WARNING: Disturbing content:

James Patterson, one of the world's most successful authors whose novels regularly top the best-seller charts, happens to live half a mile from Jeffrey Epstein's home in Palm Beach, Florida. Over the years he had become fascinated and appalled in equal measure by Epstein and determined to investigate just how and why so many young women found their way to his home on a secluded street. This is the deeply disturbing story of what he discovered . . .

Late one afternoon, while taking a leisurely stroll on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a friend of mine named Tim Malloy ran into a trim, silver-haired neighbour of ours from Palm Beach in Florida.

The man was walking down Madison Avenue, and several things about him were striking. For one thing, he was wearing slippers. Expensive, embroidered, monogrammed slippers. But slippers all the same.

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For another, he was accompanied by two exceptionally attractive women. As the man half shuffled, half walked down the avenue, the women walked slightly behind him, as if they were attendants or staff.

The threesome turned onto 71st Street and headed toward an enormous townhouse - a house that was almost a fortress with a 15ft front door. Like our neighbour's slippers, the house had a monogram: raised brass letters that spelled out 'J E'.

A monogram on the exterior of the residence owned by Jeffrey Epstein in New York City. Photo / AP
A monogram on the exterior of the residence owned by Jeffrey Epstein in New York City. Photo / AP

The initials belonged to Jeffrey Epstein, a staggeringly rich and powerful man who was also a registered sex offender with a strong taste for teenage girls. Not just 16 and 17-year-olds, but younger girls as well.

Epstein was alleged to have abused dozens of adolescent girls. He'd done a bit of prison time for his crimes. A bit of time. And now here he was, out in the world again.

Accompanied by two beautiful young women.

I had been hearing hair-raising stories about Jeffrey Epstein for a couple of years. I wondered why it had taken so long for the Palm Beach police to catch up with him.

And, once they did, why he had served so little jail time.Those were the obvious questions, but there were others: How had Epstein made his money, possibly billions? No one seemed to know.

We did know that Epstein liked to get massages from two, even three, young women every day, in his Palm Beach mansion or wherever else he was in the world. But who were these girls? Where had they come from? How did they find their way to his home?

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Stirred by that sighting of Epstein up in New York, Tim Malloy and I began to investigate. We partnered with John Connolly, a tough, no-nonsense journalist who had once been a cop with the NYPD and had been following the Epstein story for close to ten years. And we began to put the pieces together.

We were never in any doubt that Jeffrey Epstein was guilty. The question is, what exactly was he guilty of?

There was no way of guessing from the exterior of his Palm Beach home at 358 El Brillo Way. Built in the Fifties by a run-of-the-mill architect, it has none of the elegance of neighbouring properties. It's big, with a large swimming pool: that's the most you can say for it. It's totally bland.

But it's the last house on a dead-end block, and this makes it secluded.

Beyond the gate, past the guard and through a side door to the kitchen, the house ceases to be nondescript. A wide, winding staircase leads to a hallway lined with photographs of young naked women. It leads to his bedroom, and a closet where many more photos are stored: erotic pictures featuring women who have been brought to this house.

How the girls were lured here is something I wanted to understand, as our investigation got under way. One of the first clues is tucked away in a police report from March 2005. A girl of 14 got into a fight at school with another pupil who called her a 'whore'.

Jeffrey Epstein in New York, 2005. Photo / Getty Images
Jeffrey Epstein in New York, 2005. Photo / Getty Images

Let's call this girl Mary. Like about a third of the children at this Florida county high school, she's from a Hispanic background. Her parents are poor Cuban immigrants. Mary qualifies for free school lunches.

But when she is sent to the principal's office, Mary is found to have $460 in her purse. The notes are all $20 bills. Alarmed, the head teacher calls her parents and asks: "Is Mary selling drugs?" Her family can't believe that, but the school needs to know what's going on. So they send for the psychologist. And then Mary starts talking.

The story she tells is so sickening that the school staff have no hesitation in calling the police. In a high, halting voice, speaking through tears, Mary tells Palm Beach police officer Michele Pagan that she was taken to Epstein's house. She won't say who took her, or why she agreed to go. But she is adamant about what happened when she was led upstairs.

