Federal investigators swarmed Little St. James—Jeffrey Epstein's primary residence, also known as "Pedophile Island"—on Monday, scouring a sprawling estate that allegedly served as a main hub for the deceased financier's sex trafficking ring.
FBI agents, Border Patrol officials, and members of the NYPD descended on Epstein's private island, which sits south of St. Thomas, on Monday morning. Criss-crossing the island in golf carts, they collected evidence in a case that, despite the defendant's suicide on Saturday morning, remains ongoing. A local snorkeling guide who unknowingly ferried a group of tourists right over to the search told the NY Daily News that she witnessed 15 or 20 agents on the hunt: "They had uniforms with FBI in big, bold yellow letters. They were combing the place, getting in golf carts, marching the perimeter, making their rounds, entering buildings."
"We were the only boat there today. We saw some beautiful fish, swam with turtles and witnessed an FBI raid," she added. "Everyone was surprised it didn't happen a lot sooner."
1/ Normally you'd be like, okay, that's just a sundial. But since it's Jeffrey Epstein's private sex island, nearly every inch of which was in view of video cameras to better produce blackmail material, now you're wondering, did people have sex on that? Was it some pagan ritual? pic.twitter.com/VAs2LuHjVa
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) August 13, 2019
It's unclear what, if anything, the raid turned up, but based on previous reports from people who've spent time at this particular Epstein home, it seems reasonable to expect that investigators could significantly expand the enormous cache of nude images they've already pulled from the financier's properties.
Epstein purchased Little St. James in 1998 for just under $8 million, and gaudily renovated it in 2007, even as his attorneys hammered out a sweetheart deal on sex abuse charges in Florida. While most of the scrutiny has so far focused on Epstein's Manhattan home (a $77 million townhouse on the Upper East Side, which FBI agents raided upon arresting Epstein in July, and where they found hundreds to thousands of explicit photos, possibly of minors), relatively little is known about the island. In a previous interview with ABC, however, an IT contractor named Steve Scully, who started working for Epstein in 1999 and continued to do so for six years, shared some info about what went on there.
According to Scully, "There were photos of topless women everywhere: On his desk, in his office, in his bedroom," and in the strange temple-looking outbuilding, which reportedly housed a particularly large nude. And during his time on the island, Scully noticed another constant feature. There were young girls everywhere, all the time, Scully told ABC, adding that, "They couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 years old."
That tracks with other reports about one of Little St. James's purported purposes. Epstein is said to have retained staff whose specific job was to help bring girls to the island. He would allegedly fly them into St. Thomas, and then pack them over to Little St. James on his boat, the Lady Ghislaine. Recently unsealed court documents from a lawsuit against that vessel's apparent namesake, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, include testimony from the house manager of one of Maxwell's friends. He said a weeping 15-year-old Swedish girl told him Maxwell effectively held her hostage on the island, confiscating her passport and trying to force her to have sex with Epstein.
Due to an overwhelming volume of similar claims about Maxwell, she may now be federal investigators' suspect number one: Epstein was found dead in his cell at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center on Saturday morning, possibly having hung himself from his bunk bed with a bed sheet, the NY Post reports. His suicide did not entirely derail the possibility of a trial, however, as a number of other people are said to have been involved in the scheme.
Even without the main offender, though, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and federal prosecutors in the sex trafficking case against Epstein have pledged that his alleged victims will get justice, and Congress has now opened an investigation into the series of reported mistakes MCC staff made in handling Epstein: Removing him from suicide watch, leaving him alone on the morning of his death, and failing to check in on him every 30 minutes, to name a few. Now, CBS News reports that "shouting and shrieking" could be heard from Epstein's cell on the morning he died, and that his guard the night before "was not a regular corrections officer."
Barr is reportedly "livid" over the many lapses that seem to have taken place, while investigators now plan to focus on the "conspiracy" portion of the charges outlined in their original indictment. That could point them straight toward Maxwell, Epstein's alleged madam, whom victims and witnesses have said not only procured and groomed his recruits, but also actively participated in the alleged sexual abuse herself.
Statement on Jeffrey Epstein. pic.twitter.com/98ha9YYd1l
— Angel Ureña (@angelurena) July 8, 2019
But Epstein had a huge number of wealthy and influential friends, some of whom—former president Bill Clinton, for example—are said to have visited him on Little St. James and at his various other homes-slash-sex-dens. (Clinton denies ever having been to the island, to Epstein's Palm Beach estate—another alleged hotspot of illicit sexual activity—or to his would-be baby ranch in New Mexico.) On Tuesday, NY Times columnist James B. Stewart published his reminiscences of a visit to Epstein's NYC mansion in August 2018; according to Stewart, Epstein was open—even boastful—about the fact that his "radioactive" history made him "a pariah in polite society." He was also, Stewart wrote, fairly brazen about his reputation making people feel they could divulge their most damning secrets to him without judgment.
Epstein, according to Stewart, "claimed to know a great deal about these people"—rich people, famous people—"some of it potentially damaging or embarrassing, including details about their supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use." And as certain of his victims have alleged, Epstein may have weaponized this information, going so far as to traffic girls to powerful, high-profile men as a means of stockpiling blackmail material.
Which brings us back to "Pedophile Island," and what, exactly, went on there. We don't yet have much information on that score, but every inch was reportedly internet-equipped, and the rumors have circulated for years. The aforementioned temple, for example: No one seems to know precisely what the odd (and soundproof) building was used for. Some have suggested it served as gym; others, as a music studio: There was, reportedly, a grand piano stationed inside, and Epstein was a classically trained pianist. Conspiracy theories, meanwhile, suggest that the temple may have been a cover for a shadowy underground lair, and indeed, the presence of a heavy bar lock on the outside of the door makes it look like a building in which you might keep people locked. And then there's the alleged drone footage of Epstein's island, in which something that looks like a mattress can be spotted through the temple's windows.
Then there are the rumors about a network of tunnels undergirding the structures on Little St. James, and the unusual features—enormous sundials built into the landscape, for example—that have led some to wonder what in the hell might have happened there. Maybe thanks to the FBI's raid, we'll eventually find out.
Update: BuzzFeed reports that messages detailing Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide surfaced on 4Chan about 40 minutes before any information became publicly available. According to the news outlet, the alert appeared on the right-wing message board—accompanied by a Pepe the Frog graphic—at 8:16 a.m. on Saturday. "[D]ont ask me how I know, but Epstein died an hour ago from hanging, cardiac arrest. Screencap this," one read. According to BuzzFeed, the FDNY is investigating whether or not the series of six posts came from an EMS first responder, as its paramedic language might suggest. An FDNY official, however, told Gothamist there is no investigation, though the incident is being reviewed. As BuzzFeed points out, it's also conceivable that MCC staff and/or hospital workers would have access to information about Epstein's death.