Who are Ghislaine Maxwell’s sisters?

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  • Ghislaine Maxwell
    Ghislaine Maxwell
    Socialite
  • Elisabeth Maxwell
    Anglo-French historical researcher
  • Isabel Maxwell
    French academic
  • Robert Maxwell
    Czechoslovak-born British media proprietor and Member of Parliament (1923-1991)
  • Jeffrey Epstein
    American financier
Ghislaine Maxwell with her parents and siblings - Daily Mail / Rex Features
Ghislaine Maxwell with her parents and siblings - Daily Mail / Rex Features

Of all the unusual details in the lives of the seven surviving children of Robert and Elisabeth Maxwell – and, believe me, there are a lot – by far the oddest might be that they appear to get along.

These, after all, are the scions of a wildly tempestuous billionaire media mogul. They were raised internationally, surrounded by the trappings of wealth and power, and grew up to either run as far as they could from their father’s cold shadow, or do all they could to capitalise on it.

We have all seen Succession; we all watched The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty. By all reasonable expectations, the Maxwells ought to at least be in fierce, passive-aggressive competition, if not actively plotting one another’s downfalls. As it is, they are all their closest protectors.

Never was this clearer than last week, when the sex-trafficking trial of the youngest Maxwell sibling, Ghislaine, started in the Federal District Court in New York. Over the past two and a half years, since several women claimed Ghislaine helped her former boyfriend, the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, recruit and groom them for sexual abuse, former acquaintances had deserted her.

All of a sudden, this former socialite didn’t seem to have been all that sociable. University muckers? Their recollections were hazy. Ex-colleagues and employees at her various ventures? No comment. The Duke of York? He didn’t throw her a birthday party, it was a straightforward shooting weekend.

Unsurprisingly, none turned up in Manhattan to support their friend this week (even Ghislaine’s husband, Scott Borgerson, was absent), but every morning, without fail, at least one of the siblings did. While the youngest son, Kevin, 62, garnered headlines when he briefly spoke to reporters outside the trial on Wednesday, it was the inscrutable figure who stood beside him, that of Isabel, one of his older twin sisters, who became an ever-present at the courthouse.

Invariably she’d arrive wearing a beret of some colour; on the final day of jury selection she received blown kisses from the defendant. As is the Maxwell way, she gave away little – but what we know about the lives of Isabel and Christine, her twin, is as colourful and occasionally strange as any member of the family.

After marrying in 1945, Robert and Elisabeth “Betty” Maxwell had nine children over the next 16 years: Michael, Philip, Ann, Christine, Isabel, Karine, Ian, Kevin and Ghislaine. In 1961, aged 16, Michael was in a car accident which left him in a coma until he died seven years later. Karine died of leukaemia in 1957, aged three.

The twins, who were born in France, were almost lost, too, when they contracted infantile cholera at three weeks old but survived following treatment with an experimental drug.

Robert’s treatment of his family was legendarily brutal. An inveterate bully, he would be apoplectic if the children’s school reports were bad and regularly beat them; he told Betty to “f--- off” in front of guests; and he frequently committed adultery.

The children mainly grew up at Headington Hall, Oxfordshire, where Christine and Isabel were always known as “the twins” rather than by their names, and created a language only they could understand. They were loud and noisy, Betty said, causing their father to “go to their room and smack them, but when he left, they’d laugh their heads off.” They once set alight to the loft by making a fire to cook with.

Having Robert Maxwell as a father exposed them to notable dinner guests (Harold Wilson, Pandit Nehru, various Nobel Prize winners) and instilled a hardness in them, but it went too far. “He had boundless confidence,” Isabel once recalled, “but over time his manner became authoritarian. He could dress you down pretty rotten.”

If the twins bore any ill will towards Ghislaine, their younger sister by 11 years and Robert’s favourite (not for nothing did he name his yacht after her), it doesn’t come across.

