe.
Jane Hill - My editor took me off air the day after her disappearance and told me to board a plane to Portugal.
Hill was among the first British journalists to arrive on the scene.
Peter Van Sant - Why does this grab people's attention?
Jane Hill - It's every parent's nightmare.
Madeleine was in some ways more than a daughter for the McCanns. Madeleine was their miracle. The couple were unable to conceive and endured many painful in vitro fertilization procedures before Kate became pregnant with Madeleine.
Peter Van Sant - What was it like when Madeleine was born for Gerry and Kate?
John Corner - They were actually walking on air.
Jon Corner, a family friend, spoke to "48 Hours," back in 2007.
Jon Corner - The bond between Kate & Madeleine was, is truly, incredible.
GERRY McCANNA [to reporters May 2007]: Madeleine, please bring her home to her mummy and daddy.
Madeleine's disappearance triggered one of the most extensive international search for missing children in history within days.
Jane Hill Madeleine's visage became so well-known. She was everywhere.
Jane Hill - It was so heartbreaking that photos of the holiday were made public by the family.
GERRY McCANN (to reporters May 2007): It's clearly extremely difficult...
Jane Hill : My team and I were there every day, and we just watched as the press kit grew and grew.
The McCanns were constantly being followed by cameras, and it was evident that Kate was always carrying Madeleine's pink stuffed animals.
KATE MCCANN (2007 BBC interview): Madeleine always has this with her every night. If she is feeling unwell or upset, she will cuddle cat. It provided me with some comfort, something Madeleine's near to me.
The McCanns were frustrated for days as the Portuguese police investigated their case and shared very little.
Jane Hill: Portuguese Police are not allowed to disclose any details of an ongoing probe to anyone but me and the families involved. What happens if you don't have any information? There is gossip, rumor and speculation, but no evidence. That's what you get.
ALL EYES ON THE MCCCANNS
Jane Hill There were always rumors. It was a rumor mill, I cannot tell you. You would be right to wonder where this came from.
One week after Madeleine disappeared, suspicion was placed on a man living just down the street.
Peter Van Sant - Tell me who is Robert Murat
Jim Gamble Robert Murat, a British expat living in Praia do Luz is an example of a British expat. He was also fluent in Portuguese. He spoke Portuguese and engaged with reporters in the vicinity of the investigation, offering his assistance through translations or advice.
Murat was quickly identified by police as a suspect. Witnesses claim Murat arrived at the Ocean Club following Madeleine's disappearance and claimed that he was acting suspiciously. Murat's mother denied that it was possible.
JENNY MURRAT, 2007 interview: They couldn't see him. He was at home the entire night.
The McCanns were then accused of abandoning their daughter by the public.
Peter Van Sant: Was it "We feel so sorry" or "How could that have happened?"
Jane Hill : I heard... people say that. I interviewed a man from Algarve Tourist Board. He replied, "It's important to keep an eye on your luggage. Why wouldn't you keep an eye on your child?
Jane Hill was the first reporter to interview Kate McCann and Gerry McCann.
JANE HILL (2007 BBC interview): Many people have said in the past three weeks that they couldn't imagine doing this. In that scenario, I would not be able leave my three children. What are your thoughts on these comments?
GERRY McCANN (2007 BBC interview): If someone could kidnap your child, I'm sure you wouldn't have.
Portuguese investigators began to look into the McCanns as well. Specially trained sniffer dogs were sent in to search the vacation rental of the McCann family three months after Madeleine disappeared.
There were bloodstains in the apartment as well as the McCann's car rental trunk.
Partially taken blood samples were obtained and sent to a British laboratory for DNA testing. However, the results showed that the blood in the apartment was not Madeleine's and that the results of the DNA from the rental car were inconsistent.
Jim Gamble : I have the letter from the forensic sciences lab. The forensic tests... did not say that this DNA was Madeleine McCann's. The full analysis of this... shows that approximately half of the forensic scientists in that lab would have similar DNA characteristics. It wasn't a complete DNA sample.
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Jim Gamble The McCanns didn't actually keep the car until several weeks after Madeleine disappeared. If you believe Madeleine was in her car boot, then they must have either murdered her or hidden her somewhere earlier. The media surveillance team recovered Madeleine's body while they were watching them. They then placed it in the car and moved it to a location where it could be disposed of. Only then did they bring it back. It doesn't add up. It doesn't add up.
