Madeleine McCann’s suspected kidnapper dug a 10ft cellar at a second German allotment which could be searched by police for traces of the missing youngster, neighbours said today.
Christian Brueckner used to stay overnight at the plot on the outskirts of Braunschweig while he ran a kiosk in the city, 40 miles from Hanover where his first allotment was excavated this week.
Owners of the adjoining gardens in Braunschweig believe that the plot where Brueckner used to work in a shed will soon be probed as part of the Madeleine investigation.
Manfred Richter, 80, said: ‘Brueckner excavated the floor of the house. He took out the rocks and the earth. He dug a big hole. It was 10ft deep and 20ft wide. He carried out the rocks and earth by hand and dumped it out by the front of the house.
‘He put put planks of wood over the top of the hole. It took him two months to complete. He started in the morning and worked until evening. Doing this work got him in trouble with the authorities in charge of the gardens.’
Another neighbour said Brueckner had never done any gardening in Braunschweig but would visit the allotment with his girlfriend and work in his shed, before he left the plot abruptly and was never seen again.
The woman who now owns the plot has encouraged police to come and search it, saying: ‘I worry that I could be sleeping on top of the body of Madeleine McCann.’
Sabine Sellig, the current plot owner, told local media last month that she had called the police following the original appeal for information about Brueckner.
She told the police: ‘Please come and search my house. I have a bad feeling about the place. I bought the plot from Christian Brueckner. There is something wrong about the house.
Neighbour Juergen Krumstroh said: ‘I believe the police will come soon and start digging up the garden to for traces of Madeleine McCann, just like they did in Hanover.
‘I used to see Brueckner sitting in the garden. Sometimes he used to come with his young girlfriend. He did not grow any vegetables or plants. But I know that he built something inside the shed because I could hear him working.
‘Brueckner was a strange man. I was not close to him. Although I would drink a beer with him occasionally. Then one day he gave me a letter saying he wanted to give up the allotment and he left the next day.’
The Braunschweig garden is one of dozens of council-run plots rented out to city dwellers, and a small wooden house now stands at the entrance to the green space.
Garden owners are not supposed to live at the sites permanently but they are allowed to build simple houses and occasionally overnight.
Brueckner is believed to have visited the garden numerous times between 2013 and 2016 when he ran a kiosk in Braunschweig, usually at weekends with his young girlfriend Nakscije Miftari.
She had an 18-month relationship with Brueckner while she was a teenager and it is alleged by her family that he beat up and did ‘horrible things to her’.
The plot is now covered with a lawn, bushes, plants, fruit trees and flowers. Old bikes and tools were propped up against the house today, while a lawn-mower is at the foot of the garden path.
Another neighbour added: ‘This is a strange situation because a woman bought the allotment from Brueckner and she has no idea what he may have done.’
Prosecutors in Braunschweig – who are handling the case because Brueckner’s last known address was there – would not comment on whether the second allotment would be searched like the Hanover one.
The sudden interest in Brueckner’s Braunschweig allotment comes after investigators ended their two-day search of the garden near Hanover.
Samples of mud and soil have been sent away for analysis while a trove of items were loaded into a skip after excavators dug up the plot.
The allotment has now been cleared and covered in a layer of sand, with fencing removed except for a line of police tape, but prosecutors are refusing to reveal what they were looking for or whether they found it.
The search team discovered dozens of items in a secret cellar under a long-demolished shed, including a blue bucket, a plant pot, tarpaulin, a string bag, bags of gravel, corrugated iron, wooden floor boards, iron bars, plastic piping, a laundry bag, plastic covering and a tree trunk.
The potential evidence was loaded into a skip by a German police search team and taken away on a truck last night.
Brueckner’s former neighbours say he set up camp at the Hanover allotment in 2007 – the year Madeleine vanished – before the buildings on his plot were demolished in late 2007 or 2008, leaving the hidden basement.
Brueckner – who is currently in jail in northern Germany – is suspected of killing Madeleine after she vanished in May 2007.
Wolfgang Kossack, 73, who owns the plot next to Brueckner’s Hanover allotment, told MailOnline yesterday that Brueckner had lived off-grid at the site in 2007 and talked about planning his return to southern Europe.
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.’
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’.
The allotment is only a short drive away from an apartment block where Brueckner is known to have stayed while living in Hanover, and the ‘Havana Club’ bar which he is thought to have frequented is also nearby.
Later, Brueckner lived in Braunschweig where he owned the second allotment from 2013 to 2016 after taking on a plot which the previous owner had left in disrepair.
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’.
Speaking to MailOnline, neigbour 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 was 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.’
Mr Kossack, a 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 Hanover 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.’
Up to 100 officers using small diggers and sniffer dogs were involved in excavating the vegetable garden outside Hanover, where Brueckner lived after the three-year-old vanished in 2007.
A man on a neighbouring plot told German media that the garden had not been used for at least the past two years.
The sky above the plot was declared a no-fly zone, according to the local Hannoversche Allgemeine newspaper.
A tent was erected on the plot concealing the exact nature of the search, and a wide cordon with wire netting was been up around the allotment.
Two small tents were 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.
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.
German authorities have released few details about the allotment search, beyond confirming that it was part of the Madeleine investigation.
The investigators left on Wednesday evening, a spokeswoman for the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office said, but she did not give any further details on the specific motive for the search or whether police found anything related to their investigation.
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.
Brueckner is thought to have worked in a car repair shop while living in Hanover, 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 Hanover 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 Hanover 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.
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.’
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.’