A photo on the gravestone shows the nine-year-old Peggy Knobloch who disappeared in May 2001 in Nordhalben, Germany. Picture: David-Wolfgang Ebener/dpa via AP

Berlin — German authorities said Friday that they may have made a breakthrough in their investigation of the mysterious 2001 disappearance of a 9-year-old girl.

Bavarian officials said a 41-year-old man has told them he transported the body of Peggy Knobloch, who disappeared on the way home from school, to woods in neighbouring Thuringia state where her remains were found in 2016.

The officials said he told investigators that another man gave him the girl's body at a bus stop in the small town of Lichtenberg and he claims to have tried to revive her, before driving the body away. Details of how this handover took place were not provided.

He says he burned the girl's school bag and jacket at home several days later.

The suspect was identified as Manuel S. in line with privacy rules.

Prosecutor Daniel Goetz said the man is being investigated on suspicion of murder, to which the statute of limitations doesn't apply in Germany. The suspect was released after questioning because there wasn't enough evidence to hold him.

The suspect was questioned last week after an analysis of evidence found at the scene gave investigators reason to look into his possible involvement, authorities said.

A mentally disabled man was convicted of the girl's murder in 2004 but acquitted in a retrial a decade later.

In 2016, investigators found the DNA of a member of a far-right group that killed 10 people at the site where the body was found, but then determined that a contaminated tool was to blame for that.

AP