In May of 2007, the McCann family was enjoying a sunny vacation with friends at the Ocean Club in Praia de Luz, Portugal. Long days were spent playing on the beach, and in the evenings, the adults put their children to bed and then met downstairs for a relaxing dinner. The resort felt safe, and the restaurant was only 180 ft away from the holiday apartment. Plus, the parents checked on their children throughout the evening.
Nevertheless, when Kate McCann went to check on her three sleeping children at 10 p.m. on the night of May 3rd, she was horrified to find that her daughter, Madeleine, was missing.
What followed next was a missing persons case that rocked the world. With few clues to go on but an abundance of theories, Madeleine McCann’s disappearance quickly garnered international attention. Did the parents do it? Why would they leave a three-year-old child and infant twins alone? Was Madeleine abducted? And, if so, was she still alive?
You may recall the time around when Madeleine went missing, when her name, face, and story were broadcast on every news source. And when you picture Madeleine, you may find that you remember one thing about her in particular—a unique birth defect that affected the shape of her pupil; a key detail authorities said would identify her. But Madeleine was never found—until an Instagram account created in February of this year brought hope to the world that little Maddie could still be alive.
The Instagram account “iammadeleinemccann” (I am Madeleine McCann) belongs to a young woman named Julia Wendell—she also uses the last names Wendelt, Wandelt, and Faustyna—who, in the bio, explains that she thinks she’s Madeleine McCann and needs the help of international authorities. The account gained half a million followers in the span of just a few days.
But why would anyone be willing to believe, 15 years later, that this young woman from Poland could be Madeleine McCann? Julia has the same birth defect, in the same eye, as Madeleine. She also has a similar hair color and eye color.
Julia Wendell’s early life and obscured childhood
Julia Wendell was born in Stockholm, Sweden, before her family moved to Poland in her youth. Although Julia (21) is a few years older than Madeleine would be (19), she claims that her age could easily have been fabricated if she were abducted. Julia believes that her family is not really her family. According to Julia, she doesn’t have a birth certificate, and local hospital records indicate that she “didn’t exist” until she was five years old.
Whenever Julia asked her parents for baby photos, they would never oblige. Julia claims that she doesn’t remember most of her childhood (except for one brief memory of a “hot place” with “all white buildings”—could it be the Ocean Club in Praia de Luz?). She also reports that she was sexually abused as a child by a German man who looks similar to the composite sketch of the man seen carrying a sleeping child the night Madeleine was abducted.
Taking the case to Instagram
Then, Julia’s grandmother allegedly said something which confirmed Julia’s suspicions. And when Julia asked her parents to take a DNA test to confirm she belonged to them, she claims they refused. Taking matters into her own hands, Julia created the Instagram account to draw attention to her plight.
The page features photos of Madeleine alongside childhood photos of Julia (the only few she has, allegedly). Julia even posted multiple collages comparing herself to Madeleine’s parents. However, the majority of the comments are skeptical, and for good reason: while Julia looks similar to Madeleine, they are clearly not the same person.
Nevertheless, Julia persisted. If not Madeleine, Julia was convinced she was another child named Livia Schepp, a young Swiss girl who went missing with her twin sister in 2011. Julia was adamant that she absolutely did not genetically belong to her parents.
Julia Wendell’s parents respond to the allegations
In response, Julia’s parents expressed their deep concern for their daughter, citing mental health struggles and previous attention-seeking behaviors as the root of her convictions. “Julia once wanted to be a singer, a model. She always wanted to be popular. What’s happening now she got one million followers,” the family’s statement revealed. Regarding Julia’s claims of a lack of information surrounding her childhood, her parents explain that “Julia also has these photos, because she took them from the family home with the birth certificate, as well as numerous hospital discharges.”
Despite their strong assertions that Julia is their daughter, Julia’s parents refuse to take DNA tests to prove their claims. And, frustratingly, the Polish courts told Julia and Dr. Johansson that they cannot force the parents to take them. The parents’ public refusal to prove once and for all that Julia is their daughter adds another layer of confusion to Julia’s backstory and seems to validate Julia’s concerns about the identity of her biological parents.
The world responds to Julia's claims
Luckily for Julia, she had the support of Dr. Fia Johansson, a private detective and psychic medium who has allegedly “helped solve murders, find terrorists, and even helped a member of the royal family escape a blackmail plot.” Dr. Johansson was drawn to Julia due to a “prediction” she made in 2019 that Madeleine McCann was alive, loved music (Julia sings and plays piano), and would discover her identity on her own. When Julia was attacked with death threats, Dr. Johansson fled with her to a safehouse in America.
As the instagram account grew, so did the media attention. Julia’s story was featured on news channels across the world, and she even appeared on Dr. Phil to tell her story. The case ultimately grew so large that Madeleine’s parents, Gerry and Kate, agreed to take a DNA test if Julia’s showed that she did not belong to her parents.
Julia's genetic tests and the results
The world waited with baited breath for the results of Julia’s genetic test. If her ancestry turned out to be British, authorities would continue investigating the possibility that she could be Madeleine; if the results turned up Swiss, they would go down the route of the Schepp disappearance. But when Julia’s genealogy report came back, it showed that she is “absolutely 100% Polish,” with a small percentage of Lithuanian and Russian heritage. This indicates that Julia most likely does, in fact, belong to her parents.
No one was more disappointed by these results than Julia, who issued a lengthy statement on a new Instagram called “amijuliawandelt” (am I Julia Wandelt) stating that she “never claimed she was Madeleine” but simply wanted to find out who she was and what happened in her “very hurtful” past. As tension emerged between Julia and Dr. Johansson, Julia announced that she will be seeking another DNA test, declaring that she is mistrustful of the sample obtained by the private detective/celebrity psychic.
The situation goes from strange to bizarre
This is where the case takes a dramatic turn. On April 6th, Julia posted screenshots of an argument on Whatsapp between her and Dr. Johansson about hospital documents which Dr. Johansson is accused of withholding. During this conversation, Dr. Johansson denies these claims, and—in a bizarre twist no one expected—accuses Julia of having child pornography on her phone.
“You worked directly as a pedofile [sic],” Johansson states. On April 17th, 2023, it was announced that Julia’s phone was seized by Californian authorities after further evidence emerged that Julia was in possession of child pornography. Julia continues to vehemently deny these accusations and claims Dr. Johannson used her to promote her own desires for fame and fortune.
The McCann family processes fresh publicity
As both women accuse the other of using them for attention, our hearts go out to the McCann family, who, at the hands of this dual fame-seeking situation, have been forced to relive the devastating disappearance of their daughter.
As for what likely happened to Madeleine, in April of 2020, it was announced that Madeleine McCann was officially presumed to be dead. This followed a 2017 confession by convicted German pedophile Christian B. who lived in the Praia de Luz area at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance. He is currently serving a lengthy jail sentence for the thousands of videos of child sexual abuse in his possession, and for raping a 72-year-old woman in 2005 in Praia de Luz.
But without any evidence to validate his statements about Madeleine, he is still just considered a suspect. We hope that someday the true story of what happened to Madeleine will emerge and the McCann family can finally find the peace they deserve after their daughter’s disappearance.