"This white-haired guy came into the room. Wearing only a towel around his waist. He took off the towel. And then he was all naked and he lay face down on the massage table."

In a stern voice, the man ordered the young girl to remove her jeans and sit astride his back in her panties, with her buttocks against his. Then he pleasured himself. Afterwards, he produced a purple sex toy and touched Mary with it. For this she was paid $460.

But police inquiries into Epstein soon hit an obstacle. He was already known to the Palm Beach force - as a generous benefactor. About 12 months earlier, he gave a $139,000 donation to pay for a firearms training simulator.

One senior cop said: "I think we were of the general understanding that, yes, there were very attractive young women coming and going from Mr Epstein's residence. We were of the belief that they were all adults and so we had no further interest in it."

Six months later, a young woman was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Let's call her Alison: it's not her real name. She, too, has a disturbing story to tell about 358 El Brillo Way. It began at the clothes store Hollister in Wellington Green mall, where Alison was working for six bucks an hour as an assistant, aged 16.

The home of Jeffrey Epstein has a large waterfront footprint in the Town of Palm Beach, not far from President Trump's Mar-a-Lago. Photo / Getty Images
The home of Jeffrey Epstein has a large waterfront footprint in the Town of Palm Beach, not far from President Trump's Mar-a-Lago. Photo / Getty Images

Another of the girls told her she could earn $300, just for giving an old guy a massage in his home.

"She said that he wanted cute girls, so I looked cute, did my best. Like, this guy's not going to pay you for not letting him cop a feel or nothing. I wasn't naive enough to think that."

She was introduced to a woman who called herself Sarah. Alison thought Sarah was some sort of live-in personal assistant. Later, she revised that opinion. Sarah seemed to be a willing sex slave.

The "old guy" demanded a massage, and cajoled Alison into stripping to her underwear and allowing him to grope her. Afterwards, she agreed to return: "$460 for 40 minutes, that was a lot."

Alison insists that she always refused to have full sex with Epstein. On one occasion when he did force himself on her, holding her head down on the massage table she screamed 'no!' and he stopped.

In any case, she claimed, her abuser rarely wanted conventional sex. Perhaps that was because his genitals were apparently deformed.

One witness later described Epstein's penis as "egg-shaped", but Alison was more specific: "He's circumcised, and he has some sort of birth defect. [His penis is] really weirdly shaped, like a teardrop, like a drop of water . . . "

Ghislaine Maxwell was a close acquaintance of Epstein's the pair were romantically involved in 1992. Photo / Getty Images
Ghislaine Maxwell was a close acquaintance of Epstein's the pair were romantically involved in 1992. Photo / Getty Images

Epstein rarely asked consent before committing some new violation. Alison continues: "I said, "What are you doing, you know that's not cool."He said, "Oh, I thought we did that last time," and I said, "No we did not do that last time." And then he just offered me more money. He's like, "Why don't I just give you something extra and we can try this out?" Very hard guy to say no to.

"You know what he promised me? He promised me that I would get into NYU [New York University]. That I would get into NYU and he would pay for it. I filled out my application and he told me that it wasn't good enough. So I filled it out again, like three times.

"I'm pretty sure he wasn't checking it, he was just telling me he was . . . But I think that had a lot to do with the reason I stayed there so long."

As Alison consented to ever more depraved sex acts, Epstein's rewards became more lavish. "He used to tell me I was his favourite. I'd go over there and there'd be a bag of Victoria's Secret underwear, like $2,300 worth. I got a plane ticket once. I got a car, I got Christmas bonuses, I got movie tickets. He wanted me to come and live with him as a girlfriend, sex slave, whatever you want to call it."

She began to bring other schoolgirls to visit him. "I brought girls I didn't like and, frankly, did not give a **** about. Girls that I knew would do anything. I'd just hear a rumour about a girl and be like, "Hey, I know a way you can make $300." I would tell them flat out, like, "This is what you've got to do. Are you cool with this? "Cause I'm not gonna take you if you're not."

"They all know that I got paid to bring them. My best friend, she took off her shirt. She was a little overweight, so he didn't want anything to do [with her]. She was homeless and really needed money. So she did it out of desperation."

