There’s been an update in what’s quickly becoming the most bizarre story of 2023. A few days ago a 21-year-old Polish woman named Julia Wandelt created an Instagram page named @iammadeleinemccan and began posting frantic images and captions claiming that she was the British girl who’d gone missing in Portugal in 2007.
As the story began to unfold we learned a number of worrying details about Wandelt, including the fact that she may have been abused as a child. Over the course of four days, the Instagram page has managed to rack up over a million followers—and the news coverage of Wandelt has skyrocketed. It’s even been confirmed that the McCann parents have agreed to do a DNA test.
More recently, following the initial upsurge, Wandelt’s account has slightly shifted in content. While the page first focused solely on posting pictures comparing her childhood face to that of Madeleines—seemingly in an attempt to convince audiences that she being truthful—it’s now become what can only be described as a promotional account for Wandelt’s spokesperson, a woman who goes by the name: Persian Medium.
In a recent video posted on the account, the medium (who’s real name is Dr Fia Johansson) states: “To everyone interested in Julia’s search for answers, please understand we are in the middle of an investigation. This is a vulnerable woman seeking answers about her identity and her life. Regardless of your opinions, she is a human being who deserves respect. When everything is done in the investigation in a few weeks, you can learn more, but more now, please respect this woman’s privacy.
It concludes: “Her background was challenging and messy. There is no need to spew hatred, judgement, and especially threats towards a person in need. This is unacceptable and needs to stop.”
When Johansson mentioned a “challenging” and “messy” background, we can assume she is referring to a recent statement released by Wandelt’s parents.
On 22 February, relaying the message through the facebook page of Polish charity Zaginieni przed laty, Wandelt’s parents wrote: “We would like to take a stance on Julia’s case, which has spread the Internet and media in many countries in recent days. For us as a family it is obvious that Julia is our daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, cousin and step-niece. We have memories, we have pictures.”
The statement continued: “Julia also has these photos, because she took them from the family home with the birth certificate, as well as numerous hospital discharges. We always tried to understand all the situations that happened with Julia. Numerous therapies, medicines, psychologists and psychiatrists—Julia had it all guaranteed. She wasn’t left alone.”
The family go on to note that Wandelt has refused to take medication or attend treatment facilities in Poland. They also claim that she’s always “wanted to be popular” and now she’s succeeded. The family also confirms that “it’s obvious that Julia isn’t Maddie.”
SCREENSHOT did reach out to both Wandelt and her spokesperson Dr Fia Johansson for a comment.
There are very few people who haven’t heard of the Madeleine McCann case. Having gone missing in Portugal in 2007 when she was only three-years-old, McCann’s disappearance has become one of the most heavily investigated and reported cases of all time. And now, 16 years later, an Instagram page created by 21-year-old Polish woman Julia Wandelt under the handle @iammadeleinemccan has entered into the ether and sent us all into a wild frenzy.
With an account bio reading “Help me, I need to talk with Kate and Gerry McCann,” and a page full of pictures comparing her own face to Madeleine’s, Wandelt has accumulated 610,000 eagle-eyed followers—each and every one of them hooked on whether or not this could truly be the girl everyone has been looking for.
Having been deemed one of the most puzzling child disappearances of the 21st century, the McCann story gripped the British media for the better part of a decade. Public forums and publications tirelessly spewed out theories and possible explanations—many of which assigned guilt to McCann’s parents, Kate and Gerry.
And on top of that, it’s been reported that the Met Police, who took over the investigation after the Portuguese authorities failed to make any headway, received approximately £11.75 million in funding for Operation Grange (the McCann case). The case was officially closed in late 2022 after all suspect possibilities were exhausted.
It should be noted that this amount of funding is extremely abnormal for a missing child’s case. And in fact, a number of charities and members of the public have previously criticised the sheer amount of resources that was poured into this one investigation. Particularly when there are approximately 112,853 children reported missing in the UK each year.
There is also something to be said about the fact that McCann was a white female child with blonde hair—a visual image of a victim that’s deemed ‘more valuable’ in Western culture. A number of academic publications, for example Arnout van de Rijt’s Racial and gender differences in missing children’s recovery chances, have verified that black children on average remain missing longer and are more likely to still be missing by the end of an observation period than non-black children.
What can be immediately ascertained from Wandelt’s Instagram page claiming that she is McCann is that she suffered a very traumatic childhood and is trying to piece together her life now she’s an adult.
In one of her posts, the 21-year-old details how she was abused by a German paedophile, who she believes to have striking resemblance with a sketch of a potential suspect that was shared on the official find Madeleine website.
Wandelt wrote in a post underneath the sketch: “I need you to help me because police ignore me. I need the police to make a DNA test for me and compare it with Madeleine’s DNA. I need to talk with Kate and Gerry McCann.”
There are also a number of posts where Wandelt points out similarities between herself and McCann, including freckle placement, the details of her eyes and how her teeth looked when she was a child.
While the McCann family have not yet released a statement regarding Wandelt and whether or not they might believe her to be their daughter, they have agreed to pursue a DNA test—an update which Wandelt has shown off within her Instagram account’s bio.
Netizens online are incredibly divided over this alleged discovery. Some are convinced that Wandelt is definitely telling the truth, in fact some are even celebrating the fact that McCann has been found. Others of course are more sceptical, both of Wandelt, and the pernicious nature of social media.
However, there is a resounding feeling that Wandelt is in need of support and help. One user wrote on Twitter: “Whether the girl on Instagram is Madeleine McCann or not, it is clear she needs help. She is clearly a victim of abduction or child trafficking, and her story needs to be heard.”
It’s definitely true that, whoever Wandelt is, she has a story that she would like to share, and she deserves to be listened to—whatever the outcome.
SCREENSHOT reached out to Julia Wandelt for a comment.