Shortly after Ghislaine Maxwell arrived in New York from England in the early 1990s, she was looking for a new start. She had just lost her father, a British media mogul, along with much of her family fortune and her social standing. Soon she was on the rise with the help of her new boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, a rich financier. It was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.
With Epstein, Maxwell was able to resurrect the lifestyle she coveted. She flew on his private jet, she settled into his mansions in New York and Florida and she eventually landed her own five-storey town house in Manhattan. For Epstein, who had grown up in Coney Island and was a college dropout, the gregarious Maxwell provided new social pathways. Her friends in high places included the UK's prince Andrew, who became a frequent guest in Epstein's homes.
Now, with Epstein under federal indictment on charges of sexually trafficking and abusing girls, there are mounting questions about what else happened in his close relationship with Maxwell. He has pleaded not guilty, and she has denied any wrongdoing and has not been criminally charged. But in recent years, Maxwell has struck confidential settlements in civil court with two women who say she participated in Epstein’s sexual exploitation of them. Thousands of sealed records from one of those cases are expected to be released in coming weeks, potentially revealing more about Epstein’s alleged predation and what Maxwell may have known about it.
What is clear is that their partnership was deep, entangled and continued even after their romance ended. Over more than a decade, Maxwell, now 57, helped manage Epstein’s homes, facilitate his social relationships and recruit masseuses to help satisfy his seemingly insatiable appetite for massages, according to his former employees. Some of Epstein’s accusers allege that in their experiences the massages were just a pretext for sexual abuse by Epstein, according to court records.
One former employee of Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, referred to her as “lady of the house”. Euan Rellie, an investment banker who attended the University of Oxford with Maxwell and was a guest at dinner parties that she and Epstein hosted in New York, said she “seemed to be half ex-girlfriend, half employee, half best friend, and fixer.”
One of Epstein's accusers, in court papers, used another word: madam. After Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of soliciting prostitution and served 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail, Maxwell moved on, cultivating other high-profile associations, seeming largely unscathed by her long ties to Epstein. She took up environmental causes and founded a nonprofit intended to save the oceans. She gave a talk at a TED event. And she continued to work the social circuit: attending Chelsea Clinton's wedding, being photographed with Arianna Huffington and Martha Stewart, smiling next to Elon Musk at a Vanity Fair Oscar party.
'New York people enjoy salacious stories. Having somebody who has a colourful past, including a dad who was controversial, made her interesting.'
But there were also signs of trouble. In 2015, a lawsuit accusing Maxwell of complicity in Epstein’s abuses drew news media attention. In 2016, the town house in Manhattan’s upper east side, where she had resided, was sold and she disappeared from New York’s party circuit. The next year, her lawyers claimed she was in London but said they did not know her address, angering a judge overseeing another lawsuit against her. Last weekend – just a week after the new charges brought by New York federal prosecutors against Epstein became public – Maxwell’s nonprofit, the TerraMar Project, shut down. The website posted a message saying it was “sad to announce that it will cease all operations”.
An old friend, Christopher Mason, drew a connection between the scandals Maxwell has been caught up in – the first involving her father, whose life ended in disgrace, and the second that of Epstein, the most defining male figure in her adult life.
“Her father was a swashbuckling rogue,” Mason said in an interview. “Jeffrey had a less social persona, but he was in his way swashbuckling, too.”
She grew up in a 53-room mansion in Buckinghamshire, where childhood activities included sailing on a family yacht named the Lady Ghislaine and rubbing shoulders with aristocrats and royals. Her father, Robert Maxwell, was a Czech-born second World War hero who founded Pergamon Press, an extremely successful publishing house for science and medical books. After that he bought British tabloids, including The Mirror, as well as a stake in MTV Europe and American publishing giant Macmillan.
Maxwell was the youngest of his nine children and, if the name of his yacht is any indication, a favourite. She attended Oxford and moved to New York in 1991, around the time her father bought The Daily News. But later that year, her father tumbled off his boat and died in the midst of mounting debt, and it was shortly revealed that he had pillaged his employees’ pensions. With much of her family’s publishing empire gone, Maxwell moved into a modest upper east side apartment.
But once she and Epstein were dating, she was back in the type of grand residences she desired. Juan Alessi, who helped manage Epstein's Palm Beach mansion for a decade, described Maxwell as essentially his supervisor, according to a deposition in a civil case brought by some of Epstein's alleged victims. "She would tell me, I am going to take care of the house," he recalled.
Once Maxwell began spending a lot of time at the Florida house in the late 1990s, the visitors began coming. Young women, from the Palm Beach area and Europe. Celebrities, such as David Copperfield and Donald Trump. A new guest corridor of the house was constructed; Prince Andrew was among the regulars, Alessi said.
Rellie, the Oxford friend, said he found Epstein elusive to the point of imperiousness. At a party the financier and Maxwell hosted in New York during the late 1990s, Epstein did not appear until all the guests had taken their seats. The real draw was Maxwell, the “charming, likable front person,” Rellie said. “A big part of the reason people talked to him was because of Ghislaine.” Mason, a journalist and an author who writes about the rich, described her as “saucy” – she talked openly about sex – “fantastically entertaining” and funny, but also vulnerable. She was striking, with short black hair, dangly earrings, and fitted trousers or dresses and stiletto heels.
