In May 2007, Madeleine McCann disappeared. A few days later, Dutch shop assistant Anna Stam had a disquieting conversation with a little English girl called “Maddie”, who came into her shop and claimed the woman she was with had snatched her…
On 3rd May 2007, the still unexplained disappearance of Madeleine McCann sparked the same kind of obsessive media coverage as Princess Diana’s death. The 3-year-old was on holiday in Portugal with her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, and her two younger siblings, and vanished from their apartment while the parents dined at a nearby restaurant with friends. The apartment was unlocked, but the McCanns checked on the children throughout the evening. Then Kate McCann discovered at 10pm that little Maddie was gone from her bed.
Initially the Portuguese police believed Madeleine had been abducted. However, after misinterpreting a British DNA analysis of the McCanns’ holiday apartment, they came to believe that Madeleine had died in the apartment, so suspicions fell on the parents. It was said that Madeleine had died in an accident, and Kate and Gerry McCann had covered up the incident by getting rid of the body. Even though the McCanns have now been exonerated of any involvement in Maddie’s disappearance, some conspiracy theorists continue to point the finger at the parents.
Meanwhile, the police and the media are back to believing Maddie was abducted. At 10pm that night, right when Maddie disappeared, Irish holidaymakers Martin and Mary Smith saw a mysterious man 500 yards from the McCanns’ apartment, walking towards the beach. He was carrying a little girl in his arms who was 3-4 years old, had blonde hair and was wearing light-coloured pyjamas with bare feet. The Smiths believed the man was in his 30s, “did not look like a tourist”, and thought he looked uncomfortable carrying the child. The police believe that the Smiths’ sighting was a legitimate sighting of Madeleine McCann and her kidnapper.
Just days later, a little girl came into Anna Stam’s shop in Amsterdam, along with a man and a woman and two other children. Stam said that the man only spoke Portuguese and “did not look like a nice person”. The woman spoke French and English and seemed “stressed and uncomfortable”. And the little girl spoke English—without an accent. Stam said they “didn’t seem like a real family”.
Later, while Stam was at the back of the shop, the little girl came up to her and asked, “Do you know where my mummy is?” Stam replied that her mother was on the other side of the store. The little girl said, “She is not my mummy. She is a stranger, she took me from my mummy.”
When Stam asked when she last saw her mother, the girl replied, “They took me from my holiday.” She was unable to tell Stam where her holiday was, or if she’d been on a campsite or in a hotel. And when Stam asked the girl’s name, she replied, “Maddie.”
Stam recalled that she bore a striking resemblance to Madeleine McCann, apart from her hair colour, which was dark brown. She reported her sighting to local police and gave a statement, which was then sent to the Portuguese police on June 18th 2007. It’s not actually clear what happened next. Anna Stam’s sighting was made public a year after Maddie’s disappearance in a Portuguese police file, and it’s believed that not even the McCanns knew about the sighting. The case file doesn’t reveal what the police did next.
I can’t seem to find any reference to Anna Stam in media reports after 2008, which suggests that her sighting didn’t lead anywhere. Annoyed that the Portuguese police had kept Stam from them, the McCanns met with her and had their own private detectives start an investigation into her claims. After that, nothing.
Mmm. Unless Anna Stam’s story is exaggerated, misremembered or straight-up baloney, it seems almost certain to me that the little girl she spoke to was Madeleine McCann. It’s just too much to be a coincidence. As regards her hair colour, the kidnappers probably dyed it in an effort to disguise her.
If, on the other hand, Stam was lying, it’s not clear what her motive would’ve been. It’s not like she went straight to the press to sell a story. She went to the police. The press didn’t even know about Anna Stam till more than a year later, when the police case file was released.
However, at the time of writing this article, Anna Stam’s sighting is not even mentioned on the Wiki page for Madeleine’s disappearance. The page has extensive detail on the different stages of the investigation and mentions the “Tanner sighting”, which police now believe was nothing to do with Maddie’s abduction.
It seems this story lacks an ending.
Here’s a wild conspiracy theory for you. Kate and Gerry McCann didn’t cover up their daughter’s death. They orchestrated her abduction. It’s that that they’re covering up. Perhaps the kidnappers that Anna Stam saw in her shop are linked in some way to the McCanns. Perhaps a shady deal was done and the McCanns agreed to hand over their daughter, and that’s why the Anna Stam lead went silent and dry—even after she met the McCanns. The McCanns are controlling the situation, making sure the investigation only goes so far. Too much investigation could lead the police to discover links between them and the kidnappers…
I’m not saying I believe any of that. But it’s worth thinking about. After all, who on Earth leaves their children in an unlocked apartment in a foreign country when they go out for dinner?
Next week: story updates and bad habits in fiction writing