German police are said to have uncovered a hidden cellar at the former home of the suspect in the Madeleine McCann case.
In a third and final day of digging, they used an excavator, ground penetrating radar, sniffer dogs and a drone in their desperate hunt for crucial evidence.
The cellar was discovered as investigators dug a deep hole 15 meters wide in the garden of a secluded holiday chalet outside Hanover.
Suspect Christian B, a German drifter, is thought to have lived in a camper van on the site in 2007, shortly after Madeleine vanished from a holiday apartment in Portugal.
One police theory is that the suspect took Madeleine with him when he drove back to Germany, a journey of more than 24 hours.
The German prosecutors investigating Christian B’s alleged involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance have confirmed the search is part of their inquiry, but said no more about it.
Thomas Dressler, who runs a water sports centre close to the riverside search site, said: “None of us really know the people that stay there.
“Yesterday I saw they were doing the investigation and I thought about how young my daughter was at that time, oh God and so close. That gave me the fear and panic of a father.
“I believe the police are looking for Maddie. It’s gruesome and I find chilling that it could happen and so close near to us. But of course, I have never seen him myself.”
The search was extensive and has involved several dozen police officers dressed in black fatigues and other workers.
A screen was erected around the site and police guards tried to stop cameramen filming what was going on behind it just a few metres from the road on one side and the river Leine on the other.
But we’ve watched police sifting through piles of soil on the perimeter of the huge hole before pushing it back into the hole. Three skips took away debris.
What we haven’t seen are any obvious forensic investigators in their familiar protective suits and its not clear if any evidence has been removed from the site.
A source said: “It seems a wide, rather unfocused search, a fishing expedition in a location the police have known about since 2017 when the suspect came into the frame.
“On the other hand they wouldn’t normally spend such time, effort and resources unless they had good and credible information that there could be crucial evidence there.”
After three days police suddenly removed machinery and tents and took down the fence after completing the search.
It’s not known if they found what they were looking for.