Since news broke in 2019 of Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest and subsequent suicide, victims of his child sex trafficking operation have come forward to discuss the horrific details of his abuse. During this time, two in-depth documentaries have been made about the wealthy financier's crimes, exposing those allegedly involved in his elite sex trafficking ring. In both films, one name was mentioned more than any other: Ghislaine Maxwell.
A wealthy British socialite, Maxwell has become the subject of public disdain and fascination. What would drive a woman to facilitate a serial sex offender and allegedly commit sexual abuse herself? In 2020, after going into hiding in the wake of Epstein’s death, Maxwell was arrested and charged with six counts of sexual exploitation of young girls. Since then, additional charges have been brought against the 59-year-old, including sex trafficking of a minor.
Thus far, the disgraced public figure has denied all the charges brought against her. Now, with her trial set to take place in November 2021, Sky Documentaries has put together a three-hour look at Maxwell’s life, including interviews with former friends, testimonies from victims and archival footage of her childhood. While many of the topics discussed across the three episodes speak to what we already know, Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow trains the spotlight on the woman most synonymous with Jeffrey Epstein's abhorrent crimes.
Here are five things we learned from the documentary.
1. Her early life was fraught
Though she experienced an incredibly wealthy upbringing in Oxford, Ghislaine's childhood was plagued by crisis, with her older brother involved in a car accident just two days after she was born, resulting in a seven-year-long coma. In a sit-down interview, Sunday Times journalist Rosie Kinchen says that Ghislaine's mother, Betty, cites this event as the start of Ghislaine's disordered eating, which Betty cruelly suggests came from a "need for attention". Kinchen also states that in one of Betty's books, Ghislaine is quoted as once telling her mother: "Mummy, I exist."
Ghislaine's relationship with her father, Robert Maxwell – millionaire MP, suspected spy and creator of The Mirror Group publishing company – was also fraught. In the documentary, Daily Mirror journalist Roy Greenslade described the publishing tycoon as a threatening "bully" who would constantly "berate and dismiss people" over small matters. Robert is said to have shown this behaviour at home too, with Kinchen stating that he actively sought to "humiliate" his children with very public "dressing downs" during dinners. Kinchen also states that when she interviewed Ghislaine's brothers, they told her that they would form a "defensive stance" to survive Robert's abuse, adding that their father was "hooked on discipline and on duty". Despite this, the documentary says Ghislaine was "Daddy’s little girl" who did anything she could to please her father.
2. She’s suspected of covering up evidence in the wake of her father’s death
In 1991, Robert Maxwell was found dead after falling overboard from his yacht, The Lady Ghislaine, in the Canary Islands. Ghislaine is described by her former university friend Anna Pasternak as having acted like a "bereaved widow" while handling the press and public interest surrounding Robert's mysterious death. According to Greenslade, a reliable colleague says he saw Ghislaine shredding documents on board the yacht in the aftermath of Robert's death. Pasternak states in the documentary that this alleged action "shows that she would have had quite an involvement in the business to know what documents to shred". Greenslade also states in the documentary that this alleged act was one of a "loyal daughter who was ensuring whatever fate that her father had befallen, she wasn't going to let light in on the darkness". It was later revealed that £400 million was missing from the pension fund at Robert Maxwell’s newspaper, The Daily Mirror.
3. She allegedly claimed that the girls she brought to Jeffrey Epstein's New York apartment were auditioning to be Victoria's Secret models
It's well documented that Jeffrey Epstein worked as the money manager for Leslie Wexner, the founder of Victoria's Secret. This relationship allegedly played into the falsehoods that were used to coerce young girls into visiting Epstein’s New York City home. According to one victim, Maria Farmer, young girls were procured by Ghislaine and taken to the highly surveilled house under the guise of a modelling audition. Maria, who worked as a receptionist at the house, states in the documentary that when a teenager with "a school skirt, braces, the whole thing" ran down the stairs one day in tears, Ghislaine coldly told her: "Maria, she didn’t get the job, Victoria's Secret is a tough business, modelling is a tough business."
4. After Epstein’s first arrest in 2008, Ghislaine began a relationship with the Clintons, reportedly to rebuild her image
In 2008 Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in Palm Beach for having sex with minors and given a lenient 'sweetheart deal' sentence which involved being allowed to attend his office five days a week. During this time, Ghislaine is said to have distanced herself from Epstein and, according to a documentary interview with her former friend Lady Victoria Hervey, hoped to "rebrand" her image by ramping up her appearances on the social circuit alongside influential figures. According to author Barry Levine, she then began to cultivate a relationship with the Clintons. Hervey states that at one dinner, Ghislaine was "very pally with Bill Clinton" and that "Ghislaine and Bill just looked very at ease with each other". Images throughout the doc show the pair boarding a private jet and Ghislaine in the audience at Chelsea Clinton's wedding in 2010.
5. Interviewees predict that she will be given a plea deal in her 2021 trial, which will result in less time in jail
According to the predictions of former CIA officer John Kiriakou, Ghislaine will be offered a lighter sentence to avoid tapes being released of high-profile sexual abusers. "I think the Justice Department will offer Ghislaine Maxwell something that she can live with. It won't be 30 years, maybe it will be 10 or 15 years," he says, adding that she will probably be sent to a low-security prison. Farmer says: "These are the wealthiest people in the world and they have the most power. There's only one way that they don't get away with everything and that's if they are killed. So either she gets away with everything, or she gets killed." Hervey echoes this sentiment about Ghislaine's safety, stating: "Of course she's in danger, look at what happened to Jeffrey."
Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow airs on NOW TV and Sky Documentaries on 28th June