Madeleine McCann investigators have found a hidden cellar at the German allotment where kidnapping suspect Christian Brueckner allegedly lived in 2007.
A former neighbour of Brueckner claims the sex offender lived at the vegetable garden in 2007 – the same year Madeleine vanished – and that the buildings on his plot of land were demolished in 2008.
Police found the cellar in the foundations of a long-demolished building at the allotment near Hannover, where Madeleine detectives have been removing slabs of building materials for two days.
Wolfgang Kossack, 73, who owns the plot next to Brueckner’s former allotment, told MailOnline that Brueckner had failed to register with local authorities and talked about planning his return to southern Europe.
Specialist search dogs that look for dead bodies and computer equipment are being used as part of the huge investigation that is currently scouring the vegetable garden for a second day.
Last month a former friend of Brueckner reportedly claimed the kidnap suspect told him he had a cellar at a different property which he wanted to line with metal sheets ‘like Josef Fritzl’s’.
Brueckner – who is currently in jail in northern Germany – is suspected of killing Madeleine after she vanished from her Praia da Luz holiday apartment in May 2007, the same year that Brueckner lived at the allotment.
Mr Kossack said he only realised the link to Brueckner this week when police started digging up the allotment, saying: ‘I remembered his face from the pictures in the news. And I remember his van and his dogs. I had completely forgotten about him up until then.’
Slabs of building materials are removed from the allotment garden in Germany which is being dug up by investigators – where Christian Brueckner allegedly lived in the same year that Madeleine McCann vanished
An excavator on the plot of land near Hannover where Brueckner’s former neighbour says there used to be a shed and cellar
A map showing the location of Brueckner’s apartment block in Hannover and of the vegetable garden which is being searched in northern Germany
Soft borders would have made it simple to take Madeleine to Germany
Madeleine’s kidnapper would have had little difficulty driving her 1,700 miles from Portugal to Germany because of the continent’s open borders.
If Brueckner kidnapped Madeleine, he would have had to drive through Portugal, Spain, France and possibly the Benelux countries to reach Germany – all of which been members of the Schengen open-borders agreement since it was created in 1995.
Other German borders were opened later in 2007, including those with the Czech Republic and Poland.
The 2019 Netflix documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann showed footage of cars crossing the border into Spain just hours after Madeleine vanished – driving right past a police patrol which was meant to be checking them.
Even a van with blacked-out windows was allowed to cross the border and leave Portugal without having its contents inspected.
Ernie Allen, the former president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said in the documentary that Portuguese police had been ‘slow’ to impose checks.
Speaking to MailOnline, Mr Kossack said: ‘Christian Brueckner had the garden next to mine. He arrived in 2007 and left within a year. He told me that he living off the grid, that he had not registered with the authorities – no one knew he was there.
‘He never did any gardening. He did not plant anything or try to grow anything. He just sat around drinking beer.
‘At the time there was a building on the garden. It was a small wooden structure with only one room to keep tools and other things but it had a kitchen.
‘The building was not really a house, you might call it a shed. But it had a cellar and underneath there would be foundations. This building was destroyed in 2008.’
The retired electrician said he remembered Brueckner took it over in 2007 because the allotments had only been handed out by the local authorities the year before.
Brueckner’s plot of land was originally owned by someone else before it was passed onto the convicted rapist.
Mr Kossack, who has tended his own parcel of land since 2006, said Brueckner disappeared in 2008 and he never saw him again.
‘Sometimes a young woman would be there with him,’ he said. ‘She seemed to be his girlfriend. ‘He had two dogs – a big one and a small one – who were quite annoying. They would come into my garden to do their business.
‘I remember he called the small dog, Frau Muller [a German nickname for a housewife].’
Before Brueckner left, he talked about his time outside of Germany. ‘Brueckner said he preferred southern Europe because he liked the warm weather and said he would go back there,’ his neighbour said.
