Ghislaine Maxwell: From the top of high society to facing the rest of her life behind bars

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·5-min read
Ghislaine Maxwell: From the top of high society to facing the rest of her life behind bars
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  • Ghislaine Maxwell
    Ghislaine Maxwell
    Socialite
  • Jeffrey Epstein
    American financier
  • Robert Maxwell
    Czechoslovak-born British media proprietor and Member of Parliament (1923-1991)

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has spent years at the centre of an enduring global storm around the perverted activities of disgraced billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, culminating in her sex trafficking trial.

Once a darling of the New York social scene, Maxwell faced a growing chorus of questions about her knowledge of Epstein’s sexual interest in girls and whether she was herself involved.

The storm built up to a criminal trial, focusing the eyes of the world on Maxwell’s past life as Epstein’s girlfriend, their time together in his luxury homes, and jet-setting around the world with the likes of Donald Trump.

Four women came face-to-face with the 60-year-old across a New York courtroom, accusing her of not only being instrumental in Epstein’s abuse but also a willing participant in depraved sexual encounters.

Maxwell, who denied a string of charges including sex trafficking, had been cast from the very top of high society to the very bottom, in the fight of her life and now faces the rest of her life behind bars.

Maxwell lived a ‘life of luxury’ with Epstein while the abuse was taking place (US Department of Justice) (PA Media)
Maxwell lived a ‘life of luxury’ with Epstein while the abuse was taking place (US Department of Justice) (PA Media)

Born on Christmas Day in 1961 in Maisons-Laffitte, France, Maxwell is the youngest daughter of French scholar Elisabeth Meynard and British press baron Robert Maxwell, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1991.

She gained a history and languages degree from Balliol College, Oxford, and then became a regular on the London social scene as well as working closely with her father, including as a director of Oxford United FC.

Maxwell said after her father’s death – by drowning after falling from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine – that she did not believe the official report and suspected foul play: “He did not commit suicide. That was just not consistent with his character. I think he was murdered.”

Shortly afterwards, Maxwell moved to New York where she was to strike up a friendship and romance with the billionaire financier Epstein, whose infamous ‘little black book’ of contacts was bulging with famous names.

The jury were shown intimate pictures of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein (PA)
The jury were shown intimate pictures of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein (PA)

Trump and fellow ex-President Bill Clinton flew on Epstein’s private jet – dubbed the ‘Lolita Express’, the court heard, as did actors Chris Tucker and Kevin Spacey, and his friend Prince Andrew.

Maxwell became a fixture by Epstein’s side as they attended lavish parties together, wined and dined with the great and the good, and she was pictured lingering in the background of the infamous picture of Prince Andrew with his hand around Virginia Roberts – then aged 17-years-old.

It is said Epstein took the shot, at Maxwell’s townhouse in Belgravia, on the night Ms Roberts says she was told to have sex with the Duke of York – a claim he fervently denies.

Outlining the criminal case against Maxwell, US prosecutors claimed she was the madam to Epstein, luring in teenage girls who could be groomed for abuse between 1994 and 2004.

 (PA)
(PA)

The first accuser - Jane – said she was just 14-years-old when she was abused by Epstein, “frozen in fear” as she endured her first sexual experience at the financier’s Palm Beach home.

She said Maxwell and Epstein were “casually giggling” as they stripped off in front of her while fondling each other, and then encouraged her to join in the sexual activity.

Witnesses identified the massage room as Epstein’s favourite spot for abuse, where young girls would be sent in to rub his body before he turned the encounter sexual.

The second accuser, Kate, told jurors she was presented with massage oils at Maxwell’s London townhouse when she was 17 and told to “have a good time” before giving Epstein a sexualised massage.

The British woman claimed she was invited out to Palm Beach when she was 18, to find a schoolgirl’s outfit laid out for her.

Donald Trump and his girlfriend (and future wife), former model Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell pose together at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida,  in 2000 (Getty Images)
Donald Trump and his girlfriend (and future wife), former model Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell pose together at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2000 (Getty Images)

The third woman, Carolyn, accused Maxwell of groping her at the age of 14, and suggested she was told she had a “great body for Epstein and his friends”.

Annie Farmer, the only accuser to not give evidence under a pseudonym, said Maxwell told her to undress at Epstein’s New Mexico ranch and rubbed her breasts during a massage.

The trial also heard evidence of the luxury lifestyle at Epstein’s homes, with images of him posing with Pope John Paul II and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro adorning the walls and Maxwell said to be the “Lady of the House”.

Witnesses claimed she enforced a strict set of house rules, including instructing staff to “see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing” and ensure that Epstein’s every need was catered for.

Images also emerged of Maxwell rubbing Epstein’s feet, and the pair posing together at a log cabin on the Queen’s Balmoral estate.

Maxwell did not give evidence herself during the trial, choosing instead to rely on the arguments of her expensively assembled legal team.

Defence counsel Bobbi Sternheim said Maxwell has been put on trial for “things Jeffrey Epstein did”. Another lawyer, Laura Menninger, insisted: “Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit.”

Maxwell has been held in prison, in conditions of almost total isolation, since her dramatic arrest by the FBI in July last year at a New Hampshire retreat.

She had been repeatedly named and accused in a string of civil lawsuits in the US, and her arrest and criminal charge felt increasingly inevitable when Epstein died in prison and attention swung instead on to his former girlfriend.

Her supporters and family have cried foul over her treatment behind bars, saying guards kept her up all night by shining lights into her eyes and the conditions she was living in – a world away from her past life at glitzy parties – were placing an intolerable strain on her mental health.

Maxwell may well now spend the rest of her life behind bars as she faces a prison sentence of up to 65 years.

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