It may have seemed a convenient twist for some when Jeffrey Epstein was found dying in his New York prison cell with a noose around his neck and his last will and testament freshly filed.
Yet far from putting the lid on the scandal in which the millionaire predator abused girls with near-impunity, his suicide two weeks ago has deepened the resolve of lawyers and prosecutors, raised pressure on alleged co-conspirators and lengthened the shadow cast over associates.
The case is bringing fresh scrutiny to those who once moved in Epstein’s circle, from the Duke of York to the Sultan of Dubai, Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, members of the financial elite and international power-brokers.
“Though Epstein passed, we need accountability,” Mariana Vanin, of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, said. “Now the focus is going to be on who was around him, who knew, who was acting with that knowledge of what was going on? The level of fame of those associates may either help propel the case on further or help sweep it under the rug. There are a lot of people worried right now.”
Epstein built his fortune as a hedge fund investor and asset manager for clients including Les Wexner, chairman and chief executive of the L Brands corporation, which encompasses brands including Victoria’s Secret.
Epstein first appeared on the radar of law enforcement in 2005. Police in Palm Beach, Florida investigated claims that he had paid girls as young as 12 to go to his mansion and perform massages, which turned into sexual encounters in which they were assaulted or raped.
In multiple lawsuits, victims alleged that Ghislaine Maxwell, 57, the British socialite, was at the heart of the recruitment process.
Despite the FBI turning up dozens of young accusers, many of them from troubled backgrounds and some who claimed they were trafficked to Epstein’s friends, federal prosecutors sidelined their draft indictment and struck a legal deal with Epstein in 2008.
He pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges, was granted immunity from federal prosecution — with four alleged co-conspirators including Ms Maxwell — and served 13 months in jail. During his sentence, he was allowed to have his chauffeur pick him up six days a week and take him to his nearby office for up to 12 hours a day.
That arrangement is now under state and federal investigation. So too is the 2008 non-prosecution agreement, whose negotiation was led by Alex Acosta, who was a US attorney, and Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor.
The Miami Herald began an investigation into the case last July, after which Epstein was arrested fresh from a trip to Paris.
The first head to roll was Mr Acosta’s. He resigned as President Trump’s labour secretary in July after the US Justice Department opened an investigation into the non-prosecution agreement he granted in 2008.
On August 9, more than 2,000 documents that had been sealed in a 2015 civil case brought against Ms Maxwell by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Epstein’s victims, were unsealed, releasing evidence that had previously only been speculated about.
It included detail of Ms Giuffre’s claim that at the age of 17, she was loaned out to Prince Andrew for sex. He has repeatedly denied the allegation.
Hours later Epstein was found dead at the Metropolitan Correction Centre in New York. The chief medical examiner has ruled it a suicide.
William Barr, the US attorney general, has conceded that there were “serious irregularities” at the jail. Epstein had gone unobserved by guards despite having attempted to kill himself days previously.
The acting director of the Bureau of Prisons has been reassigned, as has the head of the prison, as an investigation continues. Up to 20 prison guards have received sub poenas to testify before a grand jury.
Three of Epstein’s five homes have been raided; his home in Palm Beach, Florida; a mansion in Manhattan, New York and the 70-acre island of Little St James in the US Virgin Islands. Inside the properties were the trappings of a man obsessed by sex; soaps shaped like male and female genitalia, scores of framed photographs of topless and nude women. He also had a stuffed tiger and black poodle and apainting of Bill Clinton wearing a blue dress.
Richard Berman, an attorney for New York, said: “To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you.”
Ms Maxwell has denied misconduct.