A British couple told The Mail on Sunday how they saw a bizarre ‘shrine’ for the missing Madeleine McCann last week in the reservoir police searched – just seven months after she disappeared.
The retired couple, who want to be called only Ralf and Ann, were so shocked by what they saw that they took pictures and sent them to Portuguese detectives, thinking they were of significance, but, amazingly, never heard anything again.
The makeshift memorial, made up of arrow-shaped boulders pointing to a picnic area excavated by police last week, was weighed down by a large rock and featured a bouquet of flowers and a picture of the kidnapped Madeleine.
Three years ago – when prime suspect Christian Brueckner, 45, was identified by German police – the couple contacted detectives after seeing a call for anyone holidaying in the Algarve when Madeleine went missing in May 2007 to contact them. record.
This time, the German BKA (criminal investigation unit) officers responded within hours of Ralf and Ann emailing them and questioned them on the phone for several hours before asking them to make a formal statement.
A British couple spotted a bizarre ‘sanctuary’ for missing Madeleine McCann (pictured) in the reservoir police searched last week – just seven months after she disappeared
Three years ago, prime suspect Christian Brueckner (pictured), 45, was identified by German police
The makeshift memorial (pictured here) was weighed down by a large rock and featured a bouquet of flowers and a picture of the kidnapped Madeleine
Pictured: Three rocks in Arade Reservoir in 2007 where a shrine was found. The flowers and tribute were left on the center rock
It raises the question of whether it was their information that prompted German authorities to conduct a search of the remote picnic area on the edge of the reservoir near Silves, which Brueckner sinisterly referred to as his “little paradise.”
In an exclusive conversation with The Mail on Sunday from their holiday home just a few minutes’ drive from the reservoir, retired builder Ralf and former bank cashier Ann described the bizarre find. Ralf, 66, a father of two, said: ‘It was around Christmas 2007 so Madeleine had only gone missing a few months before and I went to the reservoir with Ann, our daughter, who was 16 at the time, and the dog. . .
“Our daughter ran ahead of us and suddenly she just called out to us, ‘Come and have a look, someone must have died here.’
When we came down we saw a row of stones stretching into the water and on the last was a bouquet of fresh white lilies. We went out and looked, and on the stone where the flowers were, there was a picture of Madeleine.
“There wasn’t a note or anything and it was all very strange.”
Ann, 67, said: ‘Thinking about it now gives me goosebumps because when we saw where the police had been searching for the past few days, you could see that’s where the row of stones was pointing.
“When we found it, it was all so weird. At that point I thought, “Did someone dump Madeleine in the water and then come back and make a shrine in her memory?” It was so strange.’
The couple contacted the Portuguese police to tell them of their discovery and sent them the photos, but did not hear from them.
Oddly enough, when they returned just two days later, the flowers and photo were gone.
In an exclusive conversation with The Mail on Sunday from their holiday home just a few minutes’ drive from the reservoir, retired builder Ralf (pictured at the reservoir) and former bank cashier Ann described the bizarre find
Pictured is the shrine left for the three-year-old girl
The photo shows police searching the reservoir on Tuesday as part of the investigation
Ralf and Ann set the incident in mind, but dug up the photos three years ago after seeing news reports citing Brueckner as a prime suspect.
Ralf said: ‘I immediately contacted the BKA in Germany and told them what we had and I received a reply within a few hours.
“They wanted to know everything we had seen and then they asked me to send them the pictures and they sent a map of the reservoir, asking me to point out where the stones were.
As the crow flies, it was only half a mile across the water from the picnic area where police were digging last week.
“The German police were very interested in what we had and kept asking why we were there, what we did for a living and then asked us to make a statement.”
Ann said: ‘They said they had been in the area a few months before, but they didn’t say why. They held their cards very close to their chests. They asked us to come to Wiesbaden, where their headquarters are, because they took it very seriously and wanted to meet us in person.
‘Ralf couldn’t make it, so I went alone, and I was there for a few hours, reviewing what we’d seen and showing them the pictures. We’ve had a holiday home in Portugal for years and have been going to the reservoir since the late 1990s, so we know it well and then we retired here.’
The dam was first searched six months after the couple’s discovery, but only by attorney Marcos Aragao Corriea, who, along with Spanish detective agency Metodo 3, hired by the McCann family, funded two searches of the reservoir.
Pictured: Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry in 2017
Madeleine McCann disappeared in 2007 while her parents were out for dinner
During his hunt, he found a bag of animal bones and a child’s sock, but a full police search was never conducted – until last week.
It again raises questions about how the Portuguese police initially conducted its operation.
Patricia de Sousa Cipriano, head of the Association of Missing Children, said: “If these new searches at the Arade dam confirm blatant errors in the investigation, then the Portuguese police must justify themselves and make sure it doesn’t happen again. ‘
Soil samples taken from the searched area last week were sent to Germany for analysis, but sources suggest nothing of real significance was found.
The German prosecutor downplayed reports that a bra, clothing and other objects had been found.