The Nightmarish Prospect of 'Debating,' Again, Whether Jeffrey Epstein Died By Suicide or Was Murdered

The Nightmarish Prospect of 'Debating,' Again, Whether Jeffrey Epstein Died By Suicide or Was Murdered
Image:Associated Press

When it was announced in August that Jeffrey Epstein had died by suicide in his cell at the Manhattan Correctional Center, conspiracy theories about his death spread like a fast-growing mold—including outlandish claims that the Clintons had Epstein murdered, promoted by no less than Donald Trump, and other speculation that Epstein had been killed by the powerful men who had allegedly participated in his sexual abuse of young girls.

Reporters fanned the flames, like a Washington Post story on Epstein’s broken hyoid bone that claimed that such injuries are “more common in victims of homicide by strangulation” than in hanging deaths, despite the medical expert quoted by the Post clarifying that those types of neck injuries are also seen in “suicidal hangings,” especially among older people like Epstein.

But because conspiracy theories tend to persist like a nagging colds, it seems we’ll be forced to endlessly debate how Epstein died—and on Wednesday, the New York Times threw more fuel on the fire, in the form of a story highlighting how a forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s family went on Fox & Friends and told the hosts that Epstein’s injuries “are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and could occur much more commonly in homicidal strangulation,” adding that “the evidence points to homicide rather than suicide.”

Dr. Michael Baden, the pathologist who made these claims, is far from a crank. The former medical examiner for the city of New York, Baden has made a name for himself as one of the nation’s foremost forensic pathologists, and formerly hosted the HBO show Autopsy. In 2014, he performed a private autopsy of the teenager Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, at the request of Brown’s family. But his assertions about Epstein are, of course, entirely his opinion, one that other medical examiners, including those who conducted Epstein’s autopsy, have disputed.

Baden’s statements do nothing but continue a bizarre conversation focused obsessively on how Epstein died, one that people are seemingly much more interested in than in pursuing justice for his victims. (And Baden’s timing is certainly suspect, coming in the midst of several of Epstein’s victims moving forward with legal efforts to free up his assets, which he tied up in a $577 million trust fund two days before he died.)

As former Jezebel writer Anna Merlan wrote shortly after Epstein died, the real scandal is not how Epstein died. It’s that “[i]n the end, Epstein’s case feels sickeningly familiar: a powerful man who, despite his known abuses, escaped justice for a staggeringly long time, and lived his life more or less in public, more or less unbothered.” Epstein is dead, but unfortunately for his victims, we’ll be stuck with conspiracy theories about how he died seemingly forever.

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