Madeleine McCann should be celebrating her 21st birthday with her family this month. Instead, her devastated parents have continued to look for answers following their then-3-year-old daughter’s abduction from their rented vacation apartment in Portugal. “It’s 17 years since Madeleine was taken from us,” Gerry McCann wrote on the Official Find Madeleine Campaign Facebook page on May 3. “It’s hard to even say without shaking our heads in disbelief.”

The timing of the post was eerie. Just hours earlier, a British police officer was in a German courtroom testifying about a mysterious voicemail left on a Scotland Yard tip line that blew the case wide open. It marks the first time a member of law enforcement has in court shed light on what really happened, revealing how authorities initially identified their prime suspect, Christian Brueckner, whom they believe snatched and murdered Madeleine in 2007. Brueckner, 47 – who’s currently serving time in Germany for rape – is now on trial in an unrelated case involving sex crimes he allegedly committed in the sam area of Portugal where Madeleine went missing. During proceeding on May 2, Detective Constable Mark Draycott explained how authorities obtained a key piece of evidence in the McCann case from one of Brueckner’s former friends who “wanted to help police,” he said. 

“One of my jobs was to check the [tipline] on a daily basis, and on May 18, [2017]…there was a message,” he testified, explaining that he returned the call to a Greek mobile number that was answered by ex-con Helge Lars Busching. Busching said he’d been buddies with Brueckner, who lived in Portugal’s Algarve region from 1995 to 2007, and “gave information in relation to the McCann investigation,” the officer added.

In-person interviews followed, first in Athens in 2017, then in London in 2018. “[Busching] said he had a conversion with Christian at the Orgiva Festival in 2008. That conversation was in relation to [the McCann investigation]. I can’t talk about that,” the officer told the court. But Busching has already publicly shared some of what he told cops. In a 2023 interview, he recounted running into Brueckner at a Spanish music festival where he allegedly incriminated himself in Madeleine’s disappearance. While talking about traveling to Portugal, “The topic came up and I said, ‘Anyway, I don’t understand how the little one could have disappeared without a trace.’ Christian had drunk two or three beers, and he said, ‘She didn’t scream.’ I thought, He knows that. He has something to do with it,” Busching claimed. 

His information was passed on to German and Portuguese authorities, sparking a probe into Brueckner, who’s denied talking or killing Madeleine. He was finally named an official suspect in 2022 just two weeks before the statute of limitations was set to expire. Since then, the investigation has continued – last year, cops dug up campsites near the reservoir Brueckner frequented around the time Madeleine disappeared – but charges have yet to be filed, leaving Madeleine’s parents “living in limbo,” they shared on May 3. “And the absence still aches.”

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