Prosecutors in Portugal have named an official suspect in the years-long investigation of the infamous disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the British three year old who went missing while her family vacationed in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007.
In what The Daily Telegraph once described as “the most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history,” McCann’s mysterious disappearance drew unprecedented levels of media attention in the years that followed.
In 2007, her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were named as suspects in the case and were then cleared. The latest updates in the probe represent the first time in almost 15 years that Portuguese prosecutors have named alternative official suspects.
Christian Brueckner, a 45-year-old man from Germany, has been made an “arguido,” while Portuguese authorities have not yet formally released the suspect’s identity. “Arguido” translates to “named suspect” or “person of interest,” and this status is used in Portugal’s legal system to categorize someone who is more than a witness in a case, but has not yet been arrested or charged with a crime. It is a necessary precursor to pursuing any criminal charges.
Portuguese authorities have been working with their German counterparts, with Brueckner being investigated by German police as recently as 2020. He is currently serving a prison sentence in Germany for drug offenses, in addition to a seven-year sentence for raping an elderly woman.
Under Portuguese law, it would not have been possible to declare anyone a person of interest in this case beyond the 15-year anniversary of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, on May 3, 2022. Despite the rapidly approaching deadline, however, Portugal’s office of public prosecutions said that the timing was coincidental, and instead driven by “strong indications” of the practice of a crime.
According to Jim Gamble, a former British police officer who led an official Home Office review of McCann’s disappearance in 2010, the case against Brueckner is strong.
“This seems like a really strong case and that’s why I don’t think it is a procedural tick in a box to make sure they don’t miss out because of the statute of limitations,” Gamble told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “I think there’s been a growing case and we should not underestimate the confidence of the German police.”
Gamble added allegations that phone data placed Brueckner in the area of McCann’s disappearance within a 30-minute timeframe, that the suspect had burglarized vacation homes in the area, and that children’s clothes were found in his vehicle.
“I think the circumstantial evidence that I know exists is extremely strong… I wouldn’t be surprised if charges follow,” Gamble noted. “It would just be fantastic to be able to give the McCanns peace of mind so far as knowing exactly what happened.”
Brueckner denies any involvement in the disappearance of McCann.