‘He did not say which country. He had a VW Transporter van and parked it next to the allotment and lived in the vehicle.
‘The van was registered in Hannover but Brueckner had not paid the tax on the vehicle.
‘I asked Bruecker what he did for a job. He said he was a car mechanic. I asked him why he didn’t repair his own van because it was always leaking diesel onto the ground. He said he would get around to it sometime.’
He added: ‘I feel so sorry for the parents of Madeleine McCann. I hope they can find out what happened to their daughter.’
Police today began a second day of searching an allotment garden near Hannover as part of their Madeleine McCann investigation, close to where suspect Christian Brueckner once lived
Investigators arrive with their equipment with a police van behind them this morning as the search continues at an allotment linked to Madeleine kidnapping suspect Christian Brueckner in Germany
Brueckner’s last known address in Hannover was at this apartment block, around three miles from the allotment which is being searched by German police today
Christian Brueckner (right) is prime suspect in the kidnap and murder of three-year-old Madeleine (left) in 2007 while she was on holiday in Praia da Luz
Up to 100 officers using small diggers and sniffer dogs were today continuing to excavate the vegetable garden outside Hannover, where Brueckner lived after the three-year-old vanished in 2007.
A tent has been erected on the plot concealing the exact nature of the search, and a wide cordon with wire netting has set been up around the allotment.
Two small tents have been set up in a field opposite the main dig site, while a fleet of German police vehicles lined the side of the small country road while commuter traffic drove past.
An apartment block in Hannover has been identified as Brueckner’s last known address in the city, and German media says he may have lived on the allotment itself – possibly in his trailer.
German authorities have released few details about the allotment search, beyond confirming that it was part of the Madeleine investigation.
The allotment is only a short drive away from an apartment block where Brueckner is known to have stayed while living in Hannover, and the ‘Havana Club’ bar which he is thought to have frequented is also nearby.
Asked by Bild about Brueckner’s connection to the allotment, the suspect’s lawyer Friedrich Fuelscher said he could not comment on the police operation.
Pressed on why the allotment was being searched, Fuelscher told the newspaper that ‘I think we’ll find out the reason soon’.
According to local newspaper HAZ, detectives discovered and searched the cellar of a gazebo which had once stood on the site but has long since been demolished.
Brueckner is currently in prison in Kiel for drug offences and had launched legal proceedings for an early release after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
The two-thirds benchmark passed on June 7, leading to fears he could be released and subsequently disappear before the Maddie case was resolved.
However, he has now dropped his bid, though he is still appealing against a conviction for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old woman in Praia da Luz where Madeleine vanished in 2007.
The drugs conviction is due to keep him behind bars until shortly before the end of January next year and, after that, a seven year jail term for the rape will kick in unless he wins his appeal.
An excavator at the allotment today where police are searching for a second day but have not revealed what they are expecting to find
A police car stands in a grain field near the garden allotment in northern Germany which is by the side of a canal
Police put up a screen at the allotment near Hannover today which is the site of a major search by German authorities
A tent was set up at the search site, where police are said to have uncovered a cellar underneath a long-demolished gazebo
A man operates a digger behind fencing at the allotment in northern Germany today, close to where the suspect once lived
Detectives have been bagging up pieces of evidence and yesterday discovered a cellar underneath a long-demolished gazebo as they scour for clues that could link Brueckner to Madeleine’s disappearance
Brueckner is thought to have worked in a car repair shop while living in Hannover, and his last known address in Germany was 40 miles away in Braunschweig.
German media says he received at least two criminal convictions from a Hannover court, one for forging documents in 2010 and another for theft in 2013.
He split his time between Germany and Portugal from 2013 to 2015, prosecutors in Hannover have said.
At the end of 2012, he reportedly opened a small shop in Braunschweig with his then girlfriend. After they split up, he continued to run the shop alone until he gave it up 18 months later, along with the adjacent apartment.
