Hunting Ghislaine is the new podcast series by veteran investigative journalist John Sweeney. The series investigates Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell and former girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire paedophile who committed suicide while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking in 2019.
The series is billed as a fairy story which happens the wrong way round where the princess ends up accused of being the monster and no-one at all ends up happily ever after. Ghislaine Maxwell faces six charges in the United States of sexual abuse of minors, child sex trafficking and perjury. She denies any wrongdoing.
Crime+Investigation caught up with John to talk about the joys of podcasting and what he learned about Maxwell, one of the few living people who may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of Jeffrey Epstein and his horrific crimes.
Our viewers will know you as a TV investigative reporter. What led you to get involved in the world of podcasting?
I've always wanted to do a proper built-investigative podcast with lovely storytelling. There's something about podcasting being a really pure form of storytelling that I find that terribly exciting. It’s been wonderful, really exhilarating, and I've learned a tonne of stuff. I've had to work annoyingly hard, but it’s been great.
Can you give us an overview of Hunting Ghislaine?
It’s a dark fairy tale in reverse where the fairy princess ends up in prison. There are six episodes in total. Episode one of Hunting Ghislaine is called Monsters and, in part, it's a homage to Old Fleet Street. It's about Ghislaine Maxwell but the first episode is about her father, Robert Maxwell [former owner of Mirror Group Newspapers]. Ghislaine was his youngest and best-loved child but there's something strange and dark about this relationship.
What happened in my telling of it is that her father died and then she found a second monster that was rich and powerful, and intelligent and crooked and loved having a hold over people, like her father. But actually, in many ways, far worse than him. The problem for Ghislaine is that she has been in some way, deformed by her father, and that left her unable to properly see who Jeffrey Epstein was. The second episode is called Pimp, and it looks at the evidence that Ghislaine Maxwell is a handmaiden to child abuse. She denies four charges of effectively supplying underage girls for sex with Jeffrey Epstein and two charges related to perjury. She denies all the charges and any wrong doing. Having said that, there’s a tonne of evidence and we look at that in episode two. Episode three is called The Black Book. Epstein had a black book. Most of the Black Book is Ghislaine's and most of the names are of all her friends and contacts, and it's amazing. It's a kind of window into her soul. Also, within it, there are 100 names, under the title massage. So, it is contact's book and it's also something of a spider's web.
Episode four is called Favours and it looks at the allegations that Ghislaine Maxwell - and remember she denies everything - used her powerful friends, as some kind of smoke shield for what was happening behind the scenes.
If you're friends with former President Bill Clinton and President-to-be Donald Trump and the second the son of the Queen of England, Prince Andrew, it gives an aura of massive respectability and power. Did she use that in some way to shield her former lover and herself from proper scrutiny? Episode five is The Lady Vanishes and is about her disappearing off the face of the earth. [When Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested by the FBI she was found hiding out in rural of New Hampshire.]
Episode six is called Tombs and looks at the whole story at how come this beautiful and intelligent woman, ends up being charged with these terrible crimes in a ghastly rat-infested prison on suicide watch in New York.
How worried should Ghislaine Maxwell be about her upcoming trial?
I would hate to be in her shoes, but I also think that justice should be done. I think it's okay to feel sorry for her. I feel if you listen to episode one, you get the idea that her father was a monster. Ghislaine's problem in terms of the big picture is that the number one perpetrator is, of course, Jeffrey Epstein, but he's dead. Him being dead means that the victims if they want some sense of justice, only have Ghislaine to go for. She was for a time, the keeper of Jeffrey Epstein's secrets.
I've heard that another journalist is working on this who thinks that Ghislaine may well be found not got guilty because of the quality of evidence against. That is not my view. I think that the evidence is compelling, but I cover that in episode six, so I'm afraid I'm not going to give the game away.
What can you tell us about Prince Andrew’s relationship with Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein?
In 1999, Prince Andrew meets Epstein and during the course of the next couple of years, Andrew invites Ghislaine and Epstein to Balmoral and Sandringham and Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. By the way, Buckingham Palace that's the kind of office. But to get to those three that's a royal flush and Jeffrey Epstein has been to all of those places.
At one point in 2000, and it has to be Andrew that does this, they crash the Buckingham Palace throne room. Kevin Spacey the disgraced actor, he's one of the Epstein's gang and he's sitting on the throne where the Duke of Edinburgh sits, and Ghislaine is sitting in the Queen's throne. There’s a boozy photo of them.
What did you make of ex-President Donald Trump wishing Ghislaine Maxwell ‘well’?
I find that astonishing. I've interviewed people who say, Donald Trump is a New Yorker and was brought up in a certain world in the '50s where you use the language of the mob. That’s a coded message from Donald Trump, you play nicely by me and things might go well for you. Ghislaine's problem is that her trial is in June or July and Trump can't pardon her because she hasn't been convicted of anything. By the way, to be fair, Bill Clinton went on the Lolita Express 26 times [Epstein’s private jet]. Clinton and Trump are hanging about with Epstein and Ghislaine so often, you'd find it weird that they never smelt something rotten. It could be that Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are naive, but I find that unlikely. They're not naive, they've both been Presidents of the United States.
What's your favourite True Crime podcast?
I think my favourite podcast is Tunnel 29 and I would say that East Germany and the Stasi was a true crime scene. I also love The Missing Cryptoqueen and I love West Cork as well.
It’s a fantastic medium, it’s story-telling as it should be, with real people’s voices but with the space and time to kick stuff around. It feels as I’m doing is what Neanderthal John Sweeneys would have been doing a million years ago. You’re sat round a fire and then we’ve all eaten the bison that someone has killed, and then someone in the group says, ‘Now I’m going to tell you a story’.
Listen to Hunting Ghislaine on Global Player and on all major podcasting platforms.