The lengthy police narrative in the case doesn’t make clear how police connected gray-haired Jeff with Jeffrey Epstein, but when the girl identified his picture in an instant in a photo lineup, police threw themselves into an investigation of the modern and palatial house on El Brillo Way.
Palm Beach Island is a 3.75-square-mile spit of land famous for towering ficus privacy hedges on Mediterranean-influenced architecture that begins at over $5 million for a single-family home. But the police did their work miles across the water, in the sprawling, drab subdivisions of West Palm Beach, where, according to police reports, high-school girls had been recruited to visit Epstein’s house. The 14-year-old was used to set up her 18-year-old go-between, Haley Robson. Robson had massaged him once and thereafter refused, but had agreed to procure girls, for $200 a head. “I’m like Heidi Fleiss,” she said. The police net went wider, to malls and community colleges, and Olive Garden restaurants and trailer parks, and the story was always the same. Skinny, beautiful young girls were approached by other girls, who said they could make $200 by massaging a wealthy man, naked. Robson said Epstein had told her the younger the better—which she said meant 18 to 20. The rules were simple. Tell him you’re 18. There might be some touching; you could draw the line. “The more you do, the more you are paid.” A couple of the girls said they went all the way into the experience—one told police she visited 50 times, another hundreds of times, both having sex with Epstein and Nada Marcinkova, a then-19-year-old beauty who Epstein told one of them was his “sex slave”; he’d purchased her from her family back in Yugoslavia.
Epstein’s friends’ belief that he was targeted for his big life reflects the fact that the police locked onto Epstein’s sybaritic lifestyle. They made careful note of the girls’ thong panties, the shape and color of the sex toys Epstein favors, and the erotic art in his home, from photos to the mural of a woman to the statue of the man with a bow. Police repeatedly pulled his trash to dig out phone messages and kept an eye on his private planes. Once, they even reported on Wexner’s plane, noting the procession of Cadillac Escalades that made its way across the tarmac. After word of the investigation got back to Epstein, through his girls, police served a search warrant at the house right under the noses of New York decorator Mark Zeff and architect Douglas Schoettle, who were there planning a renovation, and seized a dozen or so photographs of naked women the girls had described as well as the penis- and vagina-shaped soaps.
Those soaps were even in guest bathrooms. No wonder; Epstein didn’t see his sex life as tawdry, wasn’t hiding it from his circle. Wolff believes that Epstein had created an idealized world from “a deep and basic cultural moment” once epitomized by Hugh Hefner. “Jeffrey is living a life that once might have been prized and admired and valued, but its moment has passed … I think the culture has outgrown it. You can’t describe it without being held to severe account. It’s not allowed. It may be allowed if you’re secretive and furtive, but Jeffrey is anything but secretive and furtive. I think it represents an achievement to Jeffrey.”
Some girls who “worked” for Epstein—the term favored by the unfriendly assistant, Sarah Kellen, who allegedly kept the Rolodex—seem to have embraced that fantasy, too. One girl said she was “so in love with Jeff Epstein and would do anything for him.” Two college girls/aspiring models were matter-of-fact about what they’d done, and surveillance reports describe a fleet of girls jogging into the house.
But generally the girls’ feelings as portrayed by police interviews ranged from disgust to fear. Epstein was the hairy troll under the bridge they had to pass over to get quick money. One girl “stated she was very uncomfortable during the incident but knew it was almost over.” Another kept looking at the clock, and Epstein said she was ruining his massage. Other girls said they were weirded out, grossed out. They didn’t like his egg-shaped penis, definitely didn’t want it inside them. Some couldn’t say just what Epstein was doing because they kept their eyes averted. Two or three girls started crying when they talked to police, one hysterically. One wanted to tell the police but knew that he was “powerful” and was afraid he would come after her family. A 17-year-old model described an uncomfortable encounter in which Epstein offered to help her get jobs, then belittled her modeling portfolio before cajoling her to model the underwear he’d bought for her. A 16-year-old who needed money for Christmas said she was so upset by Epstein’s removing her underwear as she massaged him that she broke off her friendship with the girl who brought her. Another called Epstein “a pervert.”
Epstein clearly did not see it that way. The girls knew what they were getting into and came willingly and were well paid. He was a sexy guy who was working to give the girls pleasure. The master bedroom was a sensual place, with a mural of a naked woman and a hot-pink couch, and a wooden armoire with sex toys. The lights dimmed, music came on. Still, it is a stretch to say Epstein’s love shack was like Hugh Hefner’s. Playboy was state-of-the-art pornography for the sixties. Today, cutting-edge porn is men with bankrolls picking up young amateurs, say, high-school cheerleaders or college girls on break, and daring them to go further and further for more cash, all the way to sex toys and lesbian sex. At 52, Epstein was outside the demographic of the makeout artists of The Bang Bros, Girls Gone Wild, and Coeds Need Cash, but he surely saw himself in that erotic milieu, and seems to have been shocked that his activities would result in a police investigation.
His claim that he’d given a total of $100,000 to Ballet Florida for massage was absolutely true. “The massage and therapy fund is excruciatingly important to us. It’s part of a dancer’s life to have daily massages,” says the ballet’s marketing director, Debbie Wemyss, who notes that Epstein’s generosities preceded his public troubles. Police were not impressed. They interviewed a licensed deep-tissue masseuse whom Epstein frequently employed. She said she got $100 an hour, and there were no happy endings.