Forget how he died, the real mystery is how Jeffrey Epstein lived - committing acts that would get a normal person jailed, all while next to the world’s most-watched men. How did he create a protective bubble around himself?
Marco Bello/REUTERS / Handout / New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
Take, for example, Epstein’s financial career, the foundation for so much of his other criminal activity.
While doubts about his methods for obtaining wealth for his clients had been circulating on Wall Street for years, throughout that time he had been described, at face value, as a financier and a billionaire.
In the past several months we have discovered that he likely was no billionaire, and no one is sure whether he ever did conduct any legitimate business activities, or even where any of his money came from.
Yet, there was definitely big money involved, as is evidenced by superficially inexplicable multi-million dollar transactions percolating through a network of offshore accounts, and the very real luxury assets that he had accumulated.
But despite the United States’ reputation for employing the world’s most aggressive financial crimes agents, ready go well outside their borders, Epstein was never charged or even thoroughly investigated, while the world’s most reputable banks were happy to continue doing business with him until the past few months.
More glaring is the scope of his unpunished sex crimes.
This was not a relatively common-or-garden abuser like Harvey Weinstein, extracting sexual favors from adult women he had power over in a string of hotel room encounters.
Instead, Epstein was apparently the operator of an international sex ring, involving hundreds of underage “slaves” picked off from the school and the mall, transported across international borders, with the knowledge of each other, and what must have been a great multitude of bystanders.
Yet, Epstein was caught likely decades after he started, handed a notoriously lenient punishment, and reportedly allowed to continue his lifestyle while swatting away lawsuits.
Throughout all this, the convicted sex offender seems to have been treated with an odd laissez-faire lenience by the media, which is so fascinated now, but with the exception of several dogged local journalists, didn’t seem bothered enough to get to the bottom of who Epstein really was.
Even if Epstein hadn’t been a larger-than-life character, a close associate of formerly the most powerful man in the world, and his wife vying to fill the same position, not to mention a friend of Prince Andrew and Woody Allen, should have been a treasure trove for an ambitious investigator.
Yes, some of the allegations may have been difficult to prove, and journalists can’t be expected to sneak into the cargo hold of the Lolita Express, but at least since 2005 there has been solid ground on which to build a story. In a world where a single #MeToo article can destroy a career, Epstein was indulged like a disgraced Gatsby, holding court for New York Times journalists and boasting about his links to Mohammed bin Salman.
The greatest temptation for many now is to write this off as a conspiracy. That Epstein was a protected man due to his connection to the Clintons, that he was a front and a fixer for the CIA or Mossad, that anyone who got in his way, from investigators and prosecutors to journalists, was paid or warned off, perhaps blackmailed.
All other than Alec Baldwin should take a breath here, and now wait as more facts are likely to emerge, not least about Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s currently hard-to-locate partner, whose name has flashed up again and again. Though anyone hoping that a fully-formed color-coded scheme with arrows, circles and lists of crimes will ever emerge is likely fooling themselves.
But to me, a possibly more terrifying discovery is that there was no conspiracy, as such.
That simply through the power granted by his wealth and connection multiplied by the ability to lead an international lifestyle simply put Epstein outside the reach of the normal legal and societal constraints.
We already assume that plutocrats, the political elite, and celebrities live by different rules. But we are not talking about normal rich people indulgences: the yachts, butlers, and London basement pools.
This is Bond villain-level stuff. A private island with a secret temple. Plans to “seed” DNA into scores of women. Engaging top scientists for transhumanist studies to create a new super race.
If we’d learned that instead of grooming young women, Epstein’s hobby was transporting and hunting homeless people, would we be any more surprised? Would he have found it that much harder to get away with it?
Drone footage of the "temple" on Epstein's island, Little St. James, aka Orgy Island or Pedophile Island. © YouTube/Varied Perspective Technologies, LLC
We can tell ourselves that Jeffrey Epstein was a one-off, a uniquely cunning and depraved psychopath with the right connections. But it seems equally plausible that this opulent, global and lawless netherworld is capable of hiding other depraved transgressors, less publicity-hungry, and more dangerous still in their intentions.
The job is to try and stop them now before they die in a New York jail cell, leaving behind a trail of victims. But who has the guts for it?