Feds fight back as Epstein death conspiracy theories swirl

Nov 23, 2019, 9:22 AM

FILE - This July 1, 2019 file photo shows the Manhattan Correctional Center, in New York. Financier...

FILE - This July 1, 2019 file photo shows the Manhattan Correctional Center, in New York. Financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide and was found in his cell at the Manhattan Correctional Center. The indictment of two jail guards responsible for monitoring Epstein the night he killed himself hasn’t squashed conspiracy theories about his death. That’s even after prosecutors took pains to point out the ample evidence backing a medical examiner’s determination that the wealthy sex offender hanged himself. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — At another time in history, the indictment of two jail guards responsible for monitoring Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself might have served as an emphatic rebuttal to suspicions that the wealthy sex offender was actually murdered.

Not in 2019.

Conspiracy theories continued to flourish, even after prosecutors took pains to point out the ample evidence backing a medical examiner’s determination that Epstein hanged himself.

Video surveillance confirmed, they said in a news release and an indictment, that nobody had entered the area where Epstein was locked in his cell.

The locked door to the unit, they said, could only be opened remotely by an officer in the jail’s control center, plus there was a second locked door to which only correctional officers assigned to the high-security housing unit had the key. Epstein had no roommate, they said, and had died alone.

No matter. Social media buzzed with “Epstein didn’t kill himself” memes, fueled by the financier’s past associations with Britain’s Prince Andrew and U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

“People aren’t buying the suicide story,” said one tweet.

“Epstein is alive on a beach somewhere in the middle east,” said another.

Democrats and Republicans — and even Epstein’s family and his alleged victims — were united in skepticism that Epstein could have taken his own life a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges.

At a news conference Thursday, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents several woman who say they were sexually abused by Epstein, said there remains quite a few “suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.” Dr. Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s family to observe his autopsy, also remained incredulous, saying he wanted to hear from the guards before deciding whether it was suicide or homicide.

Eric Oliver, a University of Chicago professor who studies conspiracy theories, said no amount of evidence presented by government authorities is likely to change some people’s minds.

“When there’s already this kind of profound mistrust of the political system, of political institutions, of the media, any kind of official channel that seeks to overturn this belief is likely to be viewed with suspicion,” he said.

Oliver said a survey he conducted two weeks ago found that 30% of respondents believed Epstein’s death was a homicide. Most conspiracy theories gain traction with less than 20% of respondents, he said. The Trump-perpetuated theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. peaked at about 24%.

The Epstein conspiracy theories also cut across the ideological spectrum, Oliver said, in part because they speak to concerns some Americans have about concentrations of wealth and power: feeling that the wealthy have amassed too much political power.

“The idea that somehow or another they were able to sneak into his jail cell and murder him speaks to both that power — that they’re somehow or another above the law — and the nefariousness of their intentions, that they’d be willing to murder some guy who could potentially expose the wealthy,” Oliver said.

The two corrections officers at the Metropolitan Correctional Center charged in connection with Epstein’s Aug. 10 death are accused of the relatively mundane crime of falsifying prison logs.

Guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas were supposed to be checking on Epstein every half-hour. But prosecutors said they shirked that duty and were instead sleeping or surfing the internet for bargains on furniture and motorcycles, and Epstein “committed suicide overnight while unobserved.” The guards have pleaded not guilty and are free on bail.

Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press this week that he initially had his own suspicions about Epstein’s death but came to the conclusion that failures by the jail’s staff had allowed Epstein to take his own life.

“I can understand people who immediately, whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario because it was a perfect storm of screw-ups,” Barr said.

The phrase “Epstein didn’t kill himself” has taken on a life of its own — sometimes more as a pop culture catchphrase than an actual belief.

It has shown up on a screen at San Diego’s airport, on a California brewery’s beer cans and as the name of a new Michigan brew.

This month, a former Navy SEAL appearing on Fox News blurted, “Epstein didn’t kill himself,” during an unrelated interview.

Last week, a man tried to register for a spot on the New Hampshire primary ballot as Rod “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself” Webber.

On Monday, the day before the officers were charged, a woman who says Epstein sexually assaulted her when she was 15 wore a bracelet to a news conference that spelled out: “Epstein didn’t kill himself.”

Even members of Congress got in on the act.

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., spelled out the phrase with the first letter of each in a series of 23 tweets last week. At a prison oversight hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said drywall, Christmas ornaments and Epstein were “three things that don’t hang themselves.”

“That’s what the American people think, and they deserve some answers,” the Louisiana Republican said.

Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the new director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said during that oversight hearing that Epstein’s death was “a black eye on the entire Bureau of Prisons.” But in an exchange with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, she reiterated that it was a suicide.

“Do you have any evidence to suggest otherwise?” Graham asked.

“I do not,” Hawk Sawyer said.


Associated Press reporter Michael Balsamo contributed to this report from Kalispell, Montana.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

The OLRGC released an analysis of the expected topics to be discussed during a special session of t...

Simone Seikaly

Extending state flooding emergency, firearm restrictions, among topics for Utah special session

The OLRGC released an analysis of the expected topics to be discussed during a special session of the legislature.

11 months ago

A video recorded by Facebook user Larry Jacquez shows the police response following the shooting in...

Jamiel Lynch, CNN     

At least 3 people killed and 2 officers wounded in a shooting in Farmington, New Mexico, police say

Multiple people were shot and at least three killed in a shooting in Farmington, New Mexico, police said in a Facebook post.

11 months ago

A new release from Intermountain Healthcare shows that younger adults are becoming more susceptible...

Waverly Golden

Younger adults are becoming more susceptible to strokes

A new release from Intermountain Healthcare shows that younger adults are becoming more susceptible to stroke.

11 months ago

If you plan to camp over Memorial Day Weekend, you may want to begin the planning process now....

Allessandra Harris

Camping over Memorial Day Weekend? Plan ahead

If you plan to camp over Memorial Day Weekend, you may want to begin the planning process now.

11 months ago

slcpd on the scene of the deaths...

Josh Ellis

Police: Teen killed by father in murder-suicide in SLC office building

Police responded to the office complex near 3000 S. Highland Drive on Saturday after emergency responders received a call from a community member who reported finding a body.

11 months ago

Melissa Coleman crouches next to her husband, , Brad Coleman, of North Ogden, who sits in a wheelch...

Jenny Carpenter,

Young stroke victim survives with quick, lifesaving treatment in northern Utah

After a 36-year-old man had a stroke, he and his wife say to be aware of the signs of stroke and that young people are also at risk.

11 months ago

Sponsored Articles

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Group of cheerful team members high fiving each other...

Visit Bear Lake

How To Plan a Business Retreat in Bear Lake This Spring

Are you wondering how to plan a business retreat this spring? Read our sample itinerary to plan a team getaway to Bear Lake.

Cheerful young woman writing an assignment while sitting at desk between two classmates during clas...

BYU EMBA at the Marriott School of Business

Hear it Firsthand: 6 Students Share Their Executive MBA Experience at BYU’s Marriott School of Business

The Executive MBA program at BYU offers great opportunities. Hear experiences straight from students enrolled in the program.

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and gates.

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...

Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer.

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy.

Feds fight back as Epstein death conspiracy theories swirl