The disgraced financier, jailed in Manhattan on federal sex trafficking charges involving teenage girls, was found unconscious on the floor of his cell one morning in July 2019, a strip of bedsheet tied around his bruised neck.
In the hours and days that followed that suicide attempt, Jeffrey Epstein would claim to be living a “wonderful life,” denying any thoughts of ending it, even as he sat on suicide watch and faced daunting legal troubles.
“I have no interest in killing myself,” Epstein told a jailhouse psychologist, according to Bureau of Prisons documents that have not previously been made public. He was a “coward” and did not like pain, he explained. “I would not do that to myself.”
But two weeks later, he did just that: He died in his cell Aug. 10 in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, having hanged himself with a bedsheet, the medical examiner ruled.
After a life of manipulation, Epstein created illusions until the very end, deceiving correctional officers, counselors and specially trained inmates assigned to monitor him around the clock, according to the documents — among more than 2,000 pages of Federal Bureau of Prisons records obtained by The New York Times after filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The detailed notes and reports compiled by those who interacted with Epstein during his 36 days of detention show how he repeatedly assured them he had much to live for, while also hinting that he was increasingly despondent. The clues prompted too little action by jail and bureau officials, who made mistake after mistake leading up to Epstein’s death, the records reveal.
Beyond the legal and administrative matters, the collection of records provides the most intimate and detailed look yet at Epstein’s final days, and offers something often missing from public accounts: his voice.
He passed many days closed in a conference room with his attorneys, avoiding the confines of his dank and dirty cell. In conversations with psychologists and other inmates, he spoke of his interest in physics and mathematics and offered tidbits of investment advice. He reminisced about socializing with celebrities, even as he complained about the running toilet in his cell, the orange prison garb, his difficulty sleeping, his dehydration and a numbness in his right arm.
And where Epstein had once rubbed shoulders with politicians, scientists and Wall Street titans, now he was left to converse about the food in the 12-story detention center.
“Epstein wants to know who’s the best cook on 11 North,” one inmate wrote.
The newly obtained records offer no support to the explosion of conspiracy theories that Epstein’s death was not a suicide. They also shed no light on questions raised by his brother and one of his attorneys that he might have been assisted in killing himself. But they do paint a picture of incompetence and sloppiness by some within the Bureau of Prisons, which runs the federal detention center.
An intake screening form erroneously described Epstein as a Black male (he was white), and indicated that he had no prior sex offense convictions, even though he was a registered sex offender with two 2008 convictions in Florida, for solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors to engage in prostitution. A few social phone calls he made were not recorded, logged or monitored, records show, an apparent violation of jail policy.
The night he killed himself, Epstein lied to jail officials and said he wanted to phone his mother — who was long dead. He instead called his girlfriend. Jail personnel left him alone in his cell that night, despite an explicit directive that he be assigned a cellmate.
Two days after the suicide, William Barr, then the U.S. attorney general, said there were “serious irregularities” at the correctional center, but did not elaborate. He later blamed “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”
A 15-page psychological reconstruction of Epstein’s death, compiled by bureau officials five weeks later and never before made public, concluded that his identity “appeared to be based on his wealth, power and association with other high-profile individuals.”
“The lack of significant interpersonal connections, a complete loss of his status in both the community and among associates, and the idea of potentially spending his life in prison,” the post-mortem continued, “were likely factors contributing to Mr. Epstein’s suicide.”
The Bureau of Prisons, in a statement, declined to comment on Epstein’s detention, but said “the safe, secure and humane housing of inmates is BOP’s highest priority.”
The bureau said it had created a task force to address the mental health implications of housing inmates alone, and was committed to improving its suicide prevention program, including “continuing to train BOP staff on suicide prevention, risk assessment and emergency responses.”
This fall, the Justice Department, citing poor conditions at the jail, also temporarily closed it, moving its prisoners to other facilities.
