When guilty men kill themselves

Andrew O’Hagan

Fred West killed himself in Birmingham Prison on the first day of 1995. I had worked on the story of the murders the whole of the previous year. The police in the case were disappointed: West had just come off suicide watch, and they had been keen to see him stand trial and face the evidence they’d gathered. Apparently, he was depressed by his wife’s rejection of him and he felt he was giving her his life. ‘Rest in peace where no shadow falls,’ he wrote in a suicide note. But it was all shadow. Every room in the Wests’ terrible house was in shadow and his garden was in shadow, and so was his mind. The world was filled with traces of the girls they harmed.

Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill girls, but he may have killed something in them. The evidence is that he trafficked them for sex and denied it, then accused them of lying. When guilty men kill themselves, are they acknowledging their guilt, or is it more like an act of self-pity? Epstein’s suicide in prison terminates a judicial process that he spent millions to disdain, but it also cancels a life in prison he was desperate to avoid. I wonder how his lawyers feel. (They wouldn’t return your calls, even if their entire morality depended on it.) Maybe they feel let down. Or free at last. Such are the complications of dependency.

But only days after writing about Epstein’s little black book for the London Review, hearing the news of his suicide, I think still of the friends. So many of them, for so long, enjoyed his private jet and his largesse with the girls. So many of them began to feel they’d made it in Manhattan when Jeffrey invited them over. They loved his money and loved what money could do in blurring the lines between joy and evil.


  • 13 August 2019 at 3:57pm
    Theo says:
    How on earth does Mr. O'Hagen know that Epstein did kill himself? Or London Review in rushing to print such a belief? Is there a rush at LRB to squelch a conspiracy theory before the facts (or any possibility of the facts) are in. Do you seriously believe William Barr is the individual who would be able to investigate this matter or the two American legacy parties excepting a few truth tellers on the Democratic side, and even there it is questionable.

    • 13 August 2019 at 5:13pm
      Spencer Winans says: @ Theo
      yeah seriously

    • 13 August 2019 at 5:16pm
      jennifer wade says: @ Theo
      He doesn't yet know for absolutely 100% for sure for sure for sure...but at this point things seems pretty damn clear. In addition to all the circumstantial evidence, yes, we'll have to wait for the final NYC Medical Examiner Report on the autopsy, which was overseen by Michael Baden, who was called in as an independent outside observer. Much as I despise and put nothing past this devious administration I do think Mr. Epstein killed himself. Psychologically, it makes sense. As a psychiatric nurse who has worked closely with many hundreds of patients with character pathologies, I appreciate how severe narcissists are vulnerable to severe narcissistic injury when exposed, and deprived of their usual methods of coping. Mr. Epstein was, at last, literally walled in, no longer able to control his elaborate and grandiose world. Likely in these limited and grim surroundings he used his manipulative skills to fool and pressure jail personnel into taking him off suicide watch.

  • 13 August 2019 at 5:05pm
    Lars says:
    Many powerful people benefit from Epstein’s death, now there won’t be any trial. So yes - that he was ‘suicided’ is a conspiracy theory. But there’s nothing wrong with conspiracy theories.

    Dave Callum tweeted, "I am a 'conspiracy theorist'. I believe men and women of wealth and power conspire. If you don't think so, then you are what is called 'an idiot'. If you believe stuff but fear the label, you are what is called 'a coward'."

    • 13 August 2019 at 8:34pm
      Paul M says: @ Lars
      The problem with this line of thinking is precisely that it posits the workings of power as "conspiracy theory", that is so say as a state of exception, rather than buisness as usual. As if the altogether transparent mechanisms of money and influence weren't sufficient . While conspiracies are real enough, Operation Gladio is undisputed historical fact, they don't resemble too much the conspiracies conjured by conspiracy theory which tend towards attributing close to supernatural powers of secrecy and perfect organization. Given that he seems to have been paedophile procurer, and quite possibly acted as one for his rich and influential friends he did little to conceal it. Apparently believing, rightly enough, that money and influence were enough (they worked up to this point).

      No one, at this stage, is in a position to definitively make a statement one way or the other, but the apparent facts point to suicide. If you suggest otherwise you are in danger of ignoring that prison suicide is depressingly common, given the ease with which it could be made near impossible compared to elsewhere. That it is so is easily explainable by the everyday contempt of the rich and powerful for those at the bottom of society. Epstein might not have a typical prisoner, but he was a prisoner none the less, in a country that locks people up at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, in a system treated as a source of profit. Had he not been Epstein would anybody be doubting suicide?

