Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner walked into a police trap clutching a BIBLE.
The convicted paedophile was seized by armed officers in Milan while on the run from his home country Germany.
The bizarre arrest took place in 2018 and was 43-year-old Brueckner’s last moment of freedom.
Italian officers today told how the man suspected of kidnapping three-year-old Madeleine from a holiday flat in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz in 2007 cut a “pathetic figure”.
Lieutenant Andrea Papa, part of the city’s elite murder squad, said: “When we arrested him we could see the surprise on his face – he was really worried.
“He seemed like someone who lived on the streets. He was unshaved and his clothes were dirty. He smelled bad.
“He was in jeans, trainers and a military jacket. He had no phone or money, just a Bible and a business card with his lawyer’s number.
“He seemed pathetic. We even felt sorry for him and gave him a bottle of water.”
Now Colonel Michele Miulli, commander of the crime-hardened squad who usually deal with Mafia horrors, says it has “touched their soul” to learn Brueckner is being linked to the McCann case.
Police pounced on the German – who also has two convictions for abusing young girls – after a fake appointment which was set up for him to collect a fresh passport was set up at the German consulate in Milan.
Brueckner had first turned up there on September 19 asking for new ID documents.
He said he had just arrived from Switzerland and they were stolen from him while he was asleep on a train.
But German officials realised he was a fugitive after picking up a drug conviction. So they prepared an international arrest warrant and asked Italian police to seize him.
“We agreed a time with the consulate and set our trap on September 28, said Lt Papa.
“We had a description of him as blond and tall and we waited out of sight near the entrance.
“At first he didn’t want to come with us but then he saw there were six of us so he didn’t resist. He looked like a homeless person."
Brueckner did not speak Italian so he asked police in English what he was being arrested for.
Then he asked to ring his lawyer in Germany. The German was at first told he could fight extradition and serve his sentence in Italy – so he asked his captors if the prison in Milan was nicer than German prisons.
“It’s really old and overcrowded but we don’t like to upset arrestees so we just said, ‘You’ll see, you can decide,’ to keep him calm,” recalled Lt Papa.
“We are used to arresting serious criminals and usually know their background because we have studied them in the run up to the arrest.
“But in this case he was a complete unknown. When we heard the news about the McCann case this week we were very struck, more surprised than he was when he was arrested.
“We all remembered him because we hardly ever arrest Germans. It doesn’t usually happen that you arrest someone for something small like drugs and it turns out that they have done something massively evil.
“We never thought children were involved. He was very humble. Nothing about him would make you think he was such a serious criminal.”
A few hours after his arrest, Brueckner was on his way to the city’s notorious San Vittore jail to await extradition proceedings which took place a few weeks later.
Last year, back in Germany, he was found guilty of raping a 72-year-old American woman in Portugal in 2005 and given seven years. He is appealing over the conviction and is currently behind bars for a drug trafficking conviction.
He claims his extradition to Germany was unlawful because it related to the drug charge rather than the rape.
Meanwhile Col Miulli, commander of the Carabinieri investigative unit that planned his arrest, said news that Brueckner was linked to such a world famous child abduction case had stunned officers involved in his capture.
“Most of them are parents,” he said. “We investigate some of the most serious crimes, but when you hear that children were involved it touches your soul. Anyone who touches children is evil, inhuman.
“They need care and protection. So it gives us a small gratification that he was caught, but also we felt a lot of bitterness and sadness because we remember the story of Maddie from years ago and the suffering of the parents. It is a story that is too sad and ugly to give us much satisfaction.”
He said Brueckner’s activity in Italy before his arrest was now also under scrutiny with police searching databases to find out when he entered Italy and whether he had been stopped by law enforcement here.
Col Miulli said: “We believe he was not here long as he had no documents or money. It is complicated as there aren’t traces of when he entered Italy because the border is open, and he was never stopped by police. He had no phone and gave no address to the consulate.
“If we get any information that he spent time in Italy, a contact or address, phone number, or if the German police ask us to interview a potential witness we will investigate further.”