Warning: This article contains mentions of suicide and may not be suitable for every reader
At 6.30am on the morning of August 10, 2019, two prison guards went to deliver convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein breakfast in his cell, only to find him unresponsive. He was transported to hospital where he was later pronounced dead, aged 66.
Just over a month prior, the multi-millionaire had been arrested on sex trafficking charges at an airport in New York, after flying back from Paris on his private jet. The judge denied bail for Epstein over concerns that he could be a flight risk.
The financier's death, described by authorities as 'apparent suicide', came as yet another blow for the trail of victims he'd left in his wake, denying them one last time of the justice they so desperately sought.
But not everyone remains convinced Jeffrey Epstein's death is as it seems. Some people point to discrepancies they claim don't add up, arriving at conspiracy theories suggesting his final reckoning may not have been suicide at all. Here, we outline some of the suggestions floating around about what perhaps really happened - but it's worth bearing in mind that that's all they really are: suggestions.
How did Jeffrey Epstein die?
By the time of his death, disgraced multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein had spent almost five weeks locked up in the Special Housing Unit on the 9th floor of New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, a prison described as "something of a hell-hole" by journalist Tim Malloy in Netflix's Filthy Rich documentary.
The guards on duty that night, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, were tasked with watching over Epstein and others, and should have been making regular trips to the cells every 30 minutes. But according to an indictment later served upon the pair, between 10.30pm on Friday 9 August, and 6.30am on Saturday 10 August, those checks didn't appear to happen. The guards were accused in the indictment of intermittently sleeping and browsing the internet instead of doing their rounds. (Note: A lawyer acting for Michael Thomas said in January 2020 that he would be seeking a dismissal of the charges against the guard, insisting his client had been “scapegoated” for Jeffrey Epstein’s death.)
In the early hours of the morning, when Noel and Thomas went to give Epstein his breakfast and discovered his body, it appeared he had used his prison cell bedsheets to commit suicide. The sex offender was taken by ambulance to the nearby New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital, where he was officially pronounced dead. The indictment against the two guards for their failure of duties concluded Jeffrey Epstein’s death was a suicide. This was later backed up by the New York City chief medical examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson.
The news was hard for Epstein's accusers to hear. "I felt so devastated that, once again, he had managed to escape any kind accountability," said one survivor, Annie Farmer.
Was Jeffrey Epstein murdered?
In short: unlikely. But there's a conspiracy theory to suggest he was, triggered in part by confusion about how Epstein could have taken his own life when he was believed to have been on suicide watch, and also by the findings of a forensic pathologist employed by Epstein's brother.
Speaking on Netflix's Filthy Rich documentary, which investigates Epstein's life and crimes, journalist Tim Malloy explained how unfathomable it appeared from the outside, that the inmate would be able to carry out such a feat as to take his own life in a high security prison.
"It is inconceivable that in a prison - a federal prison that housed terrorists, that had cameras, that had guards everywhere - that something could go wrong and harm could come to Jeffrey Epstein. Inconceivable," he said. "It's a federal prison, notoriously underfunded, something of a hell-hole, and it's revealed that the guards were sleeping, the cameras weren't working. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong."
Eager to get a second opinion, Jeffrey Epstein's brother Mark Epstein hired an independent expert, forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner for New York City, Dr Michael Baden, to take a look at the autopsy. In the Netflix documentary, fellow pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who worked with Dr Baden on the case, detailed why he doesn't believe Epstein's injuries were in line with a suicide.
Pointing to the hyoid bone, which he described as "a delicate, U-shaped bone located high in the neck", Dr Wecht said that three fractures evident in Jeffrey Epstein were inconsistent with the fractures you might sustain from such a suicide. "There was no evidence at all to indicate that he had jumped or leaped from his bunk," Dr Wecht told the Filthy Rich documentary makers. "In all of my autopsies, I would say to have these three fractures in that kind of [suicide] would be extremely rare."
Following the public doubt cast by Dr Michael Baden over the cause of Jeffrey Epstein's death, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson released a statement confirming she still believes her initial findings to be true.
"Our investigation concluded that the cause of Mr. Epstein’s death was hanging and the manner of death was suicide," she said. "We stand by the determination."
Who would have wanted to kill Jeffrey Epstein anyway?
Some of those who believe Epstein was murdered back up their belief with a motive; that various high powered figures may have wanted him dead. As there looked to be no way out for Epstein himself, after being refused bail on the charges of sex trafficking, it's speculated that there may have been a fear among some of his circles that he'd bring others down with him.
As one City News TV report from last summer touched on: "Other Epstein theories floating online: How convenient now for the princes and politicians and other powerful people Epstein mingled with."
Chauntae Davies, a survivor of Epstein's abuse, said in the Netflix documentary that she wouldn't be surprised if the financier had some potential enemies. "I'm sure many people wanted him dead. He had a lot of information on a lot of people. A lot of blackmail pictures and videos," she said.
According to Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a woman who accuses Jeffrey Epstein of a long run of abuse when she was underage, the multi-millionaire dotted CCTV cameras all around his New York property to keep an eye on what any visitors were up to. "Every single corner of that house was monitored. He was watching everybody, all the time," she said. "This was a blackmail scheme, all those powerful people abusing underage girls."
There is no evidence at this time, however, to suggest that any of Epstein's acquaintances were responsible for organising his supposed murder.
Is Jeffrey Epstein still alive?
Very, very unlikely. This conspiracy theory sprouted from a series of photographs that emerged of Epstein being stretchered out of Metropolitan Correctional Center and into the back of an ambulance. In the images his body was uncovered, which some people have taken to mean he wasn't actually dead. That, and the fact he'd previously managed to worm his way out of a whole load of other sticky situations using money and power, so it perhaps wasn't inconceivable that faking his own death was his route out of this one.
In actual fact, reports explain that Jeffrey Epstein was discovered "unresponsive" in his cell on the morning of 10 August, and wasn't declared dead until he reached the hospital - which might explain why no body bag or sheet was used to shield him when he was being moved from the prison. Plus, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson went on to carry out an autopsy on Epstein's body, and it'd be pretty hard to carry out an autopsy on someone who's alive... right?
What happened to Jeffrey Epstein's estate following his death?
For anyone cynical about the suicide ruling, this might convince you. Just two days before his death, on 8 August, 2019, Jeffrey Epstein assigned his entire $577 million estate (that's around £458 million) to a trust fund located in the Virgin Islands. It was a move that now makes things a whole lot more complicated for his dozens of accusers to seek any damages from his alleged crimes.
It's not clear exactly who the beneficiaries of the '1953 Trust' (named after Epstein's year of birth) are, but his only known relative is his brother, Mark Epstein. The privacy shrouding the trust means it will require Jeffrey Epstein's accusers to convince a judge to make such details publicly available as the first step in seeking any compensation.
What we do know is just how much Epstein was worth at the time of his death; he had over $56 million in cash, more than $112 million in equities, almost $200 million in hedge funds and private investments, over $18 million dollars worth of cars, boats and planes, and millions of dollars worth of shares on top of that.
Attorney Jennifer Freeman, who represents some of the financier's child sex abuse victims, insinuated the move of his money was calculated, calling it the "last act of Epstein’s manipulation of the system, even in death."
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