On July 3 2020, just after British socialite Ghislane Maxwell was arrested, the Facebook page “NightMerica Podcast” shared the following post, comparing her photograph with a purported sketch of “Madeleine McCann’s female abductor”:
On the left of the image was a sketch of a woman with a dark, short haircut. On the right was Maxwell. Text with hashtags read:
Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested by the FBI today, BUT can we talk about how similar she looks to Madeline McCann’s female abductor sketch??
#ghislainemaxwell #ghislanemaxwell #ghislaine #ghislainemaxwelldidntkillherself #ghislainemaxwellarrested #ghislainemaxwelldidnotkillherself #ghislainemaxwell???? #madelinemccann #madelinemccannconspiracy #madelinemccannnetflix #madelinemccanneye #truecrime #truecrimeaddict #truecrimepodcast #truecrimecommunity #truecrimejunkie #truecrimememes #truecrimenews #jeffreyepstein #jeffreyepsteindidntkillhimself #abduction #abductors #conspiracytheory #conspiracytheories
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Ghislaine Maxwell is the former romantic partner of Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender whose jailhouse suicide in 2019 was fodder for myriad conspiracy theories. Maxwell was arrested on July 2 2020, at which point CNN reported:
The British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has been arrested in connection with an investigation into her ex-boyfriend, the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell, 58, has been named in multiple lawsuits by women who said they were abused by the disgraced US financier, who killed himself last August .
She was arrested Thursday morning [July 2 2020] in New Hampshire, said Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office.
Maxwell, whose whereabouts have been unclear since the arrest last summer  of Epstein, has been under investigation for allegedly facilitating Epstein’s recruitment of young girls and women.
In the wake of Epstein’s suicide in August 2019, public pressure has mounted to hold those who might have assisted him — perhaps including Maxwell and a coterie of young women who allegedly worked under her — accountable not only for his actions, but also for their own roles.
As CNN noted, Maxwell is British.
Who is Madeleine McCann?
Madeleine McCann, a three-year-old girl from the UK, was kidnapped on May 3 2007 during a family vacation in Portugal.
A June 2020 BBC timeline provided the following initial account of the girl’s disappearance:
On 3 May  Madeleine, from Rothley, Leicestershire, is on holiday with her family at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz, Portugal.
- Her parents go for dinner with a group of friends at a restaurant in the complex. Madeleine and her younger brother and sister – twins – stay in the apartment, 100 yards away
- The adults had devised a rota system to check on all their children during the evening
- When it is the turn of Kate McCann, she discovers her daughter, Madeleine, has [vanished]
- Police are called and staff and guests at the complex search for her until daybreak
- Border police and airport staff are put on alert and hundreds of volunteers join efforts to find Madeleine in the following days
Portuguese police say they believe Madeleine was abducted but is still alive and in Portugal.
On 26 May , police issue a description of a man seen on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance, possibly carrying a child.
The BBC timeline concluded with the status of the investigation as of June 2020:
… in June 2020, police reveal that a 43-year-old German prisoner – named by German media as Christian B – has been identified as a suspect. The McCanns thank police, saying: “All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice.
“We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive, but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace.”
German investigators have classed it as a murder inquiry and say they are assuming that Madeleine is dead.
As of July 8 2020, McCann had not been found; no further updates on the named suspect had been added to the timeline.
Why Would Social Media Users Suspect Ghislaine Maxwell of Abducting Madeleine McCann?
Shortly after Epstein’s August 2019 death, Maxwell was described as his “protector” and “procurer”:
Ghislaine Maxwell was, according to her accusers, Jeffrey Epstein’s protector and procurer, his girlfriend and his madam. She was, by all accounts, a soul mate and a mirror image. He grew up in Brooklyn with no money to speak of and never finished college. She is Paris-born, Oxford-educated, a jet-setter who partied with princes and billionaires.
Together, Epstein and Maxwell allegedly built what prosecutors, police and a growing number of women described as a sex-trafficking operation that crisscrossed the nation to provide Epstein with three young girls a day.
The death of Epstein, the convicted sex offender who authorities said hanged himself in a federal detention center cell in New York on Saturday, leaves those who seek to hold someone responsible for the alleged abuse of dozens of girls with one prime target: Maxwell.
The U.S. attorney in New York, Geoff Berman, assured the “brave young women who have already come forward and . . . the many others who have yet to do so” that “our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing.”
Maxwell’s involvement with Epstein’s activities was part of the above-quoted Washington Post article. A civil suit filed by Virginia Roberts Giuffre hinged in part on allegations that Maxwell had helped groom Giuffre:
Giuffre said Maxwell recruited her in 2000, when she was 16 or 17 and working at Donald Trump’s Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago.
As Giuffre recalled it in her lawsuit, Maxwell told her, “I know somebody. We can train you. We can get you educated. You know, we can help you along the way if you pass the interview. If the guy likes you, then, you know, it will work out for you. You’ll travel. You’ll make good money.”
