For years, Ghislaine Maxwell operated in a social circle of the global elite so exclusive that its powerful members seemed insulated from meaningful scrutiny.
That circle was the world of Maxwell's ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced late financier who for years sexually abused teenage girls. Some of his victims were as young as 14.
That world came crashing down when she was arrested in June at a hideaway in New Hampshire and charged for her role in Epstein's crimes. Her fate was decided on Wednesday, when a Manhattan federal court jury returned a guilty verdict.
But, though Maxwell’s fall came quickly and her time in court unfolded at speed, the stage for Maxwell’s trial was actually set decades ago, when she first met Epstein. Witness testimony during the case has painted a dramatic and intimate picture of Maxwell’s life and times at the centre of Epstein’s world.
Maxwell, the daughter of UK media baron Robert Maxwell, was a prime candidate for entry into Epstein's orbit. She arrived in New York City in 1991, around when her father purchased the New York Daily News.
Maxwell’s role was that of a polished liaison, to smooth the way for her father’s takeover of the paper. That summer, she became closely associated with Epstein.
The Oxford-educated Maxwell was striking. She stood around 5ft 8in, with a slim frame and dramatic dark hair, and noticed for her "defined cheeks". She was "well put together, pretty", one former Epstein employee said. Longtime Epstein pilot David Rodgers recalled Maxwell as "very energetic" with a "great personality".
Maxwell had a posh English accent, likely enhancing her glamorous newcomer allure. In keeping with Maxwell’s worldly persona, she resided in a “very large residence” in the Columbus Circle area of Manhattan, on an “upper floor”, Rodgers said.
On November 5th, 1991, Robert died in a boating accident on his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine.
"She was really, really upset. You could tell, this was 'Daddy's girl'. She was inconsolable; she could hardly speak. When she saw her mother, her knees just buckled," Ken Lennox, then the Maxwell-owned Daily Mirror's senior photographer, previously told the Guardian.
“She was really devastated. If you look through the Maxwell files, he would take her to events: Elton John’s birthday, football matches. She was always there, clinging on to him. She called him ‘My Daddy’ all the time.”
Following Robert’s death, news emerged £460 million was missing from his companies’ pensions funds. The family’s reputation was in ruins.
Two of Maxwell’s brothers, Kevin and Ian, were ultimately tried in 1996 for their roles in their father’s businesses. They successfully defended themselves against fraud charges.
One or two months after Robert’s death, Maxwell moved from her impressive home to a studio. Epstein did not abandon Maxwell following her apparent financial descent.
“Early on, they were romantically involved,” Rodgers said. Another one of Epstein’s former pilots, Lawrence Paul Visoski jnr, said of Epstein and Maxwell’s relationship: “I thought it was more personal than business.”
Viskosi didn’t see them holding hands or kissing, describing them as not necessarily romantic but “couple-ish”. She was “on a lot of the flights”.
Maxwell became “No 2” in Epstein’s hierarchy, with Epstein being “No 1”, tasked with handling every aspect of the financier’s life that didn’t deal with his businesses.
Juan Alessi, the house manager at Epstein's Palm Beach home from 1992-2002, gave an even clearer picture of when their complicated relationship solidified – and their level of intimacy.
“Ms Maxwell was the girlfriend of Mr Epstein; I understand she was the lady of the house,” Alessi recounted. “From the day she came to the house, she right away took over, and she mentioned to me she was going to be the lady of the house. Also, she was in charge of other homes, other properties.”
Others filled out that picture.
“She told me lots of amazing things about her boyfriend and that she said he was a philanthropist,” said Kate, one of the four accusers to testify at Maxwell’s trial. Kate was 17 when she met Maxwell in Paris around 1994.
Kate said that Maxwell first lured the then teenager into sexual encounters with Epstein at her London townhouse, under the guise of giving him a massage. Maxwell “would ask me if I knew anybody who could come and give Jeffrey [oral sex] because it was a lot for her to do”, Kate testified.
“She said, ‘You know what he likes: cute, young, pretty, like you.’ She said he needed to have sex about three times a day.”
Photographs of Maxwell and Epstein introduced at trial also show them enjoying romance across the globe. In one waterfront image, Maxwell has her arms around Epstein’s neck, and she is kissing him. In another, she is giving him another cheek-peck in a sunny town.
One photo shows them posing close in black-tie clothing, another several show them side-by-side in fancy cold-weather attire. Several images show Maxwell massaging Epstein’s feet on his private jet, a giddy smile on her face.
Maxwell seemed smitten with Epstein. In October 2002, Maxwell even appeared to write a gushing word document about them, albeit in the third person.
