"And let's stop calling them 'sex offenders,' as if their crimes had anything to do with sex. (Perhaps Jeffrey Dahmer was a 'food offender.')"
It was the 2nd of May 2015. A Saturday. Five year old Inga Gehricke lived with her three siblings and parents, Victoria and Jens-Uwe, in Saxony-Anhalt in Germany. That weekend they went to Wilhelmshof to stay at a friend's house. It was something the family did often. The adults normally all had great fun catching up and the children loved to play outside. That weekend started off the same as it usually did and on the Saturday, they decided to have a barbecue.
At around 6pm that evening, the adults began preparing the barbecue and the children were helping and playing in the area beside the barbecue. Inga loved to help and she brought two large bottles of water over to the barbecue for the preparation. Jens-Uwe saw Inga on the footpath outside their friend's house and she was walking towards the barbecue area which was on the edge of the forest. Inga went into the forest with her siblings and friends to collect some wood for the fire.
Inga's siblings and friends returned to the barbecue area without Inga at around 6.55pm.They did not see where she went but thought they saw her just ten minutes before they returned to the barbecue. Two of the children saw her heading back through the trees towards the friends' home so thought she would have been there when they got back.It was only 100 metres to the house. Inga's parents and their friends went into the forest calling her name and searching for Inga but there was no sign of her anywhere. They were worried. At 7.40pm they reported her missing to police.
Inga-photo taken one hour before she went missing
There were 3500 hectares of forest land that had to be searched. Over 1000 people helped search the forest looking for Inga and police used helicopters in the search. They even used a police helicopter from Brandenburg as it had a thermal imaging camera but it only picked up images of deer, wild bear and rabbits.
A hunter reported hearing a child scream but that line of enquiry led nowhere. Dogs were used and they could not find Inga's scent but were alerted to a lane along the motorway to Berliner Ringand from there to Halle and then Dresden. But despite a large scale search operation, nothing at all was found to suggest what could have happened to Inga.
Head of the investigation, Reimar Klockziem, told reporters in Germany that her disappearance was “inexplicable and unbelievable”. He said that it was as if she had been:
"beamed away from the world.”
Photo of Inga's shoes that she was wearing when she went missing
Police received over 2000 tips from the public. In 2016, in Neuwegersleben in Germany, police raided a farmhouse but did not find anything connected to Inga. Neuwegersleben is around fifty miles from where Inga went missing. The farmhouse was owned by a German man named Christian Brueckner. It was claimed that at the time of Inga's disappearance, he booked a parking space in a rest area less than sixty miles from the spot where Inga disappeared. But there was nothing further uncovered at that time to connect Christian to the crime.
Inga's case was formally closed in 2017 even though it was far from solved.
In June 2020, police began looking into Inga's case again. Christian Brueckner became a suspect in the Madeleine McCann investigation and that is why Inga's case was reopened. Madeleine’s disappearance and Inga's case were similar in the sense that both girls were small, white and blonde and seemed to just disappear with little or no evidence left behind. Madeleine was on holiday with her two siblings and her parents, Kate and Gerry, in Praia da Luz in Portugal and she disappeared from their apartment on the 3rd of May 2007. That night, Kate and Gerry, were having dinner with their friends at the Tapas Bar which was on the grounds of the apartment complex. Every night, the entire group, not just Kate and Gerry, left their children alone in their respective apartments while they went out to eat. When Kate went to check on the children around 10pm, she discovered that Madeleine was missing.
Despite extensive searches and huge and continued media appeals, nothing of great value evidence wise was ever found in Madeleine's case. The biggest break came in June 2020 when a man called Christian Brueckner was named by the police. Police sought the public's assistance in relation to his camper van and a jaguar he drove at the time. Christian lived in Praia da Luz at the time. He is now serving a seven year prison sentence in the German port city of Kiel for the rape of a seventy two year old American woman in Portugal. Police are also looking into another missing child case Rene Hasee to see if there is any connection to the other two cases.
Der Spiegel reported Christian’s criminal record contains a total of seventeen entries.
These include a conviction for the sexual abuse of a child in 1994 when he was aged 17, and a 2016 conviction for abusing another child and possession of child sex abuse images.
Christian allegedly confessed to his part in Madeleine’s disappearance to a friend as they watched a TV news report on the case in a German bar on the 10th anniversary of her disappearance. Scotland Yard said his name was already known but he did not become a suspect until after information was received as a “direct consequence” of a 2017 appeal. Whether Christian is involved in any or all of the three cases, hopefully the truth will eventually come out and all three cases will be solved.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello