The former best friend of the man suspected of abducting Madeleine McCann says he is sure the German paedophile took the young girl.
In an extraordinary interview with The Daily Telegraph, Michael Tatschl, an Austrian drifter who lived with Christian Bruckner in Portugal, said he has told the police all about his "sick" and "perverted" friend who used to brag about his criminal exploits.
Now, he has urged Bruckner to "admit it to the police and close it for good".
With neck tattoos, a close cropped haircut and a large piercing on his left nipple, Tatschl has spent years travelling across Europe in camper vans.
Speaking from his home outside Graz, Austria, where he has settled, the 47-year-old is adamant. "I know he did it," he claims.
"I was living with him at the time. He was my best friend but he was definitely a pervert and more than capable of snatching a child, for sexual kicks or money. I was sure it was him the minute the police came to find me in Austria.
"They were very clear with me from the first minute. They said 'we are investigating Maddie McCann and Christian Bruckner' and I told them I knew it already. I was convinced it was him."
Speaking for the first time about his old friend, Tatschl described how he became involved with Bruckner in Portugal at the turn of the millennium.
The pair lived, drank and committed crimes together.
"I was staying at his house and camping in a van in the garden. We spent a lot of time together and had good fun.
"But he was definitely quite a strange character. He was always quite criminal. He liked to brag about the crimes he had done and planned to do, and how he aimed to steal as much money as he could until he reached his dream of having euros 1 million. Then he would stop.
"It was rich pickings in Praia da Luz. He was always breaking into apartments and bragging about it," Tatschl claimed. "He was a very good burglar and would easily climb into first floor apartments when tourists were out.
"He would climb up to the first floor and steal everything, lots of money, valuables and so many passports. In fact hundreds of passports and lots of Rolexes and other expensive watches. He had a hiding place in the house in the rafters. He had all the money and passports hidden there," Tatschl said.
That property was a farmhouse outside Praia da Luz which Bruckner rented from a Briton. Neighbours said he used to race down the dusty gravel track in his Jaguar and have heated shouting matches with a string of girlfriends. Tatschl said Bruckner was in a relationship with a German woman 20 years his senior at the time.
It is also where a camcorder was discovered that allegedly had footage of Bruckner raping a 72-year-old tourist at a villa in 2005. The video was destroyed, but the testimony of the two men who saw it helped convict Bruckner of the crime last year.
"That's how I found out he was a sick b------," said Tatschl. "It was of this elderly lady who was chained to a wooden post and she was being beaten and raped."
He went on: "But I admit, I got sucked into some of his schemes. Taking fuel seemed pretty harmless and we did it for a few months. The cops caught us red handed, stealing diesel, and we got eight-and-a-half months on remand in prison waiting for a trial in Portimao. It's just a small prison, so we got to spend a lot of time together."
In 2006, while they were in jail, the farmhouse was broken into. Cash, valuables and the camcorder were taken.
Tatschl says he "cannot believe" that Portuguese detectives have not yet searched the former home they shared.
When the pair were released, Bruckner moved into a white and yellow VW Westfalia camper van, while Tatschl says he left Portugal for Orgiva, Spain. Five months later, Madeleine disappeared.
"He had lost the house but he was still enjoying living in the area. I think that confused the police a little as they were not sure where he was living exactly when Maddie vanished.
"The next time I saw him was in late May or early June 2007. He arrived in Spain with his big American camper van, the Winnebago, the one with the [children's] swimsuits. He parked it up in Orgiva and came looking for me. It was the only reason he had come to Orgiva, to find me. He knew I was living there and he knew I had connections to the marijuana world and could help him make money. We all wondered where he'd got the money from. I remember specifically having a conversation with an English guy who lived there and we both said how on earth could have had that vehicle?
"We assumed a big drug deal or something. Now I suspect it was Maddie."
Bruckner has a string of convictions, from molesting a six-year-old girl in a playground when he was a teenager to the rape of the 72-year-old American in Praia da Luz more than a decade later.
German authorities say they have evidence that Madeleine is dead, and that Bruckner "did the deed" but have insufficient evidence to charge him.
"He was definitely a pervert. All his friends thought that about him. He had sexual issues but we didn't think that he liked young children," says Tatschl.
"He was always on the dark web. He would talk about it and always had internet in the houses he rented. I don't know exactly what he did but I suspect it involved drugs and pornography.
"He always bragged about money. He even talked about selling kids maybe to Morocco. I didn't really think about it at the time, just brushed it off."
But things changed when he saw a TV series on the McCann case in March last year: "When I saw the Netflix documentary I knew immediately he was guilty. The part where the female tourist talked about the man turning up while her child played by the front door, the creepy guy with acne and blond hair. I just knew it was Christian."
Days later, police arrived to see Tatschl. "I was then taken to the police station where I told them my story."
He continued: "I told them, 'I know what you want. I hope I can help.'
"I hope they can finally close this case for the family and find Christian guilty for what he has done. He needs to admit it to the police and close it for good."
Last week, lawyers defending Bruckner said their client "denies any involvement" in the McCann case.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
Irish News Premium
Investigators are being urged to take "all the appropriate steps" to review the case of an Irish woman who was raped in Portugal in 2004 after she said she believes the new suspect linked to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann could be her attacker.