But at her first meeting with Epstein, Giuffre said in a deposition, Maxwell “instructed me to take off my clothes and to give oral sex to Jeffrey Epstein.”
An NPR segment after Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 described the charges she faced:
[Maxwell] faces six counts in all, including conspiracy to entice minors to travel, to engage in sexual acts and conspiracy to transport minors to engage in criminal sexual activity. She also faces perjury charges for allegedly lying about her role in Epstein’s activities when she was asked about it under oath during a deposition a couple of years ago … the events detailed in the indictment took place between 1994 and 1997. And they relate to three underage girls who were allegedly abused by Epstein.
Maxwell is often described as a “socialite,” but most people know her name due to accusations that she procured young women for Epstein to prey upon. McCann’s unsolved abduction remained an enduring mystery, and it stood to reason those following the case might speculate Epstein and/or Maxwell were involved with her disappearance.
A Sketch of ‘Madeleine McCann’s Female Abductor’
Back to the BBC timeline of McCann’s abduction and the years-long search for her. In the 2013 section, a police sketch known as an “e-fit” (electronic facial identification technique) appears; neither sketch showed a woman:
The next line of the text explained:
A BBC Crimewatch appeal features e-fit images of a man seen carrying a blond-haired child of three or four in Praia da Luz at about the time Madeleine went missing.
As for the sketch seen in the Facebook post, it is connected to the search for Madeleine McCann. It appeared in an August 2009 Sydney Morning Herald article about a woman sought for questioning following a suspicious conversation around the time McCann was abducted — on May 7 2007:
AN AUSTRALIAN woman sought over the missing British child Madeleine McCann approached a man and asked: ”Are you here to deliver my new daughter?” London newspapers reported [on August 7 2009].
The conversation is said to have taken place at a bar in the Port Olimpic Marina area of Barcelona, Spain, three days after the three-year-old girl vanished in Portugal [on May 3 2007].
[In August 2009] the McCann family made public a sketch and description of a woman with an Australian, or possibly New Zealand, accent who also spoke excellent Spanish and some Catalan. The woman was described as looking like Victoria Beckham.
According to the British newspapers, the woman, who apparently thought the man was a courier, asked him: ”Have you got my daughter?”
When he just stood, bemused, the woman became agitated and asked: ”Have you got her? Have you got the child?”
Realising the man had no idea what she was talking about, she walked away.
Citing the 2006 Australian census, the Sydney Morning Herald went on to report that “only 83 women in Australia said they spoke Catalan at home, and just over 51,000 spoke Spanish” at the time of the incident. Maxwell is fluent in Spanish and speaks four languages total, but a 2015 report described her diction as a “cut-glass English accent” (not easily mistaken for Australian).
CNN also covered the release of the sketch in August 2007, describing the woman sought for questioning as a “Victoria Beckham lookalike,” who was “in her 30s and about 5 feet 2 inches tall.” Maxwell, born in 1961, was 45 at the time of the incident.
Below is an image with Victoria Beckham on the left, and Ghislaine Maxwell on the right:
However, the woman in the sketch was never described as “Madeleine McCann’s abductor.” Initially, she was sought due to a conversation in a bar on May 7 2007, which seemed suspicious to the man involved.
On August 9 2009, a woman named Judith Aron was questioned about the report, and denied having recently left Australia. A July 2020 blog post about the Maxwell/McCann rumors inaccurately stated that the woman was identified as Aron in 2009; it’s unclear whether the sketch was helpful to the investigation.
An August 8 2009 report mentioned the initial identification of Aron, adding that police at the time were pursuing leads and tips about the sketch. Investigators said in August 2007 that they’d received “more than 600 emails after issuing the Posh Spice lookalike appeal,” mostly from Australia — indication, if anything, that a significant number of women in May 2007 resembled the unknown woman in the sketch:
Detectives maintain they still have “a number of viable leads” for an Australian woman believed to hold vital clues to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a family spokesman says.
Clarence Mitchell says there are several tips worth pursuing out of the hundreds of leads sent in from the public about the woman wanted in connection with the British child’s disappearance in Portugal in 2007.
“An awful lot of these tip-offs and bits of information are well-meaning, but ultimately come to nothing,” he told the Nine Network this morning.
“But out of all this we have had dozens of names for the woman we’re looking for given to us … and out of that, the detectives have a number of viable leads.
”That’s their description: a number of viable leads that they are pursuing as a priority.”
The potential local link emerged after two British men said a woman with an Australian accent implicated herself to them in a bar in Barcelona.
In a separate August 2009 report in a British outlet, Mitchell emphasized that the woman was “formally not accused of anything.” Moreover, the only sketches of “suspects” in McCann’s disappearance were of men.
