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Who is Ghislaine Maxwell? A look at her life and history

Ghislaine Maxwell's journey
Ghislaine Maxwell's journey 04:42

In opening statements Monday, prosecutors described Ghislaine Maxwell at her trial as a longtime associate of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. They accused her of being Epstein's "lady of the house" who set up teenage girls for him to sexually abuse. 

The defense denies those allegations and argues she is on trial for crimes that Epstein committed. The display in a New York City courtroom is very different from the way she lived most of her life. 

Six years after Epstein's first conviction, she was running an environmental organization and socializing with the wealthy and the famous. In Britain, though, Maxwell grew up as an outsider in immense wealth and privilege. Her father, Robert Maxwell, was a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia turned newspaper tycoon. 

Ghislaine was reportedly his favorite child and he even named his yacht after her. But Robert had a reputation as a bullying tyrant, including to his children. 

"I think people treated him with a strange mixture of awe and ridicule," biographer John Preston told CBS News' Holly Williams.

When the magnate drowned mysteriously in 1991, it was discovered that Robert Maxwell had embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars, leaving Ghislaine and her siblings humiliated and reportedly strapped for cash.

"They were the children of someone who had been branded public enemy No.1. Serial killers have had better press than Robert Maxwell," said Preston.

But by 1997, when journalist Vicky Ward first met Ghislaine at a party, she'd transformed herself into a darling of New York society.

"She was always saying that she'd flown in from somewhere exotic and she was always name-dropping, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton," Ward recalled.

Ward later wrote a profile of Epstein for Vanity Fair discovering that Maxwell was his ex-girlfriend and uncovering early allegations of sexual abuse against the pair which Ward's editors wouldn't allow her to publish without more sources. 

"He controlled the money that she needed access to. She introduced him to rich people, to important people, people like Prince Andrew," said Ward.

Prince Andrew and Ghislaine became friends in the 1980s. Prince Andrew denies Maxwell and Epstein trafficked a 17-year-old to him for sex. 

Ward said other former friends of Maxwell now refuse to speak on the record, fearful their reputations will be tarnished.

Epstein died in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial. His death has been officially ruled a suicide. Maxwell is facing a maximum of 80 years in prison if convicted.

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