Yet, just four months after Madeleine disappeared, Portuguese police declared McCanns "arguidos", - suspects in Madeleine's disappearance.
Peter Van Sant - Do you believe that the media has covered this story so much, it made Portuguese authorities feel pressured to admit, "We have our real suspects." It's Kate, and it's Gerry.
Jim Gamble : I'm sorry, but that's not what I can do. You would have to speak to the top investigating officer of the Portuguese police. However, I don't think that this type of pressure would draw the attention of a senior investigator officer. Yes.
"48 Hours" reached the Portuguese police to get their comment, but they didn't respond.
Jim Gamble The McCanns ought to have been suspects from day one, minute one and hour one. I do not believe that the McCanns were guilty of this crime. What I am saying is that... You should first look at the parents. Then, you should rule them in or out. Not wait until you've exhausted all your ideas and then say, "Well, it must have been the parents." It's unfair on everyone.
Surprisingly the McCanns were permitted to fly to the U.K. almost immediately after they were declared suspects. This allowed them to return home without their daughter for the first time in a long time.
GERRY McCANNA [statement at the airport, 2007]: Madeleine, our beautiful daughter, has disappeared.
Kate McCann explained to her family that she had been pressured by Portuguese investigators to sign a confession in which she would admit that Madeleine had accidentally died and that Madeleine's disappearance was staged. Kate declined. Kate refused.
SUSAN HEALEY, 2007 interview: Kate stated that she would not sign a confession if it was not necessary. You know. ... Kate and Gerry would not have kept that secret if Madeleine had fallen in an accident.
Peter Van Sant - When the McCanns were identified as suspects, were they also suspects in the U.K.?
Jane Hill - I'm certain there were some people in the U.K. that believed they were involved. This was especially evident in British tabloid newspapers.
Some British newspapers started running sensational stories that were not supported by evidence.
Jim Gamble... and that's when the war on the tabloids began.
The McCanns were effectively made to look like murderers by the endless stream of wild accusations.
Jim Gamble : Then you have the armchair detectives. Social media has the geeks, freaks, and morons. People continue to feed this online world of bile.
The McCanns were cleared by Portuguese investigators in July 2008. Gerry and Kate were already under suspicion for almost a year.
KATE MCCANN (2008 interview): It was hard to express how despairing it was to become arguido, and then be portrayed in the media in the role of suspects in our daughter's kidnapping.
Robert Murat was also cleared by the police. But what happened to Madeleine? The McCanns were singularly focused on this question.
May 2011 BBC interview: I think there's a really good chance she's still alive. ... [takes deep breath] I think I feel that she's out there.
A NEW LOOK AT THE CASE
Madeleine McCann disappeared mysteriously in 2002. Portuguese investigators had not been able to find out what had happened to her for more than two years. Jim Gamble, the head of the U.K.’s Child Exploitation Centre and Online Protection Center, knew he had a responsibility to act.
Jim Gamble - We created a viral video called "A minute from Madeleine McCann".
"A MINUTE FROM MADLEINE MCCANN": Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007, while she was on holiday in Portugal with her family. ...If you have any information and want to keep it secret, please let us know.
Jim Gamble - A video that said "It's never too early to do the right things." ... If you have any information, please contact your local police department.
Peter Van Sant - I understood that the video was available in seven languages.
Jim Gamble : Yes it was...in Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish... It was also downloaded in every part of the world
As the views grew, so did the potential leads.
Peter Van Sant : Please give me an idea of the sheer volume of sightings... that came in from all corners of the globe during these years.
Jim Gamble There have been many sightings in Australia , and other parts of Africa.
Jane Hill : It was all a sham. The trail was cold.
Things were about to get heated. The British government asked Gamble to review the case in 2010.
Peter Van Sant You believe that the Portuguese police made fundamental mistakes when they began their investigation.
Jim Gamble - I think they... made some serious errors.
Gamble claims that Portuguese investigators did not take a close look on everyone who was staying at the Ocean Club at the time.
Jim Gamble It was obvious that the searches were not ad-hoc. It was clear that not all details of those who stayed in the apartment block or were within close proximity to the building had been captured.