Lawyers for Ghislaine Maxwell Issued a Vague Statement in 2011
A March 10 2011 statement on behalf of Maxwell, unrelated to the McCann case and issued by her lawyers, made vague reference to news reports involving Maxwell:
LONDON, March 10, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Ghislaine Maxwell denies the various allegations about her that have appeared recently in the media. These allegations are all entirely false. It is unacceptable that letters sent by Ms Maxwell’s legal representatives to certain newspapers pointing out the truth and asking for the allegations to be withdrawn have simply been ignored. In the circumstances, Ms Maxwell is now proceeding to take legal action against those newspapers.
“I understand newspapers need stories to sell copies. It is well known that certain newspapers live by the adage, “why let the truth get in the way of a good story.” However, the allegations made against me are abhorrent and entirely untrue and I ask that they stop,” said Ghislaine Maxwell.
“A number of newspapers have shown a complete lack of accuracy in their reporting of this story and a failure to carry out the most elementary investigation or any real due diligence. I am now taking action to clear my name,” she said.
A March 6 2011 report in The Guardian mentioned Maxwell as Epstein’s former girlfriend and companion, as Epstein faced charges of sexual abuse:
Maxwell seemed well integrated into the life of US plutocracy – in 2000 she went to the infamous 60th birthday party of another former press mogul, Lord Black, where she shared a table with dress designer Oscar de la Renta.
But Epstein became a source of social embarrassment for Ghislaine and the Duke of York after the financier was jailed for sex offences including soliciting teenage girls into prostitution.
Ghislaine is in the background of the recently-released picture showing Andrew in 2001 with his arm around the waist of Virginia Roberts, then 17, who claims she worked for Epstein as an erotic masseuse. Ghislaine is reported to have said she has never been contacted by any law enforcement agency in connection with any allegations against Epstein.
Was Ghislaine Maxwell Even in Portugal in May 2007? What Was Her Involvement with Epstein Then?
McCann was abducted on May 3 2007, and the woman in the sketch was spotted in a bar in Portugal on May 7 2007.
We were unable to find any information about Ghislaine Maxwell’s activities in early May 2007, but Getty Images hosted several images of her in New York City in the spring of 2007. Maxwell was photographed on April 24 2007, a little over a week before McCann was kidnapped, and again on May 30 2007.
As for her involvement with Epstein at the time, Vanity Fair mentioned her repeatedly in a 2003 article about Epstein; police in Florida began investigating him in 2005. A few uncomfortable passages of that coverage mention Epstein’s predilection for young girls, as well as Maxwell’s apparent role in recruiting girls:
There are many women in his life, mostly young, but there is no one of them to whom he has been able to commit. He describes his most public companion of the last decade, Ghislaine Maxwell, 41, the daughter of the late, disgraced media baron Robert Maxwell, as simply his “best friend.” He says she is not on his payroll, but she seems to organize much of his life — recently she was making telephone inquiries to find a California-based yoga instructor for him. (Epstein is still close to his two other long-term girlfriends, Paula Heil Fisher, a former associate of his at the brokerage firm Bear Stearns and now an opera producer, and Eva Andersson Dubin, a doctor and onetime model. He tells people that when a relationship is over the girlfriend “moves up, not down,” to friendship status.)
Epstein is known about town as a man who loves women — lots of them, mostly young. Model types have been heard saying they are full of gratitude to Epstein for flying them around, and he is a familiar face to many of the Victoria’s Secret girls. One young woman recalls being summoned by Ghislaine Maxwell to a concert at Epstein’s town house, where the women seemed to outnumber the men by far. “These were not women you’d see at Upper East Side dinners,” the woman recalls. “Many seemed foreign and dressed a little bizarrely.” This same guest also attended a cocktail party thrown by Maxwell that Prince Andrew attended, which was filled, she says, with young Russian models. “Some of the guests were horrified,” the woman says.
“He’s reckless,” says a former business associate, “and he’s gotten more so. Money does that to you. He’s breaking the oath he made to himself—that he would never do anything that would expose him in the media. Right now, in the wake of the publicity following his trip with Clinton, he must be in a very difficult place.”
A viral Facebook post compares a sketch of “Madeleine McCann’s female abductor” with Epstein’s alleged co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell, but the claim lacks a significant amount of context. The sketch in question was indeed associated with the McCann abduction, but depicts a woman sought for questioning after a potential witness came forward in August 2009 to describe his encounter with the woman in a bar in Portugal. The woman was described as younger than Maxwell (and as Australian, not British), and no one made the connection until Maxwell’s July 2020 arrest. Photographs indicated Maxwell was in New York City for much of April and May 2007, and we were unable to verify her location on May 7 2007 — the day the woman in the sketch was encountered. Ultimately, other than a passing resemblance Maxwell shared with hundreds of Australian women, there is no strong indication she was the woman in the sketch.