After accused child-sex–trafficker Jeffrey Esptein was found dead by apparent suicide in his prison cell on Saturday morning, concerns arose whether the investigation into his alleged crimes would go on. On Sunday, the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York released a statement announcing it would continue to pursue justice for Epstein’s alleged victims, which could include turning the focus toward alleged co-conspirators. Out of all the powerful figures with ties to Epstein who are likely feeling a little nervous today, one rises above them all: Ghislaine Maxwell, a 57-year-old British socialite, and Epstein’s alleged madame and co-conspirator.
Maxwell, who was connected to Epstein for more than two decades, is suspected of having played a critical role in recruiting and grooming underage girls into his sex-trafficking ring — allegations that became explicitly clear to the public with the recent release of disturbing court documents that support that narrative. Though Maxwell has repeatedly denied accusations against her, and has never faced charges for her alleged involvement, eyes are increasingly turning toward her in the aftermath of Epstein’s death.
Here’s everything we know about the alleged madam so far.
She’s a British socialite.
Maxwell is the daughter of publisher Robert Maxwell — in short, she comes from money. Per the Wall Street Journal, she grew up and attended university in England, then moved to the United States in 1991 after her father fell to his death from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine. (Epstein reportedly uses a yacht with the same name to transport women from St. Thomas in the Caribbean to his own private island, which locals have nicknamed “Pedophile Island.”) Exactly how Maxwell and Epstein met is unclear, but the two reportedly dated for a short period of time around 1992, then remained close friends after breaking up. Per a 2002 New York Magazine profile of Epstein, Maxwell — who has been linked to Epstein for more than two decades — “lent a little pizzazz to the lower-profile Epstein.” The story continues:
The Oxford-educated Maxwell, described by many as a man-eater (she flies her own helicopter and was recently seen dining with [Bill] Clinton at Nello’s on Madison Avenue), lives in her own townhouse a few blocks away. Epstein is frequently seen around town with a bevy of comely young women but there has been no boldfaced name to replace Maxwell. “You may read about Jeffrey in the social columns, but there is much more to him than that,” says Jeffrey T. Leeds of the private equity firm Leeds Weld & Co.
She also, in 2012, founded the TerraMar Project, a nonprofit that advocates for protecting ocean waters.
She’s friendly with a number of notable figures, including Bill Clinton and British royal-family members.
Over the years, Maxwell has been photographed alongside many prominent, powerful people who are linked to Epstein, such as Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz. Maxwell was even a guest at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding in 2010.
She’s been accused of recruiting and grooming girls and women into Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking ring.
According to multiple court filings reviewed by the Miami Herald, lawyers for one of Epstein’s alleged victims have claimed that Epstein and Maxwell acted as the leaders of an “organized crime family” and that Maxwell helped traffic girls and women to powerful figures. Per the documents, Maxwell lured the alleged victims into the sex ring by offering them modeling, fashion, and educational opportunities. Furthermore, in 2009 depositions, two former house managers testified that Maxwell kept photos of young women in sexual acts.
On August 9, evidence suggesting that Maxwell played a crucial role in the alleged child sex ring mounted when a federal appeals court unsealed what were long believed to be key documents: some 2,000 pages from a 2015 defamation case filed by a woman named Virginia Giuffre, who publicly claimed in a 2009 lawsuit against Epstein that Maxwell had recruited her into Epstein’s sex ring to be a “sex slave” when she was just 16. (Giuffre filed the defamation suit in response to Maxwell calling her claims “entirely false” on numerous occasions; the case never went to trial, though, as the two parties settled it out of court. A U.S. District Court judge ordered a significant portion of the filings to be sealed.)
The documents, as expected, are explosive. In one part made public, photographs show Giuffre standing next to Prince Andrew, Maxwell, and Epstein, all of whom she claims to have had sexual relations with. (According to a testimony from Tony Figueroa, Epstein’s former bodyguard, Giuffre told him that she had threesomes with Maxwell and Epstein, which involved using “strap-ons and dildos and everything.” Maxwell has denied her role in the alleged sex ring, as has Prince Andrew. ) The documents also claim that Maxwell gave Giuffre plane tickets to Thailand, where she was instructed to meet a young girl and “bring her back to the U.S. for Epstein and [her]” — a claim in part corroborated by records of Giuffre’s hotel stay, which she produced.
Giuffre isn’t the only alleged victim named in the documents: They also shed a damning light on Epstein and Maxwell’s alleged abuse of other underage girls. A woman named Johanna Sjoberg testified that when she was a student at Palm Beach Atlantic College in 2001, Maxwell lured her to Epstein’s “under the guise of a legitimate job of answering phones.” Once there, she claims, she was instructed by someone named Emmy Taylor — whom Maxwell allegedly referred to as her “sex slave” — to massage Epstein to orgasm. Furthermore, Rinaldo Rizzo, the house manager for one of Maxwell’s close friends, claimed that Maxwell once brought a “distraught” 15-year-old Swedish girl into his employer’s home; per his testimony, the girl told Rizzo that Maxwell had taken her passport and attempted to force her into having sex with Epstein on his private island. (A spokesperson for Rizzo’s former employer called these allegations “demonstrably false.”)
But sometimes, Maxwell took more of a background role in the alleged child sex ring, per the documents. In 2005, during the execution of a search warrant, investigators uncovered incriminating pads of phone messages from Epstein’s alleged victims calling about “massage” time slots; the messages, per the documents, were written in code by Maxwell and other associates. For example, one message reads, “He has a teacher for you to teach you how to speak Russian. She is 2X8 years old not blonde. Lessons are free and you can have your 1st today if you call.” The code 2X8, per the documents, means that the girl to whom the message refers was 16.
Many of her old acquaintances claim to have never suspected this alleged conduct of her.
In interviews with the Cut, many of Maxwell’s acquaintances expressed shock that she was potentially implicated in a massive child-sex–trafficking scandal, as they remember her presence in New York City’s elite circles as being relatively innocuous.
“Nobody knew any of this creepy sex stuff,” one person told the Cut. “I have nothing bad to say about her,” said another.
This post has been updated.