In the last few months, the name Jeffrey Epstein has fully entered the public consciousness. While speculation on his connections to sex trafficking have long been the subject of myriad articles & videos, the finer details of his past have largely remained a mystery. For those who knew him, this penchant for secrecy is no surprise. There’s one thing Epstein did make clear: the entry minimum to his highly exclusive investment firm was one billion dollars -anything short and you’d be curtly rejected.
One senior investment manager told Vanity Fair in 2011 that “the trading desks don’t seem to know him. It’s unusual for animals that big not to leave any footprints in the snow.” Another prominent financial executive compared him to the title character of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby. “He’s this mysterious, Gatsbyesque figure. He likes people to think that he is very rich, and he cultivates this air of aloofness The whole thing is weird.”
This mirage surrounding Epstein is carefully maintained. After refusing to give a reporter an interview, Epstein invited him to a game of chess. “Let’s play chess,” he said, “You be white. You get the first move.” The reporter goes on to write that “ no one really seems to know him or his history completely or what his arsenal actually consists of. He has carefully engineered it so that he remains one of the few truly baffling mysteries among New York’s moneyed world. People know snippets, but few know the whole.”
Long before his rise to the highest levels of elite society, Epstein was a high school physics teacher at the highly-esteemed Manhattan school — Dalton. He reportedly pushed the limits of the dress code, wearing gold chains, fur coats, and an open shirt exposing his chest” and several students remember seeing him at highschool parties. As one of the highest ranking schools in the country, Dalton drew kids from prestigious families in media and finance. One father who worked on Wall Street was so impressed by Epstein that he bluntly asked, “What are you doing teaching math at Dalton? You should be working on Wall Street.” This is how Epstein was introduced to Wall Street trading legend Ace Greenberg.
Greenberg was famously uninterested in hiring people with fancy degrees and instead people with “PSD degrees,” which stood for poor, smart, and a deep desire to become rich. Under the mentorship of Greenberg and then-Bear Stearns C.E.O. James Cayne, he excelled, quickly mastering complex pricing models at a time when options trading was a new frontier. After just five years, he left to start his own firm. Aside from the billion dollar entry fee to the firm, he required clients to assign him power of attorney to control all funds — even able to supersede family members.
Unlike prominent Wall Street figures such as George Soros and Sanford Weill, only rumors are known about Epstein’s client list. One senior financial executive explains, “Jeff maintains some sort of money-management firm, though you won’t get a straight answer from him. He once told me he had 300 people working for him, and I’ve also heard that he manages Rockefeller money. But one never knows. It’s like looking at the Wizard of Oz — there may be less there than meets the eye. Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, explained that at his dinner parties, Epstein gave off the impression that his list of clients included the Queen of England.
It wasn’t uncommon for Epstein to invite physicists to his mansion. Prestigious academics ranging from biologists to mathematicians spoke highly of Epstein, praising his enthusiasm for scientific projects, which was inspired by his unusual aptitude for theoretical physics. This ability to easily socialize with elite scholars aligns with Marshall Rose’s description of Epstein. Rose, a real estate developer who worked with him, claims he “digests and decodes the information very rapidly,” which resulted in much “shorter meetings.”
Not every meeting with Epstein was conventional, though. In one meeting at his Manhattan mansion, he invited a young professor as well as John Brockman, a world renowned publisher who represented prominent scientists ranging from Richard Dawkins to Nassim Taleb. Across the table sat an aspiring fashion model and her friend. According to the professor, ‘ he would alternate between them. Sometimes he’d turn to his left and ask some science-y questions. Then he’d turn to his right and ask the model to show him her portfolio.’ The two sides of the table never interacted and, at some point in the meeting, a young female assistant entered the room to massage Epstein’s neck.
Mr. Epstein never shied away from these sorts of displays. When he invited 21 physicists to his private island in 2006, an entourage of four young women trailed him at all times. Roger Schank, a cognitive psychologist who was invited to Epstein’s island for a meeting on artificial intelligence, claims that during the experts’ discussions, Epstein sat in the back of the room hugging and kissing two girls on a sofa.
He didn’t always meet with scientists in his home or island, though. After donating millions to Harvard and opening up an office nearby, he’d simply show up to its cafeteria to join in on lunchroom discussions with professors. Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University, wasn’t impressed, calling him an “intellectual imposter.”
Friends and colleagues described him to me as a quantitative genius and a scientific sophisticate, and they invited me to salons and coffee klatches at which he held court. But I found him to be a kibitzer and a dilettante — he would abruptly change the subject ADD style, dismiss an observation with an adolescent wisecrack and weighted his own opinions as much as scholarly literature.”
In one discussion at Harvard, Epstein criticized initiatives to reduce starvation because of overpopulation concerns. When Steven Pinker pushed back on this, it was made clear that he was no longer welcome at meetings with Epstein and “ voted of the island.” According to a person familiar with the meetings, Epstein had grown tired of Pinker fact checking him when “he shot off his mouth on topics he knew nothing about.” Pinker, however, appeared to be an exception in his skepticism of Epstein.
Likely attracted by the potential of generous grants, the number of elite scientists who at some point met with Epstein is extensive: Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who discovered the quark; the theoretical physicist and best-selling author Stephen Hawking; the paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould; Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and best-selling author; George M. Church, a molecular engineer who has worked to identify genes that could be altered to create superior humans; and the M.I.T. theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek, a Nobel laureate.
The darker undertones in Epstein’s interest in science became clearer in the early 2000s. This is when he began revealing his plan to seed the human race with his DNA. Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer, was invited to a meeting at Epstein’s New Mexico ranch. This is where he met a scientist who worked for NASA. She explained to him that Jeffrey Epstein’s vision was to impregnate 20 women at a time in his 33,000-square-foot Zorro Ranch outside Santa Fe. He got the idea from a radical human-breeding experiment that took place in the 1980s: The Repository for Germinal Choice.
The Repository for Germinal Choice was a sperm bank founded by millionaire eugenicist, Robert Graham. Its goal was to artificially inseminate women with the sperm of geniuses to create superhumans. At least three Nobel laureates were confirmed as donors, but twenty years later, it shut down — its founder dead, its records sealed, and the fate of the two hundred children it produced unknown.
Jaron Lanier recalled seeing attractive women with exceptional academic credentials at Epstein’s private dinner parties and was given the impression that they were being screened as potential candidates for his plan.
Epstein also pursued other interests like cryogenics — a quasi-science that explores whether people’s bodies can be frozen to be brought back to life at some point in the future. One person familiar with his plans was told that Epstein wanted his head and penis to be frozen. Another project he bankrolled aimed to identify an unspecified particle that could trigger the feeling that someone was watching you.
These transhumanist interests might simply appear to be the grandiose pet projects of an eccentric billionaire. Perhaps scientists only humored him in the hope of receiving generous donations, but Jeffrey Epstein’s friendships to the world’s most powerful politicians and celebrities only invites more serious questions.