Mugshot via Daily Beast

In August 2019, wealthy financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center of New York (MCC NY). Epstein was awaiting trial for federal charges of sex trafficking minors and facing up to 45 years in prison. 

Allegedly found hanging in his cell, Epstein’s death was officially ruled a suicide by New York’s Chief Medical Examiner – a finding upheld by the DOJ and FBI – though speculation continues surrounding the details. 

One national survey conducted three months after Epstein’s death found that nearly half of Americans believe Epstein was murdered. Many theorists believe Epstein’s high-level associates killed him – often naming individuals like Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew – who may have had concerns that Epstein possessed compromising information about them, perhaps linking them to sex trafficking.

Following the release of over 900 pages of unsealed documents relating to Epstein and his associates in January 2024, theories about the true nature of Epstein's death have been revitalized.

Although the conditions of Epstein's death appear dubious, there is no hard evidence that he was murdered. 

What Were Jeffrey Epstein’s Crimes?

Jeffrey Epstein was a well-known billionaire financier and prolific sex offender.

In 2006, Epstein was arrested and charged with multiple counts of having sex with a minor and one count of soliciting prostitution. In 2008, agreeing to a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, Epstein pleaded guilty to reduced charges: one count of soliciting prostitution and one count of soliciting prostitution from someone under the age of 18. 

Through this plea deal, Epstein dodged federal charges and was instead sentenced in Florida State Court to 18 months in jail with work release privileges – meaning he could leave jail to work at his office during the day, returning in the evenings. Epstein was also required to register as a sex offender. 

Many criticize this 2008 plea deal as unusually lenient – or “completely unprecedented” – considering the nature of Epstein’s crimes. The DOJ would later say that then-U.S. attorney Alex Acosta used “poor judgment” in negotiating Epstein’s plea deal.

In 2019, Epstein was arrested again on similar charges. Accused of sex trafficking girls as young as 14 years old, Epstein faced up to 45 years in prison

Epstein's indictment cites sex trafficking crimes going back as far as 2002, saying he “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls” at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, among other locations. 

It is also widely believed that Epstein trafficked minors for his notable associates, providing them with underage girls and even hosting friends at sex parties with minors on his private Caribbean island. 

Who Were Jeffrey Epstein’s Associates? 

In January 2024, nearly 950 pages of court documents linked to Jeffrey Epstein and his associates were made public. The documents identify roughly 150 of Epstein's associates by name, including British royal Prince Andrew, former President Bill Clinton, former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, physicist Stephen Hawking, and numerous other notable figures. Former President Donald Trump is also named in the documents, but not accused of wrongdoing.

It is important to note that inclusion on the list of associates does not legally indicate any present allegations against the named individuals.

What Led Up to Epstein’s Death?

Prior to his death, Epstein had been placed on suicide watch following an apparent suicide attempt in July 2019. Epstein was taken off suicide watch after less than a week, and in August 2019 he was left alone in his cell with excess bed linens, which coroners say he used to hang himself. 

During Epstein’s death, nearly all surveillance cameras in his unit were not recording. Special unit staff were criminally charged for “falsifying count slips and round sheets” which are filed after prisoner counts are completed; however, those charges were later dropped.

How Did Epstein Die?

Officials maintain that Epstein died by suicide – hanging himself with bed linens – and his death was the result of a series of failures within the Metropolitan Correctional Center. They deny claims that Epstein was murdered. 

“The convicted pedophile, who was 6 feet tall, apparently killed himself by kneeling toward the floor and strangling himself with the makeshift noose,” law enforcement sources said at the time, per The New York Post (Lean Right bias).

A statement from Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz attributes Epstein's death to “Numerous and Serious Failures” by Metropolitan Correctional Center staff, and broad operational challenges within the Bureau of Prisons. Additionally, Horowitz maintains that there is “no evidence” of “criminality associated with Epstein’s death.” 

Representatives from federal agencies argue that the conditions allowing for Epstein's death were the product of negligence, and that no evidence indicates foul play. Still, many people believe these failures were intentional and part of a greater murder conspiracy. 

Ghislaine Maxwell – Epstein’s co-conspirator in his sex trafficking crimes – publicly claimed that Epstein did not kill himself, saying he was murdered. Similarly, Epstein’s brother, Mark Epstein, believes he was murdered – perhaps by another prisoner who may have entered his cell. However, other prisoners in the unit who had a view of Epstein’s cell door say they did not see anyone enter his cell the day of his death. 

Further, a former New York City medical examiner hired by Mark Epstein to observe the autopsy claims that the injuries sustained by Epstein were indicative of strangulation rather than hanging – a claim strongly disputed by New York City’s chief medical examiner. 

“It appeared likely that Epstein had thrown himself violently off the cell's top bunk, which would explain the damage he suffered, other than strangulation,” according to Epstein’s Wikipedia page. “The preliminary result of the autopsy found that Epstein sustained multiple breaks in his neck bones. Among the bones broken in Epstein's neck was the hyoid bone. Such breaks of the hyoid bone can occur from those who hang themselves, but they are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation. A 2010 study found broken hyoids in twenty-five percent of cases of hangings. A larger study conducted from 2010 to 2016 found hyoid damage in just 16 of 264, or six percent, of cases of hangings.”

Many social media users are also highly critical of Epstein’s death, and many believe he was murdered to stop him from testifying against powerful associates. Shortly after his death, these beliefs formed in the popular “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself” internet meme – the culmination of the public’s view on Epstein's death.

Similarly, shortly after Epstein’s death, some social media users took to posting under the hashtags #ClintonBodyCount and #ClintonCrimeFamily, expressing their belief that the Clintons were directly involved in Epstein’s death. Epstein is one name in a long list of others that some theorists believe were killed by the Clintons, with accusations ranging back to the mid-1990s. Still, there is no hard evidence connecting the Clintons to these deaths. 

No Hard Evidence of Murder, But Theories Persist

Although many Americans are critical of the official account of Jeffrey Epstein’s death, and there is circumstantial evidence suggesting he could have been murdered, there is no hard evidence indicating Epstein did not kill himself. 

Federal officials maintain that Epstein died by suicide and that his death was made possible by negligent jail practices and MCC staff. The DOJ, FBI, and official coroner reports support this perspective. 

Still, members of the public and people close to Epstein allege foul play due to Epstein’s powerful connections and potentially incriminating information about them, promoting the belief that Epstein was murdered. A statistically large number of Americans support this perspective, with one poll indicating that 35% of Americans believe Epstein was murdered, and 37% believe he committed suicide.

Quinn Poseley is a News Intern at AllSides. He has a Left bias.

Reviewed and edited by Editor-in-chief Henry A. Brechter (Center bias), News Assistant Malayna Bizier (Right bias) and News Assistant Johnathon Held (Lean Right bias).