Today Ghislaine Maxwell is back in a 10-by-12-foot cell in the Metropolitan Detention Center, in Brooklyn. With her bail denied, on July 14, by U.S. district judge Alison Nathan, who noted “the seriousness of the crimes” as well as Maxwell’s assets and foreign connections, the 58-year-old longtime Epstein partner will be locked up until her trial begins, in July 2021. (She’s pleaded not guilty.) News that Maxwell had used a false name when purchasing the Bradford, New Hampshire, estate she’d been traced to, and F.B.I. reports that she didn’t cooperate when they came to her door, couldn’t have helped her bail plea. Yet even before the judge’s decision (and the bizarre news that she is married but, so far successfully, hiding the identity of her spouse), Maxwell had begun to cast herself as a victim—of the press, of Epstein, who died last August in his Manhattan jail cell, and of fate.
A few hours after the July 2 raid involving 24 armed F.B.I. agents, Maxwell broke down, “crying her eyes out,” according to her and Jeffrey Epstein’s most well-publicized alleged victim, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who heard the audio of Maxwell in the Merrimack County federal courthouse that day.
Roberts Giuffre, who has accused Maxwell’s dear friend Prince Andrew of forcing sex on her twice when she was under-age, a claim he has denied, said Maxwell was hysterical in the courthouse; charged with four counts of conspiring to entice and transport minors for sex abuse between the years of 1994 and 1997, and with two counts of perjury, Maxwell screamed, “How is this happening? How could this happen?”
In the brief her defense team presented to the judge, they wrote, “Ever since Epstein’s arrest, Ms. Maxwell has been at the center of a crushing onslaught of press articles, television specials, and social media posts painting her in the most damning light possible.” And just days after her arrest, a New York Post headline read, Friends fear Ghislaine Maxwell is in ‘danger,’ worried for her safety.
The memories of well-regarded St. Thomas–based massage therapist Heidi Windel, who did about 50 massages on Epstein’s Little St. James Island between 1999 and 2004 (and was never asked to sign an NDA), suggest a different story.
Breaking the Ice
Was Ghislaine Maxwell … vulnerable?
“Hardly!,” Windel, 75, says with a laugh. “She had a superior attitude.Very much in charge, ice-cold. The staff was really subordinated to her: it was always ‘Yes, ma’am,’ ‘Yes, ma’am’—never any discussion.”
In February of 1999, Windel was called to the private island by Maxwell. “She asked me to go to one of the cottages and set up my table, but—this was a bit unusual because you bring your own supplies—she wanted me to use their sheets.” Possibly, Windel reasons, to have no DNA evidence of whom she had massaged. Or it could have been that Maxwell insisted on the highest-quality sheets for a royal guest—for, when Windel “went to the door to let Lady Maxwell know I was ready, in comes a man, hand outstretched, who says, ‘Hi, I’m Andrew.’”
Heidi left the room to let the prince undress in privacy, and when he called her back in “he was facedown on the table under the sheet.” Windel was in her early 60s by then—all was innocent. And convivial: “When the massage was over he got very chatty and had me in stitches talking about the errant mosquito that had evaded its net the night before and bitten his ‘royal arse,’” she says. They talked extensively, prompting Andrew to note “that his grandmother”—the late Queen Mother—“and him both had ‘the gift of gab.’”
“Hi, I’m Andrew.”
A few days later Windel got a call to come back and massage the prince again. This time she arrived 15 minutes early.
“As I was walking up from the boat ramp to the main house, someone flew past me on a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle. She looked very young—17 or under—petite, with dark, wavy hair. She was very merry, happy,” Windel says, her youth and carefree air, so near the main Epstein house, making Windel pause.
Windel gave the cheerful prince his massage as well as a present for his daughters, Princesses Beatrice, born in 1988, and Eugenie, born in 1990: a parrot made out of tires painted in bright colors that her husband had created. (Princess Beatrice, now 31, has postponed her wedding twice following her father’s Epstein-related scandals; she finally married her fiancé, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, in private on July 17. Beatrice’s mother, Sarah Ferguson, had also reportedly visited Little St. James Island before the couple’s divorce, in 1996.) The prince went out of his way to tell Windel that her massages had been the best he’d ever had. Both were “smashing!” he raved.