Gamble also discovered that the cellphone data from the Ocean Club on the day Madeleine disappeared hadn't been properly analysed.
Jim Gamble The telephone companies gathered all that data in 2007 . But there was no evidence to suggest that any of the cell site data had been... investigated.
Gamble completed his case review in June 2010 and submitted recommendations for the British government. For almost a year r, nothing had happened. Until...
Jim Gamble Gerry McCann opened a letter to the prime minister on the frontpage of a tabloid. Operation Grange was launched within a matter of hours.
Operation Grange was one of the most costly and expensive investigations in British History. To assist the Portuguese investigation, Scotland Yard brought its full weight.
Jane Hill : In the U.K., there was a feeling that this was almost a new start. ... Let's regroup. Let's look at what was not seen. Let's look at witness statements. Let's find out if we can appeal for more information to really revive this.
This meant that we had to take another look at all possible scenarios of what could have happened that night.
Jim Gamble - Could it be that the child walked away from you? Could this be an abduction? Could it have been a burglary gone wrong?
Jim Gamble - Could someone have broken in to the room? Might they have been disturbed and scared of Madeleine... And could they have responded out of fear, anger, and nervousness and taken Madeleine away?
One dark scenario was the most concerning: Madeleine could have been kidnapped and raped by a sex criminal.
KATE MCCANN [2011 BBC interview]: That was clearly our greatest fear. We were devastated by the thought of our child being exposed to such a horrible thing.
Operation Grange solved an early mystery. The identity of the man in the police sketch that was shown to the family friend who had seen it, was not known. Scotland Yard concluded that it was a vacationing man with his child.
To further the investigation, the age-progression technology was also employed at that time.
Jim Gamble - I have seen images of children that have been found many times. The likeness of children sometimes is amazing.
In 2016, there were over 8,600 Madeleine sightings, spread across more than 100 countries. Scotland Yard pursued every lead that was credible, but found no leads.
Jane Hill - How could it have been that so many years later, there was no sign of this little girl? How is that possible? Nothing.
Jim Gamble - What we have been waiting for all these years is the cell site data and information about other sex offenders within the area. We are still waiting for the last piece to fall into place.
In June 2020, some shocking news came out of a small German town.
CHARLIE D'AGATA (CBSN, June 4, 2020): German police reveal that a convicted sex offenders is the prime suspect.
After many years of searching, finally, a promising suspect emerged- a German man aged 43. One look at his past will reveal that he is a monster.
CHRISTIAN B. WHO IS IT?
2017 marked the grim anniversary of Gerry and Kate McCann. It was 10 Years since the disappearance of their daughter.
GERRY McCANNA [2017 interview]: Anniversaries and her birthday are the most difficult days.
KATE MCCANN, 2017 interview: We can still find Madeleine, no matter what, for as long or little as we need.
GERRY McCANNA [2017 interview]
The McCanns didn't know that police received a tip that could change the course of their lives, 500 miles away in Braunschweig (Germany).
German prosecutor: In 2017, a person contacted the German police and gave us the name of Christian B.
According to reports, Brueckner - German authorities call him Christian B. -- allegedly confessed to a friend that made him drunk about what happened to Madeleine.
The investigation was conducted by Germany's top police agency. They discovered that Brueckner had a disturbing criminal history that spanned three decades.
Peter Van Sant Who is Christian B.
Mark Hofmann - Christian B. was a... criminal that committed many financially motivated crimes such as burglary and drug trafficking.
Mark Hofmann, a German crime and intelligence analyst, has studied Christian Brueckner.
Mark Hofmann - But he also has a dark side.
According to authorities, he was known for targeting young girls.
Mark Hofmann : He is most likely a psychopath, with no empathy...and no deep feelings. He wants to feel power over vulnerable victims, particularly young children. He matches Madeleine McCann's profile.
According to "48 Hours", official documents show that Brueckner began his life as a criminal when he was 15 years old and arrested for theft. In 1994, he abused a child in Germany two years later. To escape his sentence, Brueckner fled Portugal.
Mark Hofmann He changed jobs. He changed his crime from one to the next.
He was expelled to Germany in 1999 to complete his sentence. He would soon return home to Portugal where Brueckner lived in a VW camper van and eventually moved to a house.