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Ghislaine Maxwell: from high society to ‘hell-hole’ Brooklyn jail

British socialite has spent nearly a year in prison accused of enabling Jeffrey Epstein

A new three-part documentary delves into the life of Ghislaine Maxwell, the socialite who is awaiting what will be a high-profile trial for allegedly assisting the late Jeffrey Epstein in his abuse of under-age girls.

Sky Documentaries’ Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow offers a “grimly fascinating portrait” of the woman who stands accused of enabling his “depravity”, says The Telegraph.

It uses the testimony of those who knew her to paint a picture of her childhood, her days of partying with A-listers and her relationship with the financier and convicted paedophile, who hanged himself in a Manhattan prison cell while awaiting his sex trafficking trial.

The 59-year-old, who denies the charges, has been in jail in Brooklyn since last July.

Long fall

Maxwell’s current circumstances are a world away from her grand beginnings.

She was born in Maisons-Laffitte, Ile-de-France, in 1961, but grew up in the Oxfordshire countryside with her family in a 53-room mansion, Headington Hill Hall.

The youngest of nine children, she is the daughter of disgraced late newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell, one-time owner of the Mirror Group, and his wife, Betty, a prominent Holocaust researcher. 

Maxwell was “rumoured to be her father’s favourite child”, reports The Guardian, and he named his $15m yacht after her, the Lady Ghislaine, from which he fell overboard and died in 1991. After his death, a $460m hole was found to be missing from the Mirror Group’s pension funds.

The “daddy-daughter dynamic is given a great deal of space” in the new Sky documentary, “partly because it explains so much of Maxwell’s psychology”, says The Telegraph.

The Times contends that “Maxwell was brought up by a monstrous, rich, powerful man, so the terrible things that monstrous, rich, powerful men do were normal to her”.

A ‘mutually beneficial relationship’

The socialite arrived in New York in the early 1990s “looking for a new start”, having lost not only a parent, but much of her family fortune and social standing, reports The New York Times

She was “soon on the rise” again with the help of her financier Jeffrey Epstein. It was the beginning of a “mutually beneficial relationship”, reports the paper, with Maxwell “able to resurrect the lifestyle she coveted” alongside her new boyfriend. 

For Epstein, who had grown up in Coney Island and was “a college dropout”, the “gregarious”, Oxford-educated and socially connected Maxwell was able to provide “new social pathways” for the financier.

A “networker” who “revelled in her unrivalled connections”, Maxwell’s friends included Prince Andrew, who she reportedly introduced to Epstein in 1999 and is said to have been a frequent guest in Epstein’s homes, says The Telegraph.

“She had an upbringing and taste and knew how to run a house and a boat and how to entertain,” an acquaintance told the paper. “You can’t buy that. You can’t buy access, either.”

The relationship between Maxwell and Epstein was “deep and entangled”, says The New York Times, and continued long after their romance ended. Maxwell appeared to manage Epstein’s homes, “facilitate his social relationships and recruit masseuses to help satisfy his seemingly insatiable appetite for massages”, reports the paper.

One associate of the pair described Maxwell as “half ex-girlfriend, half employee, half best friend, and fixer”.

Epstein’s arrest

In 2008, Epstein was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to soliciting for prostitution, including soliciting an underage girl. His interest in young girls seems to have been known amongst at least some of his associates: “He has never been secretive about the girls”, said columnist Michael Wolff in a profile for New York magazine in 2007.

“At one point, when his troubles began, he was talking to me and said, ‘What can I say, I like young girls.’ I said, ‘Maybe you should say, ’I like young women’,” said Wolff. 

A decade later, in 2019, Epstein was arrested again, this time on sex-trafficking charges. He was accused of running a “vast network” of underage girls for sex, reports the BBC. He was found dead in his Manhattan prison cell in August 2019 as he awaited trial, having apparently killed himself. 

‘Slithering away’

In July 2020, Maxwell was arrested by the FBI at a secluded and luxurious house in Bradford, New Hampshire, by the FBI on charges that she helped procure teenage girls for Epstein and sometimes joined in the abuse

Prosecutors have accused her of “slithering away” into hiding and of lying about her involvement in Epstein’s abuse of underage girls because, they claimed, the truth was “almost unspeakable”, reports The Guardian.

“Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse,” authorities said in court papers. “In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse.”

“She set the trap. She pretended to be a woman [the alleged victims] could trust.”

‘Hell-hole’ prison

Maxwell has previously complained of the “hell-hole” conditions in jail. In April, at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, her lawyers argued that the “horrific conditions” in which she is being held “make it impossible for her to prepare for her trial”, which has since been postponed from July to the autumn.

Her legal team claimed she has been “intimidated and humiliated” by guards as she used the lavatory. However, her fourth request to be released from custody was rejected.

Maxwell faces eight counts including conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and perjury. New charges were brought against her on 29 March: sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking of a minor.

If convicted on all charges, to which she has pleaded not guilty on all counts, she faces up to 80 years in prison, reports the BBC.

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