Police were yesterday seen digging up the garden with an excavator after fencing off the allotment and sending in a sniffer dog to assist their search,.
‘I can confirm that the search is being carried out in connection with our investigations into the Maddie case,’ said Julia Meyer from the prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig.
Some of the detectives were wearing forensic suits and putting possible pieces of evidence into plastic bags, while others were using rakes and shovels to scour for clues.
Meyer, the prosecutors’ office spokeswoman, said she could not give any further details on the operation but added only that police would ‘still need some more time to finish.’
The search was being carried out by officials from the prosecutors’ office in Braunschweig, where Brueckner was convicted of rape last year, and the German federal police.
Police continue their digging operations at the vegetable garden near Hannover today in the hope of finding clues to link Brueckner to Madeleine’s disappearance
A German police officer stands chest-deep in a hole while a sniffer dog watches on at an allotment near Hannover yesterda where authorities are digging up a garden in their search for Madeleine McCann
German police use an excavator at an allotment garden near Hannover yesterday in an operation linked to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007
Police were digging up the the garden with ‘heavy equipment’ including an excavator after fencing off the allotment this morning
What do we know about Maddie murder suspect Christian Brueckner and his criminal past?
1976: Christian Brueckner is born in Würzburg under a different name. He was adopted by the Brueckner family and took their surname.
1992: Brueckner is arrested on suspicion of burglary in his hometown of Wurzburg, Bavaria.
1994: He is given a two-year youth jail sentence for ‘abusing a child’ and ‘performing sex acts in front of a child’.
1995: Brueckner arrives in Portugal as an 18-year-old backpacker and begins working in catering in the seaside resorts of Lagos and Praia da Luz. But friends say he became involved with a criminal syndicate trafficking drugs into the Algarve.
September 2005: He dons a mask and breaks into an apartment where he rapes a 72-year-old American tourist.
The victim was bound, gagged, blindfolded and whipped with a metal cane before being raped for 15 minutes. She said afterwards that he had clearly enjoyed ‘torturing’ her before the rape.
April 2007: He moves out of a farmhouse and into a campervan now linked to the crime. The farmhouse is cleaned and a bag of wigs and ‘exotic clothes’ is found.
May 3, 2007: Madeleine McCann is snatched at around 10pm from her bed as her parents eat tapas with friends yards away. Brueckner’s mobile phone places him in the area that night. He returns to his native Germany shortly after that.
October 2011: He is sentenced to 21 months for ‘dealing narcotics’ in Niebüll, in northern Germany.
2014: He moves to Braunschweig where he starts running a town-centre kiosk. He then goes back to Portugal with a girlfriend.
2016: He is back in Germany. He is given 15 months in prison for ‘sexual abuse of a child in the act of creating and possessing child pornographic material’.
May 3, 2017: Brueckner is said to be in a bar with a friend when a ten-year anniversary appeal following Madeleine’s disappearance is shown on German television. He is said to have told him in a bar that he ‘knew all about’ what happened to her. The friend apparently went to police.
June 2017: He heads back to Portugal and is extradited again to Germany to face 15 months’ imprisonment for the sexual abuse of a child.
August 2018: After his release from prison he lives on the streets. But he was jailed again for drug offences.
September 2018: Brueckner is arrested in Milan and extradited to Germany and to face trial for raping the American tourist after a DNA match to hair found at the scene.
July 2019: He is jailed for 21 months for drug dealing in the northern German resort of Sylt.
August 2019: Brueckner is charged with the rape of the American tourist in Praia da Luz in 2005.
December 2019: He is convicted of rape raping the tourist based on DNA evidence. He is given a seven year sentence, but has not yet started it because of an ongoing appeal.
June 4, 2020: Brueckner is named by German media as the prime suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.
Brueckner, a career criminal, was identified as the new lead suspect in June after German police released a trove of new evidence including details of his cars and phone numbers, urging people to come forward with new tip-offs.