Philip, now 71, and Anne, 73, never went into the family business, and they still keep a low profile. The rest all did, apart from Isabel, with Christine – her sororal twin, though they look identical – involved in one of her father’s companies, Pergamon Press Publishers.

Isabel started working in the film industry, where she met the filmmaker Dale Djerassi, whose father, Carl Djerassi, invented the oral contraceptive pill. They moved to San Francisco, married in 1984 and had a son, Alexander (who would later work under Hillary Clinton at the State Department), before divorcing in 1989. Isabel then married entrepreneur David Hayden.

 Isabel Maxwell, sister of Ghislaine Maxwell - REUTERS/Jefferson Siegel
Isabel Maxwell, sister of Ghislaine Maxwell - REUTERS/Jefferson Siegel

Christine married Roger Malina, an American physicist with whom she would have three children. His father, Frank Malina, was a rocket scientist who mixed with occultists, transhumanists and the Scientology founder, L Ron Hubbard.

The twins settled in Silicon Valley, and by the time Robert fell overboard to his death from his yacht in 1991, just as a pension theft scandal threatened to envelop him, they decided to start a company together.

“We literally were trying to think about how to restart this whole [media] business,” Isabel said in 1997. Their answer was to co-found, with their husbands, an early search engine, The McKinley Group, which evolved into Magellan.

They were successful at first and made money at a time when there was a lot of new ground to be broken. But in 1996, McKinley’s success had turned to financial trouble, so the twins sold to a rival, Excite, in a deal worth around $10 million.

“Our relationship changed [after the sale],” Isabel said in 2002. “And I changed, in terms of my relationship with my family. Before then, I was in sync with the family. When something got to them, it got to me, too.”

Incidentally, 1996 was the year in which the twin brothers, Ian and Kevin, were acquitted on fraud charges in London. Ghislaine, meanwhile, was by then living in New York, where she worked in property and worked even harder building her life as a socialite. According to a 2009 deposition, Epstein’s former staff testified that Ghislaine was referred to by him as his “main girlfriend” from as early as 1992, and started overseeing the hiring and firing of his domestic workers.

For several years after that, the sisters were scattered all over the world. Isabel worked for a dozen different tech companies, peace charities and startups. Christine stayed in Silicon Valley, before starting work at the University of Texas and later becoming a consultant. Ghislaine was Ghislaine, rarely off a private jet (“If I’m not tired,” she said in 2000, “there’s something wrong”) and even more rarely out of the society pages, where she would often be seen with Epstein.

Christine Maxwell, along with twin Isabel, was loud and noisy as a child - UPPA/Photoshot
Christine Maxwell, along with twin Isabel, was loud and noisy as a child - UPPA/Photoshot

Did the sisters’ different worlds intersect? If they did, the most likely connection came in the form of Isabel’s third husband, Al Seckel, a collector, scientific sceptic and alleged conman. Seckel had a knack for gaining the trust of powerful people. Before moving to a Dordogne chateau in 2010, so that Isabel could care for her mother, who died three years later, he arranged a meeting of prominent scientists on Epstein’s private island, Little Saint James in the US Virgin Islands. Epstein later interviewed Seckel for the former’s science website.

Seckel died in 2015, after apparently falling from a cliff in France, weeks before a magazine article was due to expose secrets about his past. Four years later, reporters from the Daily Beast attempted to confirm his death by asking the local authorities in France for proof. They couldn’t find any. The thing Seckel was a collector of? Optical illusions. In a family that’s already provided more fodder for the internet conspiracy theory machine than perhaps any other, it was just another chapter.

And now – as the youngest sister faces the prospect of a lifetime in prison if convicted – the family is clearly back in step, with ranks closed.

“This is a family that sticks together,” Ian told The Daily Telegraph in October. “Ghislaine has people who love her; people who trust her. This is a family that has been knocked down, gets up, gets knocked down again and then gets up. We are a family that fights for each other and this is a big fight we are in.”

Last week, as she walked into court each day, Isabel said nothing to the waiting press. Her presence alone was the message: you take on one Maxwell, you take on them all.

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