      There is a danger here, in insisting on the specialness of this death, of unreflexively absorbing the self projected of an aura of specialness wielded (typically) by those with power (the questions about the source of Epsteins money and the relative lack of questioning about this suggests Epstein was a past master at this). To attribute Epsteins death to murder by conspiracy, seems to me to be suggesting that Epstein was about to squeal, bringing down all and sundry. This seems out of character, to say the least, and if conspiracy is real surely it would be wise to keep stum. Moreover it seems to ignore those voices that did, at last, bring up here: those of his victims.

      I'm keeping an open mind but Occam's razor still aplies. Pretrial detention is none for of a couple of things, firstly that those with money and influence, if unable to obtain bail, are unable to escape to the relative comfort and safety of open prisons and thier equivalents this is important because in the US in particular its well known for its relative brutality and danger compared to the post-trial mainstream prison system. Paedophiles are floating targets in the prison system, and the rich and arrogant are hardly well liked. Even if it was murder is it really too much to think that there aren't others with motivations sufficient of their own. Perhaps some people had reason to silience Epstein, but given the immediate questioning of the apparent suicide it would seem they did a very poor job of not drawing attention to it.

  • 13 August 2019 at 5:06pm
    Joyce Johnson says:
    O’Hagan’s sentence, “Jeffrey Epstein did not kill women, but he may have killed something in them,” betrays a certain lack of sympathy for Epstein’s victims. There is no doubt that he did lifelong harm to his vulnerable young victims. While O’Hagan may be a clever writer, his work is often marred by a streak of unacknowledged misogyny. It surfaced again recently, in another context,in his piece on Lilian Ross, where he flashed his innate contempt in his last paragraphs for the famous woman writer he had previously sucked up to.

    • 13 August 2019 at 8:56pm
      Lothar Luken says: @ Joyce Johnson
      I've tried every PC interpretation I could think of - yet failed to understand how that quote 'betrays lack of empathy'. Please explain.

  • 13 August 2019 at 5:48pm
    Rod Miller says:
    I join the others in criticizing O'Hagan for his eager and instant embrace of suicide. (Bingo!) He simply doesn't know. Neither do we.
    Yes, one can imagine why Epstein might have preferred death to what was sure to come. Which is why he had already tried to kill himself once since his arrest and why he was now on "suicide watch" (seriously).
    Still, many extremely powerful people doubtless wanted him dead.
    Maybe they spirited in the means?

    • 13 August 2019 at 10:05pm
      ikallicrates says: @ Rod Miller
      You can't offer as evidence that Epstein killed himself the fact that he had already tried to kill himself once, because the first is as much in dispute as the second. Epstein's cellmate, Nicolas Tartaglio, said he was removed from their cell. When he returned, Tartaglio found Epstein lying on the floor unconscious, with abrasions on his neck. He claimed he'd been attacked. Tartaglio was removed from the cell a again only hours before Epstein's supposedly second, and successful, suicide attempt. Epstein's first suicide attempt which may not have been a suicide attempt does not prove he committed suicide. Just the opposite.

  • 13 August 2019 at 6:25pm
    Lars says:
    And if such things as conspiracies exist, then a lot more journalists should have it as their mission to expose them.

    Unfortunately it has become the job of ‘fringe’ journalists and bloggers - left or rightwing - with fewer resources and more real loonies among them.

  • 13 August 2019 at 8:00pm
    Roy says:
    Occam/Ockham's indispensible razor would suggest suicide. Given the utter impossibility of Epstein avoiding a life-mangling stint in one of America's hellish penitentiaries, where a population of predators imposes a rigid scale of punishment on their fellow predators, suicide was a rational decision. Unfortunately it deprives us of a trial in which a troop of loathsome individuals are exposed as Epstein's cronies. It would be particularly enjoyable to see the excrement sticking to Andrew Windsor and A. Dershowitz at the very least. Of course the chances of such individuals facing justice would be remote indeed.
    I wonder where Lady Ghislaine's money came from? I thought that Cap'n Bob's remaining assets had been seized by his creditors.

    • 15 August 2019 at 6:01am
      Graucho says: @ Roy
      Did they manage to get the ones in Liechtenstein ?

  • 14 August 2019 at 11:20am
    paultuvey says:
    I couldn't disagree more that Andrew O'Hagan's work 'is often marred by an unacknowledged streak of misogyny', in fact quite the opposite. If being critical in any way of women amounts to mysogyny then all writers beware. Of course the first part of Joyce Johns sentence gives the game away...'Andrew O'Hagan may be a clever writer'...really? slightly mean post I'd say.

  • 14 August 2019 at 3:02pm says:
    Whether he killed himself or not is not important His death stopped his victims from having their day in court. To me the really important takeaway is that weathy predators can get away with appalling behaviour for years and years. The ordinary garden variety abuser, if there is such a thing, usually gets punished one way or another. These guys get to be president or friends of presidents. I hope he rots in hell, if hell exists. And where is Ghislaine Maxwell his madam and pimpess?

Read more