Investigators in Germany said at the time that Madeleine was assumed to be dead, going further than British police who are still treating the toddler’s disappearance as a missing-person case.
Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, last month denied receiving a letter from German investigators stating that ‘there is evidence or proof’ Madeleine is dead.
German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters, who is leading the German investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, said that a letter had been written to the couple, but would not reveal what it said.
Mr Wolters said prosecutors have ‘concrete evidence’, but not ‘forensic evidence’ that Madeleine was killed by the suspect and may ‘know more’ than Scotland Yard, who are still treating the case as a missing person investigation.
The Metropolitan Police maintain their active investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, Operation Grange, is a missing person inquiry as there is no ‘definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead’.
In the days after the renewed appeal, Scotland Yard said they received hundreds of tips to their Operation Grange team.
Portuguese authorities are also continuing their investigation and earlier this month searched a series of wells in the Algarve region.
Police and divers in the Algarve region examined a series disused wells in Vila do Bispo, around 10 miles from Praia da Luz.
Multiple investigators were at the scene with specialist diving equipment to examine the wells, with the largest thought to be more than 40ft deep.
Brueckner is known to have lived on the Algarve coast and his Portuguese mobile phone received a half-hour phone call in Praia da Luz around an hour before Madeleine went missing 13 years ago – a key piece of evidence in the German investigation.
Police hope to track down the person who placed the call, regarding them as a crucial witness to Brueckner’s movements on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance.
Brueckner made a living doing odd jobs in the area where Madeleine disappeared, and was also known to have burgled hotel rooms and holiday flats.
He has not yet spoken to investigators, who say they are convinced that he has committed other sex attacks.
Madeleine went missing from her family’s holiday apartment in the Portuguese holiday resort of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, a few days before her fourth birthday, as her parents dined with friends at a nearby tapas bar.
Despite a huge international manhunt, no trace of her has been found, nor has anyone been charged over her disappearance.
In September 2007, Gerry and Kate McCann were questioned by police as formal suspects. The following July, the Portuguese police dropped their investigation because of a lack of evidence and cleared the McCanns of any involvement.
The UK government has continued to fund Scotland Yard’s investigation despite increasing doubts over whether the case would ever be solved.
The McCanns’ lawyer Rogerio Alves said police have only 22 more months to nail down the case because of a 15-year statute of limitations in Portugal.
Speaking on McCann: The Hunt for the Prime Suspect on ITV, Alves said: ‘We have a 15 years time barrier, even to manslaughter, to homicide, to certain sexual offences — and even to the most serious kind of kidnapping.
‘So we are still on time. But time is getting short now.’
German investigators wearing protective gear are seen through the trees during their search of an allotment garden near Hannover on Tuesday morning
The area was fenced off by police today after the search got underway with ‘heavy equipment’ four miles outside Hannover
Kate and Gerry McCann (pictured together) discovered their daughter Madeleine missing in Praia da Luz in May 2007
Brueckner’s name has also been mentioned in connection with other missing children, some of whom vanished in similar circumstances to Madeleine.
In one case, five-year-old Inga Gehricke vanished from a forest in Saxony-Anhalt in 2015 and prosecutors confirmed they were probing possible connections to the McCann case, while saying that Brueckner was not currently a suspect.
He reportedly had a property in the town of Neuwegersleben, around 60 miles south-west of Stendal when Inga went missing.
Separately, the family of German six-year-old René Hasse, who went missing in the Algarve in 1996, revealed that police are re-investigating the case for the first time in 20 years.
Dutch police have also prepared a dossier for German police to look for a possible link to the disappearance of seven-year-old Jair Soares in 2005.
Jair went missing when he went to buy chips near the town of Monster in the South Holland province of the country on August 4, 1995.
A spokesman for police in The Hague confirmed that after announcing their intention to exchange information they have now presented the case and ‘were in talks’.
