This photo was taken at an LA burger joint in 2019: is it Maxwell or her doppelganger?
Maxwell has been accused of playing a key role in bringing those teenagers, many from vulnerable backgrounds, into Epstein’s orbit. She has also been accused of being a sexual participant. (Maxwell has vehemently denied the allegations. She’s never been accused of wrongdoing by authorities and has never been charged with any crime.)
In retrospect, Maxwell’s story should have played out differently. The daughter of an ’80s media tycoon, her life should have seen her flit between the usual haunts of the titled and the obscenely wealthy, a vacuous parade of money and social ambition. Instead, her name will forever be closely linked to a man who trafficked girls and whose heinous sexual appetite destroyed an untold number of women’s lives.
Since Epstein was found dead in a New York jail cell in August last year, Maxwell’s location has been an unsolved mystery, and rumours have swirled: is she hiding out in a New England mansion? Is she chilling at a Hollywood burger joint? (Some argue that the now-famous photo, published in The New York Post, was faked.) Is she in South America? Perhaps most curious of
all, was she, all along, involved with Mossad, Israel’s legendary spy service?
Maxwell with her parents at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.
There is a certain horrible symmetry to Maxwell’s life in that the wealth, misdeeds and deaths of two men, nearly 30 years apart, have indelibly and irrevocably shaped the course of her life. Born in Paris in 1961, she grew up in England where she attended the exclusive Marlborough College (the Duchess of Cambridge’s alma mater), before entering Balliol College at Oxford. As an adult, she was given a job at her father’s company – Robert (Bob) Maxwell was a high-rolling media baron – partied her way through London and New York and became friends with John F. Kennedy Jr. Maxwell personified the archetype ’80s socialite.
In November 1991, her dad disappeared from the deck of his superyacht, ‘Lady Ghislaine’, in the Canary Islands. As his wife Elisabeth and son Philip flew by private jet from London they received word: a fisherman had found his corpse. When Maxwell arrived to join her family, “She was inconsolable; she could hardly speak. When she saw her mother, her knees just buckled,” photographer Ken Lennox who worked for Bob Maxwell’s Mirror newspaper revealed. “She was really devastated. If you look through the Maxwell files, [Bob] 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.
Superyacht 'Lady Ghislaine'.
Within weeks of her father’s death, a $900 million US hole in the Mirror’s pension fund was discovered, with the finger pointed firmly at him. Soon there was frenzied speculation about his cause of death: had he committed suicide facing humiliation? Was he murdered? Or had he suffered a heart attack and toppled over the side of the boat?
Maxwell’s world came crashing down around her, with the family facing immediate comparative poverty. Maxwell, then 30, fled to New York. It was there she met Jeffrey Epstein, 38, a charismatic financier with a mysterious career. Print stories about Epstein at the time dubbed him an “International Moneyman of Mystery” and “The Talented Mr Epstein”.
Some reports have suggested that when Maxwell landed in the Big Apple she was the beneficiary of a trust worth $100,000 US annually. Veteran journalist Mark Edmonds, who’s spent recent months on the hunt for Maxwell, paints a different picture, saying that she turned up in New York with next to nothing in her pocket. “[Epstein] saved her,” a friend told Vanity Fair in 2011. “When her father died, she was a wreck, inconsolable. And then Jeffrey took her in. She’s never forgotten that – and never will.”
Like much about their twisted relationship, it’s not known exactly what year Maxwell and Epstein started dating or for how long. What is certain is that they offered each other something they both desperately needed. For Maxwell, his millions saved her from a life of relative penury. For Epstein, a kid from Brooklyn, she offered him an entree into the rarefied world of A-listers, royalty and the jet-set in which she had always moved. Notably, she befriended the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, who introduced her and Epstein to her then-husband Prince Andrew.
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in New York City in 1995.
Christina Oxenberg is a writer and cousin of the British royal family, who moved in “concentric” social circles to Maxwell in the ’90s, and spent time at Epstein’s Upper East Side townhouse. She describes Maxwell as “100 per cent cruel”.
“[When] we first met she really worked very hard to try and rattle me or make me uncomfortable,” Oxenberg says. “She was extremely rude to my face the very first time we met. She was really extreme.”
She recounts attending a tea party at Maxwell’s New York apartment where the socialite mistreated a Yorkshire terrier. “She tossed it across her room more than once,” Oxenberg recalls. “She thought this was hilariously funny.”
The writer says Maxwell told her she was in love with Epstein and wanted to marry him. Yet beyond those feelings for the financier, and beyond functioning as his conduit to the rich and powerful, she is also alleged to have fulfilled another far darker role in his life: his madam.
In the summer of 2000, Virginia Roberts (now Giuffre) was working as a spa attendant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. One afternoon the then-16-year-old was reading a book on massage therapy outside the locker room when she says she was approached by Maxwell. There was a man who needed a travelling masseuse, Giuffre would later recount Maxwell telling her, and she could make good money.
Instead, “the training started immediately,” Giuffre has said. “It was everything down to how to give a blow job, how to be quiet, be subservient, give Jeffrey what he wants. A lot of this training came from Ghislaine herself. Being a woman, it kind of surprises you that a woman could let stuff like that happen. Not only let it happen, but groom you into doing it.”
Donald Trump and wife Melania with Epstein and Maxwell in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2000.
Giuffre alleges that she became a sex slave for Epstein, and was trafficked to London in 2001 and forced to have sex with his friend, Prince Andrew, three times over the next year. (He has vehemently denied her allegations and last year told the BBC that he has “no recollection” of meeting Giuffre.)
