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Two fair-haired little girls who vanished on a family trip...

Just like Madeleine, Inga Gehricke's beautiful smile lights up her family snaps. 

The German girl is slightly older, with her hair growing long and worn in plaits, and two big gaps where her front baby teeth have fallen out. 

But apart from that, the distressing similarities between the fairhaired little girls is hard to bear. 

And just like in the case of Madeleine, it was during a family trip that five-year-old Inga seemed to simply vanish into thin air. 

The same name is now under scrutiny in both cases – Christian Brueckner. 

Madeleine McCann (left) taken in Portugal shortly before she went missing. 5-year-old Inga Gehricke (right) disappeared on May 2, 2015 without a trace on a family outing in Wilhelmshof near Stendal

At the time she disappeared, he lived a few miles away from Inga's home in a ramshackle caravan on scrubland by an abandoned box factory. 

Police eventually swooped on Brueckner's caravan and found images of child abuse on a USB computer memory stick hidden among animal bones – but he was never charged over the disappearance of Inga. 

Yesterday the Daily Mail visited the grim site and spoke to neighbours who said Brueckner had kept as many as 14 cars there. 

Inga vanished on May 2, 2015, eight years minus one day after Madeleine disappeared. 

The little girl, her parents Victoria and Jens-Uwe, and three siblings Maxim, now 15, Julius, 13, and eight-year-old Freya, had driven 50 miles from their home to the stunning forest of Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof, west of Berlin. 

They went to meet friends, who lived next to the woodland, for a barbecue. 

As the children played happily and the adults were chatting while the cooking began, Mr Gehricke saw his daughter for the last time. 

Wearing a butterfly T-shirt and blue jeans, she was carrying two large bottles of water, to help set the table for the barbecue which was lit in a clearing at the edge of the forest. 

Two of the other children saw her heading back through the trees towards the friends' home at about 6.30pm, as the afternoon light was beginning to dim, and that was the last time anyone saw Inga. 

Mr Gehricke said: 'It was only 100 metres to the house. But she never got there.' 

To this day, to the anguish of her family, no trace of Inga has ever been found. It is now known that Brueckner, 43, was in the area that week. 

At the time, the drifter was living in the grotty caravan in Neuwegersleben, which is about 50 miles south. 

To this day, to the anguish of her family, no trace of Inga (right) has ever been found. It is now known that Brueckner, 43, was in the area she disappeared that week

And the day before Inga disappeared, a police record places him in Helmstedt, which is between the two locations. 

The highway police there had recorded a minor parking incident at an A2 autobahn service station – and Brueckner was at the wheel. 

As the sun dropped below the horizon on May 2, Inga's family grew ever more distraught as she failed to respond to their anguished calls in the woodland. 

They clung to a theory that maybe she had wandered off to find firewood and got lost. 

They searched all night, and the next day some 500 locals joined in the hunt. The huge forest area around Wilhelmshof was combed for days, in vain. 

Desperate to stay positive, Mrs Gehricke has said: 'I thought: You will definitely find my child, it is just a matter of time.' 

'But she said the fear grew increasingly strong that Inga must have been kidnapped, adding: 'Then you mistrust everyone at that moment.' 

Police followed some 2,000 leads but all came to nothing. It took eight months for their inquiries to take them to Brueckner's dilapidated caravan in February 2016. 

More than 100 officers descended on the old pallet factory, at the end of a long tree-lined dirt track on wasteland on the outskirts of the hamlet of Neuwegersleben in former East Germany. 

They spent a week digging holes. Nothing was found except Brueckner's USB stash of child abuse. 

He was prosecuted over the vile images but he was never charged with Inga's disappearance. 

The police probe was later shelved – until yesterday when prosecutors announced that it was being reopened. 

Investigators are expected to return to the site where last night neighbours told the Mail Brueckner had told them he had bought the land from the factory owners, but neighbours were sceptical. 

Speaking of their shock, one said: 'He was quiet. He would say hello and wave - he would be there for a few weeks and then go again. He had a girlfriend and a male friend who visited. 

'When the police came, he wasn't there but they searched everywhere, they were here for more than a week. 

'It is very sad for both the families of the little girls.' 

At the time of the raid, Brueckner's caravan was still parked there surrounded by broken glass and rubbish. 

Police also searched his flat and garden in the town of Braunschweig at the same time. 

For two years after Inga disappeared, her parents did not give any media interviews, but speaking to a German magazine, Stern, in 2017, they said they wanted to speak out in the hope it would trigger a breakthrough. 

Mr Gehricke told the magazine: 'Maybe it prompts someone after all, and they say 'I saw something'. 

Maybe even someone in the immediate vicinity of the perpetrator.' 

Just like in the case of Madeleine, whose parents Kate and Gerry have clung to the possibility she is alive after 13 years because there is no evidence she is dead, Inga's parents have done their best to remain hopeful. 

Inga's mother said: 'My feeling tells me that she is still alive.' 

But Mr Gehricke told the magazine he found it harder, saying: 'I have not found anything that could speak for a good outcome, as much as I wish for it.

'I still have the hope that she will be found. But the hope that she will come back alive goes to zero for me.' 

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