In 1994, Maxwell selected Mason to perform a ribald song at Epstein’s birthday party that referred to the couple’s sexual relationship. Rellie knew that Maxwell, whose lawyers did not respond to requests for comment, came from a family that had been engulfed in scandal but said it gave her a kind of frisson. “That was part of the mystique,” he said. “New York people enjoy salacious stories. Having somebody who has a colourful past, including a dad who was controversial, made her interesting.”
Epstein sought a steady stream of beautiful young women, including models, who were expected to look attractive as they hung out at his homes or rode on his private jet
In 2000, she moved into a 7,000sq ft (650 sq m) town house in Manhattan, at 116 East 65th Street – less than 10 blocks from Epstein's mansion – that was purchased for $4.95 million by an anonymous LLC, with an address that matches the office of J Epstein & Co. Representing the LLC was Darren Indyke, Epstein's longtime lawyer. Maxwell began entertaining Park-Avenue types who noted its Downton Abbey-meets-Art-Deco vibe, with brightly coloured rooms and mirrored surfaces. ("A mix of heavy and heavy," as one society friend put it.)
In a 2003 Vanity Fair article, Epstein described Maxwell as his “best friend”. He said she was not on his payroll, though the story noted that she seemed to organise much of his life.An advertisement that appeared in Yoga Journal 10 years earlier sought a yoga instructor for “a private individual” with “fantastic perks such as extensive travel.” The number listed was for Epstein’s office. Interested parties were to call “Miss Maxwell.”
She continued to reside, at least part-time, in Epstein's homes in New York and Florida. "Mrs Maxwell was like the lady of the house," said Alfredo Rodriguez, who worked in the Palm Beach mansion in 2005, explaining that household expenses were paid out of a bank account in Maxwell's name, according to a deposition in a court case.
More than massages
Epstein sought a steady stream of beautiful young women, including models, who were expected to look attractive as they hung out at his homes or rode on his private jet. The houses had massage tables in multiple rooms and masseuses to serve Epstein, Maxwell and guests who stayed there. Alessi counted upward of 200 people coming to the Palm Beach home to provide massages over the course of several years, and said Epstein would request as many as three masseuses a day.
Maxwell helped with the recruiting, according to former employees. “I remember one occasion or two occasions she would say to me, ‘Juan, give me a list of all the spas in Palm Beach County’,” Alessi said. “And I will drive her from one to the other one.”
'In a lawsuit, it as alleged that Epstein, Maxwell and three other associates engaged in a sex-trafficking venture that targeted young women. They denied the allegation'
During some massage sessions, Epstein also engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse of girls, according to criminal charges and numerous civil cases that have been filed against him. Two accusers have said Maxwell participated in the abuse. In a 2009 lawsuit against Epstein, Virginia Giuffre alleged that Epstein and Maxwell sexually abused her starting when she was 16. She said she had been working as a changing-room assistant at the Mar-a-Lago Club when Maxwell invited her to Epstein's home with promises that she could learn massage therapy and earn a lot of money. Once there, she said, Maxwell helped Epstein force her into sexual activity with him, then paid her $200 that day. She said it was the beginning of an arrangement that lasted several years. She also claimed that Maxwell took sexually explicit photos of her. Maxwell denied the claims.
In an affidavit in a separate civil case, Maria Farmer has alleged that Epstein and Maxwell sexually assaulted her in 1996 when she was a graduate student and that they also flew her 15-year-old sister to his ranch in New Mexico, ordered her to take off her clothes and improperly touched her.
Another woman, Sarah Ransome, also submitted an affidavit in that case, saying that when she was 22, she accepted invitations from Epstein to the US Virgin Islands, where she had "sexual relations" with him and other guests, according to court records. She said Maxwell had recruited others for Epstein, some of them young teenagers, and said "she appeared to be in charge of their activities, including what they did, who they did it with and how they were supposed to stay in line." Maxwell and Epstein have not publicly responded to Farmer's or Ransome's claims.
In another lawsuit, Ransome alleged that Epstein, Maxwell and three other associates engaged in a sex-trafficking venture that targeted young women. They denied the allegations, and the case resulted in a confidential settlement.
Fading from view
After Epstein returned from jail, his public appearances with Maxwell came to an end, said Peggy Siegal, a prominent professional hostess, who included Epstein in movie screenings and other social events. "She was no longer in the picture," Siegal said. But Maxwell was still very visible on the social circuit. She popped up at benefits for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and book parties for Huffington. "I didn't get the sense she was being shunned," said author Jay McInerney.
When Maxwell received a subpoena in the lawsuit filed by Giuffre, she was leaving a session of the Clinton Global Initiative at the Sheraton Hotel, prompting coverage in The New York Post. The next year she attended Chelsea Clinton's wedding, apparently still in the good graces of Bill Clinton, with whom she had socialised and sometimes travelled on Epstein's private plane.
In April 2013, she stood with Lloyd C Blankfein, then chief executive of Goldman Sachs, at a benefit supporting marriage equality. In October of that year, she was pictured alongside Michael R Bloomberg, then the mayor of New York, at a book party for Tamara Mellon, the Jimmy Choo matriarch.
But Maxwell disappeared from the social scene after 2015, the year Giuffre filed the defamation suit against her. By 2016, Maxwell was no longer being photographed at events. That April, the New York town home where she had lived was sold for $15 million. By 2017, her lawyers were saying that she was in London but that they did not believe she had a permanent residence.
Rellie was not surprised she was no longer mingling in New York amid the rich and connected. “I think I’ll be seeing less of her in the future,” he said. – New York Times