Though rumors floated all around St. Thomas that there were girls on Epstein’s Little St. James—“the word was never ‘teenagers,’” says Windel, “but, rather, ‘girls,’”—people went out of their way to avoid voicing their suspicions; everyone knew Epstein was powerful, and there was always a looming possibility of retaliation, though what that would look like no one seemed to know. As for Epstein himself, Windel had been called to massage him only once, shortly before the massages of Andrew, and “just his feet,” she says. “He came in the room, very uncommunicative, slipped off his fancy black slippers with a crest on them, and lay down. In the middle of the foot massage,” in an abrupt move that anyone who saw the videotape of his 2009 questioning by the victims’ attorney (legal action which would end in his sweetheart-deal Florida conviction) will be familiar with, he “just got up and left.”
Maxwell was always on the island when Epstein was, Windel says.
“How is this happening? How could this happen?”
On that day in early 1999, after Windel had wrapped up Andrew’s massage and given him the gift for his daughters, she packed up her table and was heading toward the boat ramp when she saw the same young girl she’d seen riding the A.T.V. earlier. This time, the girl “was crying and said she was hurt,” says Windel. “I put down my table and walked quickly down to help her up the hill. She told me she was going too fast and the A.T.V. turned over, injuring her ankle.
“I offered to accompany her to orthopedics [at the local hospital] but was quickly ushered away by Lady Maxwell and the female housekeeper,” says Windel.
The next time Windel came to work on Epstein’s island, about a month later, she “asked the housekeeper, ‘How is that young lady doing? Did you see a specialist at the hospital?’ She said, ‘No, we took her to Miami.’” At the time this made sense—large cities have a wider choice of medical resources. It was only much later that Windel realized the reason for taking the young girl to Miami may have had more to do with protecting Epstein and Maxwell (if not Prince Andrew, too) than anything else. Similarly, she reasoned, her massages of Andrew, so touted by him, may have been a way to quash rumors that “massages” meant something very different to this crew.
On the Fly
That day was the last time Windel would see Maxwell. She had just spoken to the housekeeper and was preparing to leave when, “all of a sudden, I’m watching in absolute horror a helicopter coming in from Tortola flying incredibly low—they’re not supposed to fly that low!” Windel says. “I was waiting for the helicopter to graze the tops of the many sailboats anchored in St. Thomas’s Christmas Cove!” Not only was the chopper flirting with the destruction of several beautiful boats, it was also “endangering the boaters,” Windel adds. “The helicopter was 40 feet from their heads!”
Finally, the helicopter landed on a helipad on Little St. James “and, much to my surprise, who comes out on the pilot’s side but Lady Maxwell,” says Windel. “She popped out and came bopping up the road, giggling and commenting on her navigation skills. ‘I could see the whites of their eyes,’” she bragged of the boaters. “At that point I lost it,” says Windel. “I was so angry, I let her have it with both barrels,” telling her if she ever saw her piloting an aircraft in that manner again she would turn her in to the F.A.A.
“I expected her to yell back, but all she did was laugh. It was a thrill to her,” Windel says. “She was still high on what she had done.” Ironically, in Maxwell’s attorneys’ request to the judge that she be released on bail, they cited “helicopters flying over her home” as an invasion of her privacy. On that day on Little St. James, though, Windel remembers, “she had no conscience, just a very flippant attitude—like, ‘You can’t touch me.’”
You can’t touch me: that was then. This—the six-charge indictment with bail denied; the tiny cell in one of the U.S.’s most notoriously dangerous jails, which will be her home until at least July 2021; the possibility of a 10-to-35-year sentence—for Ghislaine Maxwell, is now.
Sheila Weller is the author of eight books, including Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation