Inside The Mysterious 1991 Death Of Robert Maxwell

Disgraced socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for her association and collaboration with deceased convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein (via BBC News). A sea of rumors swirls around her following the death of a very powerful, very corrupt man who clearly had a heavy influence over her life. For many, the scandalous headlines are shocking. On the outside, the British party-goer seemed to have it all — fame, fortune, and notoriety, to name a few. How could the charismatic It Girl who grew up in a 51-bedroom mansion and constantly rubbed shoulders with A-list celebrities have led this secret life as a sex groomer for underage girls, causing them to endure years of abuse?

The answer, as it turns out, might be in a different set of headlines more than three decades in the past. In 1991, Ghislaine Maxwell's father, a wealthy but corrupt businessman who was not only in the tabloids but also owned the tabloids, was found floating lifeless in the vast waters of the Atlantic (per Mirror). Had he killed himself? Was it murder? Or was it just an unfortunate string of events taking place at a controversial point in time?

The extraordinary life of Robert Maxwell

AP News reports that Conservative Party politician Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark once said of Robert Maxwell, ″He was the Citizen Kane of his time. If you wrote a film about his life it would be rejected as unrealistic."

Robert Maxwell was born and raised Jewish in the Ruthenian village of Slatinske Doly, at a time when Nazis were ruthlessly laying siege. His mother and several loved ones died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, with his father presumed to have died before arriving (per The New York Times). Maxwell, whose real name was Ján Ludvík Hoch, narrowly escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to France. According to Forbes, he joined the French Foreign Legion at the tender age of 16 and eventually made his way into the British Army. Lying about his age and identity proved useful. He took to the front lines of the battlefield and was eventually awarded the coveted Military Cross for heroism.

From conquering Nazis to taking over the academic and scientific publishing world, it would seem there was nothing that Maxwell couldn't do. Britannica reports that by 1991, the self-made billionaire (via Celebrity Net Worth) had controlled and/or acquired the British Printing Corp., Pergamon Publishing, New York Daily News, Macmillan Publishers, and the Mirror Group Newspapers, which included popular publication The Daily Mirror. At first glance, Maxwell was a hero, but much like the tabloids he peddled for profit, the truth wasn't exactly as the headlines made it seem.

Lady Ghislaine and the fallen publishing empire

The New York Post reports that Ghislaine rose to socialite status as the last born of Maxwell's nine children, so prized by her father that he named his boat in her honor. As a boat, Lady Ghislaine was a 189-foot superyacht complete with all the finest furnishings a publishing tycoon might require (via Daily Mail). In a bitter twist of irony, in 1991 Robert Maxwell's dead body would be found within close proximity of the towering yacht in the waters surrounding the Canary Islands (per AP News).

At the time his body was recovered, Maxwell was still perceived by most of the public as an enigmatic hero, the underdog whose rise to fame was a call for celebration. It was not until after his death that he would be tossed into a tabloid-worthy scandal of epic proportions. Shortly after his body was found, Maxwell's ultimate deception was unveiled.

Mirror reports that Maxwell stole millions of dollars in order to save his failing publishing empire. Worse yet, he skimmed the money from the pension funds of his Daily Mirror employees. All at once, the public that revered him fumed at the news. Not only did his publishing empire fall, but his legacy as the "Man Who Saved the Mirror," his reputation for "storming a German machine-gun nest," his Citizen Kane-like stature, was deflated.

Rumors and conspiracies surface

Given the 1991 revelations of Maxwell's secretive and scandalous life, where he robbed unwitting employees of their hard-earned pensions, the public began to question his mysterious death, and with good reason to do so (via Mirror). The Guardian reports that his body was found completely unclothed nearly 100 miles away from the route he was believed to have taken. While the body's location and lack of dress were notably odd, authorities point out there were no visible signs of a struggle.

Radio Times reports that Maxwell's official cause of death is listed as a heart attack and accidental drowning, but notes that several pathologists initially disagreed, not just with the cause but also with each other. While the death is deemed an accident, there are those who believe he might have killed himself rather than deal with the shame of his secret eventually being revealed.

Those closest to him claim he would never have taken his own life. Many of them regard his death as a string of unfortunate coincidences. John Jackson, a former reporter for the Mirror, claims it was quite common for Maxwell to urinate unclothed from the edge of his yacht and suggests it is very possible that Maxwell fell into the water during this routine. Still, others hold out for the murkiest conspiracy of all, which is one where the crooked businessman was murdered. Among those adherents to this theory, according to her brother Ian, is Ghislaine Maxwell herself (via Daily Mail).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.