The mum of a missing girl dubbed the “German Maddie” is clinging to hope that her daughter and Madeleine McCann are both still alive.
Victoria Gehricke’s five-year-old daughter Inga vanished during a family picnic in northern German in May 2015, almost eight years to the day that Maddie disappeared in Portugal.
Paedophile Christian Brueckner, the new chief suspect in the McCann case, was investigated for Inga’s disappearance, but never charged.
After German prosecutors said they suspect Brueckner abducted and murdered Madeleine, police began taking another look at Inga’s unsolved disappearance to find out if he was involved.
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Ms Gehricke, from Schonebeck, told the Volksstimme newspaper that she was not aware of Brueckner’s alleged involvement in the McCann case until it was reported by German media.
The development has given her fresh hope that Inga could finally be found and the case solved.
Ms Gehricke said: “Finally, there is a suspect in a very similar case who also appears in Inga’s files. This needs to be investigated further.
When the Maddie case is finally cleared up, I first hope that the child is alive. Perhaps a connection to the disappearance of Inga could then also be established.”
She added: “We should all never give up hope that Maddie and Inga are still alive.”
Inga was collecting wood for a fire when she disappeared in a forest in Wilhelmshof on May 2, 2015, during an outing with her parents and two other families.
Brueckner, now 43, owned a ramshackle former factory 40 miles away and was involved in a minor car accident close to the forest the day before Inga disappeared.
Police later raided the disused factory, where they seized a motorhome and excavated parts of the property.
A new Spiegel TV documentary claimed girls’ swimming costumes, children’s clothes and 8,000 child abuse images were found by police. Brueckner does not have any children.
The swimwear and clothes were found in the red and white Tiffin Allegro Bay motorhome Brueckner bought in Germany in 2010, three years after Maddie’s disappearance.
Computer memory sticks contained more than 8,000 files, mostly pictures and videos of child abuse, the documentary claimed.
It alleged some of the victims in the images were infants and about 100 of the files were photos of Brueckner partly naked or wearing black stockings and committing a sex act.
The items were in a carrier bag buried beneath the body of Brueckner’s dog.
Officers also discovered online chats where Brueckner allegedly told of a sick fantasy of kidnapping, raping and killing a girl, and boasted he would “document” the torture of a child.
He allegedly told how he wanted to “catch something little and use it for days” and, regarding the risk of being caught, added: “Meh, if the evidence is destroyed…”
He allegedly added: “Then I’ll record maaaany videos/clips. I’ll document in detail how she’s being tortured.”
Police said there was no evidence linking Brueckner to Inga’s disappearance, and he was not charged. He was jailed over the child abuse images.
Brueckner allegedly boasted a motorhome he owned and drove repeatedly between Germany and Portugal was ideal for hiding “drugs and children”.
A former ambulance driver who met Brueckner and saw the RV alleged: “He told me, ‘I can transport children, kids, in this space. Drugs and children, you can transport them in this van, it’s a safe space in the van, nobody can find them. Nobody can catch you’.”
Ms Gehricke and her husband, Jens-Uwe, divorced after Inga disappeared.
Living under a constant “dark shadow”, she said she is disappointed with the police handling of the investigation into her daughter’s disappearance, and she hopes a witness will come forward and help detectives.
Madeleine was on holiday with her parents, Kate and Gerry, and 18-month-old twin siblings, Sean and Amelie, when she disappeared on the night of May 3, 2007.
Mr and Mrs McCann had left their children sleeping alone in the flat at the Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz, Portugal, while they had dinner with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant.
German prosecutors suspect Madeleine is dead and are investigating Brueckner for murder, but admit they do not have enough evidence to charge anyone in the case.
Brueckner was 30 at the time and had been living off and on in the Algarve area for about a decade. Police said he was travelling around in a VW camper van and living a “transient” lifestyle.
Detectives said the McCann suspect was on a 30-minute phone call that placed him in Praia da Luz around an hour before Madeleine is believed to have gone missing.
The call began at 7.32pm and finished at 8.02pm.
The phone number (+351) 912 730 680 is believed to have been used by the suspect, receiving a call from another Portuguese mobile, (+351) 916 510 683.
Madeleine, from Rothley, Leicestershire, is believed to have disappeared between 9.10pm and 10pm that evening.
The caller, who is not thought to have been in the Praia da Luz area, is not being treated as a suspect, but is said to be a “key witness”.
Brueckner has told his German lawyer that he wasn’t involved in the McCann disappearance. The suspect, currently in jail in Kiel in northern Germany, has refused to speak to detectives.
He has racked up 17 convictions across Europe, including for sex offences against children, drug offences, theft and forgery.
He is serving a 15-month prison sentence for drug dealing and could be freed as early as July 17 if the European Court of Justice overturns his conviction for the rape of the 72-year-old American woman.
The woman was attacked in September 2005 in her flat in Praia da Luz, and Brueckner lived about half a mile from her home at the time.
Madeleine would disappear in the same resort about 18 months later.
Brueckner was finally apprehended in 2019 for the rape and jailed for seven years. He is appealing his conviction, claiming German police broke law by extraditing him from Portugal on a drugs charge but then putting him on trial for rape.
Police across Europe are reviewing the unsolved disappearances or murders of several children, and rapes of women after Brueckner was identified as a suspect in the McCann case.