‘Talking about celebs’
Epstein’s stay at the detention center began Saturday, July 6, 2019, after his arrest at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he had arrived from Paris on a private jet. An indictment charged that Epstein, 66, had over many years recruited dozens of teenage girls to engage in sex acts with him at his mansion in Manhattan and his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, paying them each hundreds of dollars in cash.
If convicted, he faced up to 45 years in prison.
He initially was placed in the general inmate population, the jail’s least restrictive area. In an internal email, Hugh Hurwitz, then the Bureau of Prisons’ acting director, later attributed this to an oversight by the U.S. Marshals Service. “Apparently USMS did not indicate that he was a high-profile inmate, and staff were unaware that he was coming so no plans had been established,” he wrote.
That evening, according to the post-mortem reconstruction, a facilities assistant found Epstein in his cell looking “distraught, sad and a little confused,” she said in an email to three jail officials.
When the assistant asked if he was OK, he said he was. But she was not convinced, she wrote. “He seems dazed and withdrawn.”
She added, “Just to be on the safe side and prevent any suicidal thoughts, can someone from Psychology come and talk with him?”
No one did at first, according to the records.
On Sunday, July 7, the center’s warden, Lamine N’Diaye, properly identified Epstein as “high-profile” and had him moved to the Special Housing Unit, or SHU, on the ninth floor, out of “concerns for his personal safety in general population,” according to Hurwitz’s email.
But it was not until 9:30 a.m. that Monday that Epstein was taken for an initial psychological evaluation, as had been suggested when he arrived.
That afternoon, Epstein was set to make his first court appearance. Anticipating that he would be denied bail, the jail’s chief psychologist recommended that he be evaluated for suicide risk upon his return, given the media attention and nature of the charges.
“Inmate Epstein will likely be receiving bad news in court today, and has multiple risk factors for suicidality as identified by BOP statistics,” the psychologist wrote. “Let’s be proactive.”
By the time Epstein returned, it was after normal business hours and he was moved to “psychological observation” — a less restrictive status than suicide watch — in which so-called inmate companions took shifts to monitor him in his cell and chronicled his actions every 15 minutes.
Epstein spent his nights pacing his cell, sleeping fitfully and talking with other inmates, according to handwritten notes taken by those observing him.
‘Being alive is fun’
On the morning of Tuesday, July 9, Epstein underwent the requested formal, in-person suicide risk evaluation. The psychologist, whose name was redacted from the documents, found Epstein to be polite, cooperative, organized, coherent and even showing a sense of humor.
“Epstein adamantly denied any suicidal ideation, intention or plan,” she wrote in her notes. He requested a phone call, a meeting with his attorney, a shower and to brush his teeth.
Epstein described himself to her as a banker with a “big business” and said that “being alive is fun.” He denied having sexually abused anyone, and said he would have a renewed bail hearing the next week, where he believed he would be released.
“He was future-oriented,” the psychologist wrote.
She concluded that suicide watch was not warranted, but that “out of an abundance of caution” Epstein should remain on psychological observation.
On July 18, it became apparent that Epstein was unlikely to return to his former life and friends anytime soon — if ever — when Judge Richard Berman denied a renewed bail request. Five days later, in the early morning hours of July 23, Epstein made his suicide attempt.
The denial of bail was cited as “a significant disappointment for Mr. Epstein and likely challenged his ability and willingness to adapt to incarceration,” according to the post-mortem psychological reconstruction.
“Given the potential impact of the judge’s decision, a psychologist should have assessed Mr. Epstein’s mental status upon his return to the institution,” it said.
He was removed from suicide watch after about 31 hours, according to the documents, and again placed on psychological observation.
In conversations with people from psychological services over the next week, Epstein repeatedly denied having suicidal thoughts. He smiled and cracked jokes. He told them he was Jewish, and suicide was against his religion.
He also reiterated complaints about the running toilet in his cell, which left him feeling agitated for hours. “He said he sat in the corner and held his ears,” a psychologist wrote. Epstein speculated that he might have autism, noting that Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character in “Rain Man” had an aversion to noise.