In 2003, while on a trip to Thailand for a massage course paid for by Epstein, Giuffre met an Australian man named Robert Giuffre. They married and moved to the NSW Central Coast, then Cairns. Giuffre had escaped the clutches of the paedophile and his pimp, but many others were still caught in their depraved web.
Johanna Sjöberg was a student at Palm Beach Atlantic College in 2001 when she alleges she was recruited by Maxwell. Sjöberg has testified that Maxwell approached her on the school grounds. According to court documents, “She lured Ms Sjöberg into her and Epstein’s home under the guise of a legitimate job of answering phones, a pretext that lasted only a day ... [Maxwell] soon instructed Sjöberg to massage Epstein, and made it clear that Sjöberg’s purpose was to bring Epstein to orgasm during these massages, so that [Maxwell] did not have to do it.”
Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts (centre) with Prince Andrew and Maxwell in early 2001 (Prince Andrew claims the photo is a fake).
Juan Alessi, Epstein’s house manager, testified in a sworn deposition that one of his “jobs was to drive Maxwell to various spas in Palm Beach where she left business cards in order to ‘recruit’ more masseuses”. Elsewhere in the document, Alessi, Epstein’s Palm Beach butler Alfredo Rodriguez and Sjöberg, “testified that she [Maxwell] was Epstein’s procuress”.
For the past 12 years, Palm Beach lawyer Spencer Kuvin has represented a number of women who’ve alleged that they were abused by Epstein. He tells marie claire that Maxwell was “the head of the snake”. “She was the queen of his castle. She organised other young women and trained other young women to service Jeffrey Epstein,” he says.
Kuvin argues that Maxwell played a critical role in the scale of the alleged abuse that took place behind the doors of Epstein’s homes. “His entire scheme was dependent upon the women being recruiters for him,” Kuvin says. “There’s no way that this perverted old man could have recruited so many young girls to abuse without [their] assistance.”
Harvey Weinstein, Epstein and Maxwell at Princess Beatrice’s 18th birthday.
In June 2007, Epstein fronted the Palm Beach court where he pleaded guilty to two felony prostitution charges in state court, and in exchange, he and his accomplices received immunity from federal sex-trafficking charges that could have sent him to prison for life. The deal was done without any of Epstein’s victims or their legal teams being made aware.
Epstein was given a 13-month sentence in a Florida county jail where he was allowed to leave the prison and work from his office 12 hours a day, six days a week. When he was released from behind bars, he disappeared from public life.
Not so for Maxwell, who remained a regular presence on some of the hottest guest lists on both sides of the Atlantic, from fashion week to Chelsea Clinton’s 2010 wedding (her face can even be seen in shots of former US president Bill Clinton walking his daughter down the aisle). Maxwell had also worked – casting herself as an environmentalist and setting up an ocean conservation project called the TerraMar Project in 2012 and giving a TED Talk in 2014. In the five years the non-profit was in existence (it was shuttered in 2019), it remained unknown what it actually did.
But it was on July 7 last year that the Epstein scandal crashed back into the headlines. The billionaire was arrested on new sex-trafficking charges after his private jet landed in New Jersey. A month later, he was found dead in his New York jail cell.
Maxwell snapped at the 2010 wedding of Chelsea Clinton.
In the wake of his passing (officially ruled a suicide), Epstein’s investigators and victims turned their attention to Maxwell, but the former heiress had gone underground. The last confirmed photograph of her before Epstein’s death was in June 2019, when she took part in a high-society women’s car rally in Monaco. Since then, there have been numerous alleged sightings. It was briefly claimed that she was holed up in a Massachusetts mansion owned by a tech CEO; that was denied. The same month, the questionable shot of Maxwell at an LA In-N-Out burger joint was published. In October a report surfaced that she was hiding out in Brazil, though there is no evidence to support this.
There is one more far-fetched theory about Maxwell that refuses to disappear: that she, her father and Epstein were all involved with the shadowy world of espionage. Bob Maxwell was long rumoured to have been associated with various intelligence services. This year, Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli spy, told the authors of Epstein: Dead Men Tell No Tales that he had been Bob Maxwell’s “handler” and that Bob “introduced [Epstein] to us, and he wanted us to accept him as part of our group”.
A number of Epstein’s victims have alleged there were secret cameras throughout his New York mansion, including in bedrooms and bathrooms. The spy theory argues that Epstein and Maxwell were running a honeytrap operation to get compromising material on the rich and powerful men they hosted.
“My feeling is that [Bob] probably was an agent to the Russians, the Israelis, and the British. I believe that Ghislaine continued his work,” Maxwell family friend Laura Goldman is also quoted as saying.
This March it was revealed that Maxwell had filed a legal claim seeking part of her former boss and boyfriend’s $963 million estate, and claimed that she’d been employed by his business entities from 1999 to 2006.
At the time of writing, Maxwell’s location remains one of the world’s most closely guarded secrets. In late December 2019, it was reported that the FBI was investigating Maxwell and several others linked to Epstein.
“I suspect she’s under some sort of witness protection program or some sort of arrangement with the FBI,” says Edmonds, “because she would have been found by now. She’s not the kind of person who would be able to disappear to Brazil; it just wouldn’t suit her mentality.”
In 1992, after her father’s death, Maxwell was interviewed for a Vanity Fair piece and reflected, “I’m surviving – just … But I would say we’ll be back. Watch this space.”
Today, nearly 30 years on, the world is watching – and the harsh spotlight on Ghislaine Maxwell is not going anywhere.
This article originally appeared in marie claire's July 2020 issue.