Epstein's demands became violent, picking Alison up by her ponytails and throwing her against the wall before sexually assaulting her. "I mean, there's been nights I left there barely able to walk."

She visited regularly for two years but eventually became so scared that she handed the car back and broke off contact. She was still at high school.

He had other women who would procure schoolgirls for him. One, Wendy, told how she'd first been approached by another girl on the beach who said she could make $300 if she gave someone a massage.

She was taken to his house and as she began the massage he tried to grab her buttocks. "I'll massage you," she told him, "but I don't want to be touched." Epstein paid her $300 and told her that he understood she was not comfortable, but he would pay her if she brought over some girls, the younger the better.

Once she brought a 23-year-old woman to the house, but Epstein told her she was too old. Wendy went on to bring girls aged between 14 and 16 and each time he paid her $300. One of them was her own cousin - "Mary", the pupil whose purse full of money first aroused the suspicions of her teachers.

One girl led the detectives to another. Every time, they heard the same story: the girls are approached by Wendy, by Alison, by Sarah. They drive over to Epstein's house. After a short wait in the kitchen - maybe some milk and cereal, if they feel hungry - they are walked upstairs. Epstein's there, waiting, wearing his towel. Sometimes the girls refer their friends, and for this they receive a commission.

In October 2005, police decided they had enough evidence to get a search warrant for 358 El Brillo Way. Guns drawn, they walk up the winding stairs to the second floor.

Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / Supplied
Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / Supplied

They see a pink-and-green couch described by many of the witnesses, and many photos of naked girls on the walls. In some cases, these are girls they have interviewed.

They also find notepads with first names, dates and phone numbers for girls written on them. There are messages noted down, too: "I have girls for him"; "I have two girls."

Epstein's house has a strangely antiseptic quality. Some of the bedrooms look almost like doctors' offices. In one bathroom, there's a massage table as well as stands holding strange equipment.

In a wood-coloured armoire beside Epstein's bed, they see a bottle of peach-flavoured lubricant. In the bathroom, there are soaps shaped like penises and vaginas, bottles of Mango Mist, more lubricant and boxes of tampons.

The officers find receipts for books bought on Amazon, such as SlaveCraft: Roadmaps For Erotic Servitude. On the first floor, detectives are drawn to two secret cameras hidden in clocks. They know where the cameras are because they actually helped install them - in 2004, when Epstein made a complaint of burglary and then withdrew it.

Detectives can't shake the feeling that the house has been tidied up for their arrival. Shelves look as though they have been emptied, and several photographs appear to have been removed from the walls.

That's not so surprising. What is strange is that, for a house that's been scrubbed, so much has been left lying around. It's as if Epstein was so accustomed to the sex toys, the lubricants, the bizarre equipment and the photographs of naked, underage girls that he saw nothing wrong in them.

With additional evidence from a manservant at the house, Alfredo Rodriguez, police were eventually able to charge Epstein, to his disbelief, with sex offences against minors.

Three years later, after a long court battle, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but served only one day in the notorious Palm Beach County Main Detention Center - known locally as the Gun Club. After spending the night in the relative comfort of the prison infirmary, he was transferred to the Palm Beach County Central Detention Center. Despite its almost identical name, this jail is smaller and much safer. Epstein was given his own cell and allowed to pay for his own security guard.

He was allowed any number of visits from his "sex slaves". Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who ran the jail, commented: "Let's just say he didn't think he belonged there."

And in only 13 months, he was out. Hardly surprising, then, that his email address was set up during that time to send an automatic reply to all messages. It said simply: "On Vacation."

Where this power and wealth came from is still a mystery. Epstein claimed to be a financial adviser who specialised in helping billionaires avoid tax. Better to pay him $7.7 million, he would say, than to hand the taxman seven times that sum.

The entrance of an apartment building owned by Jeffrey Epstein in the 16th district in Paris. Photo / AP
The entrance of an apartment building owned by Jeffrey Epstein in the 16th district in Paris. Photo / AP

But even if this is how he acquired his wealth, or even if the story is only partly true, his path to riches is far from clear.

In the mid-Eighties, for instance, he was trying to persuade wealthy investors to sink their money into an oil-drilling deal - but when one of them wanted his money back, Epstein refused to pay. The investor sued and the case was settled out of court, in secret.