Some within the justice system voiced concern about his mental state. Federal marshals who escorted him to a July 31 court hearing returned with a “Prisoner Custody Alert Notice,” which said Epstein might have “suicidal tendencies.”
This prompted another suicide risk assessment by a psychologist. Epstein again denied having suicidal thoughts. The psychologist was persuaded, according to the documents, writing that a suicide watch was not warranted.
“He stated he lives for and plans to finish this case and to go back to his normal life,” the psychologist wrote.
Among the documents obtained by the Times was an undated sign, on orange paper, that read, “MANDATORY ROUNDS MUST BE CONDUCTED EVERY 30 MINUTES ON EPSTEIN #76318-054 AS PER GOD!!!!”
The word “mandatory” was misspelled and underlined in pen, and a question mark was written in after it. The records offered no explanation of the sign, and bureau officials declined to answer questions about it.
The last day
When he arrived back in the SHU on July 30, Epstein was given a cellmate, Efrain Reyes, a prisoner who was assisting the government in a drug distribution conspiracy case. Epstein complained that the man’s talking kept him awake at night.
That all changed Aug. 9, when Reyes was transferred out of the jail and the staff was alerted that Epstein would need a new cellmate.
That same day — the day before Epstein died — as he huddled with his attorneys in a conference room, a federal appeals court unsealed about 2,000 pages of previously confidential documents in a defamation lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell, his longtime associate and former girlfriend. Maxwell, who was charged last year with sex trafficking and other offenses, faces a trial this month in Manhattan.
The materials revealed highly disturbing details of Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking ring, including graphic depositions, police reports and an Amazon receipt for books like “Training with Miss Abernathy: A Workbook for Erotic Slaves and Their Owners.”
Officials later surmised in the psychological reconstruction that the document release worsened his mental state, “further eroding his previously enjoyed elevated status and potentially implicating some of his associates.”
That evening, according to the reconstruction, a unit manager at the detention center helped Epstein make a “social” phone call. The manager dialed for Epstein and let him speak for 15 minutes. The call was not properly logged and does not appear to have been recorded. It is not clear from the documents whether the call was on a monitored line.
“I asked inmate Epstein who he was calling,” the unit manager wrote. “He stated his mother.”
Epstein’s mother died in 2004. The call was to his 30-year-old girlfriend, Karyna Shuliak, whom he helped put through dental school, said three people with knowledge of the phone conversation. Epstein, they said, gave no indication during the call that he planned to kill himself.
The call that night, however, was not included in the phone logs provided to the Times by the Bureau of Prisons. The logs show only one social call during his stay — more than a week earlier, on July 30, to Shuliak.
She is one of the largest beneficiaries of several trusts that Epstein set up over the years, according to three people briefed on the matter. Shuliak declined to comment through her attorney, Maurice Sercarz.
After finishing the call, Epstein returned to his cell, where he was alone because no new cellmate had yet been assigned. He was also left unmonitored by two officers on duty, whom prosecutors later accused of spending their time surfing the internet and appearing to be asleep. (This May, the two officers entered into a deferred prosecution agreement on charges that they had falsified jail records about checking on Epstein.)
At 6:30 the next morning, he was found with a bedsheet tied around his neck like a noose. He was pronounced dead an hour later.
About two months after Epstein’s death, an inmate who appears to have worked in the kitchen emailed the psychology department about a conversation he had with a man whose cell had been next to Epstein’s.
He said the other inmate had told him: “Jeffrey Epstein definitely killed himself. Any conspiracy theories to the contrary are ridiculous.” The man had heard Epstein “tearing up his sheet before committing suicide,” the kitchen worker wrote.
“He wanted to kill himself and seized the opportunity when it was available,” he added. “Such is life — or death, in this case.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide and are in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
You can find a list of suicide hotlines outside the United States at findahelpline.com.
Additional resources are available at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.