“Jeffrey and Ghislaine have been together, a couple for the last 11 years. They are, contrary to what many people think, rarely apart – I almost always see them together,” read the document, which was introduced as evidence at trial.
“Jeffrey and Ghislaine share many mutual interests and they have a lot of fun together. They both have keen searching and inquisitive minds. She grew up amongst scientists and in an academic and business environment,” the text continued. “Jeffrey and Ghislaine complement each other really well and I cannot imagine one without the other. On top of being great partners, they are also the best of friends.”
Whether Maxwell was actually enamoured or not, prosecutors contended that financial benefits motivated her involvement with Epstein. They tried establishing that despite her family history, she wasn’t particularly wealthy when they met.
"While this horrific abuse was going on behind closed doors, the defendant was jet setting in private planes and living a life of extraordinary luxury," prosecutor Lara Pomerantz said in her opening. "These girls were just a means to support her lifestyle, a way for the defendant to make sure that Epstein – who demanded constant sexual gratification from young girls – remained satisfied so that the defendant could stay in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed."
Kate’s testimony pointed to an enticing financial link between Maxwell and Epstein. “She told me that she owned her house in New York City, and that Jeffrey had got it for her.”
Rodgers described how Maxwell’s residences changed over the time she was dating Epstein. Maxwell swapped her one-room flat for a “large apartment” then, around the late 1990s, she had a townhouse on East 65th Street.
“I believe it was a brown, five storeys tall. It had a courtyard in the back of it,” he said. “It was a pretty big place, probably . . . approximately 6,500sq ft, maybe seven [thousand].”
And then there was the cash. Prosecutors called an officer from JP Morgan bank to testify about cash transfers from Epstein’s accounts to Maxwell’s. The banker, Patrick McHugh, walked jurors through documents which demonstrated that Epstein moved more than $30 million to Maxwell’s accounts from 1999-2007.
At some point in the early 2000s, Epstein and Maxwell’s romance ended. Cimberly Espinoa, Maxwell’s assistant from 1996-2002, said their relationship seemed to end around her last two years in the office.
Maxwell started dating other men. She and Epstein stopped showing up at his Manhattan office around the same time. They no longer left together.
Maxwell started dating Ted Waitt, the billionaire co-founder of Gateway Computers. This relationship shored up Maxwell's social stature post-Epstein, according to the New York Times. Waitt's "cheque-writing helped secure her place at conferences as they replaced benefit galas as the first-tier social gatherings of the late aughts", the paper said.
In 2007, Epstein brokered a controversial plea deal that allowed him to escape federal charges for child-sex crime allegations. While Maxwell was shielded by a non-prosecution agreement, she was not protected from bad publicity.
This “wore” on Waitt and he and Maxwell split in 2010. But the tech mogul had given a minimum of $12 million to Bill Clinton’s philanthropic foundation, which kept Maxwell maintaining a foothold with the former president’s family.
Maxwell made connections at Clinton family summits, allowing her to start the ocean charity TerraMar Project in 2012, according to the New York Times. TerraMar had a website, and raised money, but didn’t appear to provide any grants, the newspaper noted.
Then Maxwell’s position among polite society took another blow in the mid-2010s.
Virginia Giuffre publicly alleged that Maxwell and Epstein forced her into a sexual encounter with Prince Andrew when she was just 17. Maxwell called her a liar, and Giuffre sued for defamation in 2015.
They settled the lawsuit in 2017. Aside from some intermittent dialogue about these allegations, the scandal died down significantly until late 2018.
That was when the Miami Herald's Julie K Brown published an explosive series that renewed attention on Epstein's crimes – and spurred outrage over his avoidance of justice.
In July 2019, Epstein was arrested for sex trafficking. He died by suicide in a New York City federal jail shortly thereafter, while awaiting his trial.
Epstein’s victims, no longer able to confront him, were given an opportunity to speak in court. Five named Maxwell as a participant or enabler in Epstein’s abuse.
Maxwell’s whereabouts immediately became the subject of immense speculation, and many wondered whether federal prosecutors would pursue her.
These questions were answered one year after Epstein’s arrest. Manhattan federal prosecutors announced that she was apprehended and charged with sex crimes, conspiracy and perjury, in Epstein’s sex abuse ring.
They described Maxwell as “slithering away” into hiding. Before Maxwell’s capture, however, she lived the high life on the run.
She purchased the 156-acre estate in Bradford, New Hampshire that became her hideaway in an all-cash deal. Two real estate websites said this property sold for $1,070,750.
It was described as “an amazing retreat for the nature lover who also wants total privacy”. Or, in Maxwell’s case, a disgraced heiress on the run. – Guardian