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Before she was known as the alleged accomplice to sex offender and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell lived her life in the shadow of another wealthy and sinister man: Her father Robert Maxwell.
The ways in which their relationship shaped Ghislaine are explored at length in the new Peacock docuseries "Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell," which also airs on Oxygen on Tuesday, August 10 at 8/7c. Maxwell, a billionaire publishing magnate who owned the Daily Mirror, Macmillan Publishing, and the British Printing Corporation, has long been the subject of mordant fascination in the UK. Now, as Ghislaine Maxwell prepares for her November 2021 trial on federal charges of sex trafficking, her mercurial father is once again under public scrutiny – this time in front of a global audience.
So who was Robert Maxwell, the widely feared billionaire who fathered one of the most notorious women in the world? Here are some key things to know:
He died under mysterious circumstances.
On Nov. 5, 1991, Robert Maxwell disappeared from the Lady Ghislaine – the multi-million-dollar yacht he’d named after his daughter – while in the Canary Islands. He was 68 years old. A Spanish fisherman found his body floating in the Atlantic 12 hours later.
An official inquiry into his death determined he’d died from a heart attack and accidental drowning, likely while urinating from the stern of the ship (as he was known to do).
In the wake of his death, it was revealed that Maxwell had plundered hundreds of millions of dollars from the pension funds of his companies in an effort to prop up his crumbling publishing empire. This led many to speculate he’d killed himself to avoid jail time and the loss of his fortune. Others believed he was murdered, possibly the Israeli Secret Service.
He came from humble beginnings.
Robert Maxwell was born Jan Hoch in 1923 in an area that is now part of the Czech Republic. The first of nine children, Hoch’s Orthodox Jewish family lived in poverty.
“Home was a two-room wooden shack with earthen floors and a pit latrine at the back; in the winter, two children would share one pair of shoes,” The Times of Israel reported in February 2021.
He escaped Nazi occupation while studying at a yeshiva and went on to join the British Army but never saw his parents again after World War II. All but one of his siblings died at Auschwitz.
He was known to be a bully in his personal and business life.
Few people remember Maxwell fondly. He was known to intimidate his staff and allegedly used the office bathroom with the door open. Robert Greenslade, one of Maxwell’s former editors, told the Guardian he once witnessed Maxwell get on stage at a charity event to lecture a prima ballerina about how she should dance.
“That was the nature of the beast. What you have here is a kind of sociopathic, possibly borderline psychopathic, character,” said Greenslade.
Maxwell could be just as demanding and cruel at home. The Daily Mail has reported that his former daughter in law, Pandora Maxwell, referred to him as “the fat fraudster.” He regularly doled out corporal punishment and criticism to his nine children. Betty Maxwell, his first wife and mother of his children, wrote in her autobiography that her ex-husband was “bullying, unfaithful and frequently absent.”
Of all his children, it was Ghislaine who was closest to her father, acting as his aide and representative in his later years. She was devastated by her father’s death.
“My family won’t inherit anything when I die,” Robert Maxwell allegedly told his Russian mistress Kira Vladina.
“The only ones who deserve anything are my youngest, Ghislaine, and Kevin. I adore both of them. Kevin is so much like me and Ghislaine is a friend.”
"Epstein's Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell" is available to stream on Peacock now.
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