He said: ‘Presenting the case means that we look if there are any similarities between the cases. So we look for clues that connect them.’
How the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann unfolded over 13 years
May 3: Gerry and Kate McCann leave their three children, including Maddie, asleep in their hotel apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, as they eat with friends in a nearby restaurant. When they return, they find Maddie missing from her bed
May 4: A friend of the McCanns reports of seeing a man carrying a child away in the night. Meanwhile, airports and borders are put on high alert as search gets underway
May 14: Robert Murat, a property developer who lives a few yards from the hotel, is made a suspect by Portuguese police
May 30: The McCanns meet the Pope in Rome in a bid to bring worldwide attention to the search
August 11: Police in Portugal acknowledge for the first time in the investigation that Maddie might be dead.
September 7: Spanish police make the McCanns official suspects in the disappearance. Two days later the family flies back to England
July 21: Spanish police remove the McCanns and Mr Mural as official suspects as the case is shelved
May 1: A computer-generated image of what Maddie could look like two years after she disappeared is released by the McCanns
May 12: A review into the disappearance is launched by Scotland Yard, following a plea from then-Home Secretary Theresa May
April 25: After a year of reviewing the case, Scotland Yard announce they belief that Maddie could be alive and call on police in Portugal to reopen the case, but it falls on deaf ears amid ‘a lack of new evidence’
Kate and Gerry McCann mark the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine with the publication of the book written by her mother in 2011
July 4: Scotland Yard opens new investigation and claim to have identified 38 ‘people of interest’
October 24: A review into the investigation is opened by Portuguese police and new lines of inquiry are discovered, forcing them to reopen the case
January 29: British officers arrive in Portugal as a detailed investigation takes place. During the year, several locations are searched, including an area of scrubland near the resort
October 28: British police announce that team investigating Maddie’s disappearance is reduced from 29 officers to just four, as it is also revealed that the investigation has cost £10million
April 3: Operation Grange is handed an additional £95,000 by Theresa May to keep the investigation alive for another six months
March 11: Cash is once again pumped into keeping the investigation alive, with £85,000 granted to keep it running until September, when it is extended once again until April next year
March 27: The Home Office reveals it has allocated further funds to Operation Grange. The new fund is believed to be as large as £150,000
September 11: Parents fear as police hunt into daughter’s disappearance could be shelved within three weeks by the new Home Secretary amid funding cuts
September 26: Fresh hope in the search for Madeleine McCann as it emerges the Home Office is considering allocating more cash for the police to find her
April: Controversial new Netflix documentary re-examining Maddie’s kidnap is released, triggering a barrage of online abuse against Kate and Gerry by heartless trolls. They pair, who refused to take part in the eight hour programme series, slammed it for ‘potentially hindering’ the search for their daughter while an active police hunt is ongoing
June 5: The Home Office gives the Metropolitan Police enough funding to investigate for another year
June 22: Detectives say they are ‘closer than ever’ to solving the disappearance as they look into a new suspect. A joint effort by British and Portuguese police narrowed in on a ‘foreign’ man who was in the Algarve when she went missing in 2007
December 7: Paulo Pereira Cristovao, a long-time critic of Maddie’s parents who angered them with a controversial book about the mystery disappearance, was convicted of participating in the planning of two violent break-ins at properties in Lisbon and the nearby resort of Cascais. He is jailed for seven and a half years
December 11: Maddie’s parents revealed a touching list of what they miss most about their daughter as they spent their 13th Christmas without her
February 22: Scotland Yard detectives questioned a British expat about her German ex-boyfriend. Carol Hickman, 59, claims police entered her bar in Praia da Luz, Portugal to ask questions about her former partner
March 27: Detectives requested extra money to continue their investigation into the disappearance of the toddler in Portugal back in 2007, with funds for the operation set to run out at the end of the month
June 3: Police reveal that a 43-year-old German prisoner has been identified as a suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.