Ghislaine Maxwell is used to being the woman of the hour. The 59-year-old British aristocrat was a fixture of the London and New York social scenes throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, rubbing shoulders and champagne flutes with an international cast of power players that included two US presidents and at least one prince. In her jet-setting, party-hopping days, she allegedly lived a double life as a groomer of girls, serving up underage victims to Jeffrey Epstein and the megawatt men who moved alongside him.
All eyes are again on Maxwell as her trial opens in Manhattan federal court, just steps from the lower Manhattan jail where Epstein was found dead in his cell two years ago. The charges against her for her role in Epstein’s decades-long international sex abuse ring include six counts related to child sex trafficking in the decade spanning 1994 to 2004, involving four girls — the youngest aged 14. The alleged crimes occurred at Epstein’s residences in Manhattan, Palm Beach, and New Mexico, as well as Maxwell’s London apartment.
Maxwell faces a separate trial, as yet unscheduled, for an additional two counts of perjury for statements she made in connection with a long-settled 2015 defamation suit against her. If convicted on all counts, Maxwell could face 80 years in prison. She has always denied any involvement in, or knowledge of, Epstein’s crimes, and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Epstein’s death in federal custody in 2019 left Maxwell bearing the brunt of public outrage at the chronic mishandling of his sex crimes by law enforcement and the courts. Still, Maxwell’s time with Epstein raises many questions: If she did indeed assist in his crimes, what motivated her? Was she in love with him? Was she aiding and abetting him in exchange for financial support? Apparently, not even Maxwell can explain the nature of her partnership with Epstein. We know that they were lovers, and at one point she was managing his households. But when asked in a 2016 deposition if she was Epstein’s girlfriend, she responded, “That’s a tricky question. There were times when I would have liked to think of myself as his girlfriend.”
Contradictions abound. On the one hand, she is a wealthy, Parisian-born heiress with an Oxford education and an enviable black book. On the other hand, she is, like Epstein, a person “mysteriously made and mysteriously protected.”
So Maxwell goes to trial in Epstein’s stead. The challenge for her defense team will be to wash away that guilt by association — to sever her public image from Epstein’s. But Maxwell without the Epstein tinge is still a strange figure with a strange past. And a closer look at the woman of the hour brings up more questions than answers.