Shortly after that, one (now estranged) friend says he had to loan Epstein the money to settle a repair bill to the garage that had seized his car for non-payment.

Diana Crane, a former model, says Epstein would press first-class upgrades on people, insisting that no friend of his should ever fly economy class. "Sometimes the upgrades worked and other times they didn't," Crane says.

"I remember he saw a friend of mine wearing a Concorde jacket [a souvenir of a flight on the supersonic passenger jet]. He asked if he could borrow it. My friend never got the jacket back, but Epstein would tell people he always flew on Concorde - a total lie."

The wife of one business associate saw through him and the way he was worming his way into their inner circle. She called him "the virus".

However Epstein accumulated his wealth, within a few years he was able to buy his own island - Little St James, one of the British Virgin Islands. He dubbed it St Jeff's.

James Patterson's Florida home, close to Epstein's, allowing the author to investigate further. Photo / Google
James Patterson's Florida home, close to Epstein's, allowing the author to investigate further. Photo / Google

It was while he was serving his short spell in jail that a woman filed a civil lawsuit against him, the first stage in his long downfall. It took ten years, and ended with his apparent suicide in a prison cell, a disgraced man with no hope of ever being released.

That woman was named Virginia Roberts, and she was a teenager earning about $9 an hour as a changing room assistant at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, when a woman approached her and asked if she was interested in becoming a massage therapist.

Later that day, her father drove her to 358 El Brillo Way. He left, after being assured a car would bring his 15-year-old daughter home. Virginia was led upstairs to a spa room equipped with a shower and a massage table. Jeffrey Epstein was lying on it, naked.

A woman removed her own top to demonstrate Epstein's preferred massage technique, rubbing her breasts over his body. Virginia did as she was asked, and was then ordered to strip naked. The assault quickly escalated. Virginia was battered, sexually attacked and subjected to abuse. At the end of the two-hour encounter, she was paid "hundreds of dollars" and told she had "lots of potential".

A naturally compliant and docile girl, Virginia returned to the house whenever she was asked.

"He said they were going to get an education for me," she said in a court deposition in 2015.

"They were promising me the world, that I would travel with Epstein on his private jet. He said he would match me up with a wealthy person so that I would be "set up" for life."

Epstein and a female friend began to school Virginia intensively. "I was trained to be "everything a man wanted me to be". It wasn't just sexual training - they wanted me to be able to cater to all the needs of the men they were going to send me to. They said they loved that I was very compliant and knew how to keep my mouth shut.

"I knew if I left I would be in big trouble. He knew all kinds of powerful people. He could have me killed or abducted, and I knew he was capable of that if I did not obey him. Speaking about himself, he said, "I can get away" with things."

Virginia said she saw Epstein having sex with underage girls on a daily basis. So it would be very surprising if people who stayed with him in his houses were unaware of it.

He also told her he went out of his way to procure girls for powerful friends. "Epstein specifically told me this was so they would "owe him", they would be "in his pocket," and he would "have something on them". I understood that Epstein thought he could get leniency if he was ever caught doing anything illegal, or that he could escape trouble altogether."

He did not escape trouble. It caught up with him, lethally. For the women he abused, fate has been much more unpredictable. One who was raped as an adolescent is now a successful real estate broker in South Florida. Another is an actress who appeared in several films and starred for a time in a soap opera.

But others have drifted into crime, drugs and abusive relationships. One girl was murdered by her boyfriend. Several others have been arrested for prostitution. "Mary", who was just 14 when Epstein abused her, was arrested for shoplifting by the time she was 20.

Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / AP
Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / AP

Jeffrey Epstein soiled all their lives. But he didn't see it that way. Shortly before his first jail term, he gave a boastful interview to the New York Magazine.

When the interviewer asked whether he saw himself as a modern-day Icarus, the Greek hero who fell to earth after flying too close to the sun, Epstein smirked: "Did Icarus like massages?"

Adapted from Filthy Rich: The Shocking True Story Of Jeffrey Epstein by James Patterson with John Connolly and Tim Malloy, published by Little, Brown in the U.S. and available to buy in the UK through Amazon. Copyright James Patterson 2016.