Epstein: How he died and what it means for his accusers

US billionaire Jeffrey Epstein took his own life overnight in a lower Manhattan jail cell where he was being held without bail on federal sex-trafficking charges, a source said on Saturday, adding that the FBI is opening an investigation into his death.

His body was discovered at 7:30 a.m. local time, according to the New York Times.

Thousands of court documents have been made public in an explosive case involving the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell - who's accused of recruiting young women for the disgraced USA financier Jeffrey Epstein, and participating in their abuse.

Epstein was accused of paying girls under the age of 18 to perform sex acts at his Manhattan and Florida mansions between 2002 and 2005.

Epstein, 66, was arrested in early July on charges of child sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit child sex trafficking after returning from France to Manhattan on a private plane.

The files related to the separate civil case of Giuffre v Maxwell, in which Virginia Giuffre, claimed to have been the United States businessman's teenage "sex slave". "The Epstein case itself shows that we *are* kind of living in a paranoid fantasy universe", tweeted Paul Krugman, The New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist. He cultivated a social circle which spanned the likes of President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew.

That plea deal was closely scrutinised in recent weeks and, last month, US Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned over his role in it.

Epstein did not appear to be showing any visible signs of injuries when he appeared in court on July 31 following that incident, to be told that his trial wouldn't begin before June of next year.

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Some of his accusers and their lawyers are angry that the financier's suicide will prevent him from facing them in court. Epstein previously was convicted in Florida of two counts of soliciting prostitution, one of them with a minor.

At the time of Epstein's arrest, prosecutors said they found a trove of pictures of nude and semi-nude young women and girls at his $US77 million Manhattan mansion.

Ms Maxwell was alleged to have procured underage girls for her then-boyfriend Epstein and his wealthy friends, but she has always denied the allegations.

He later formed his own firm, J. Epstein & Co.

They say Epstein is protected by an agreement he reached with federal prosecutors in Florida a dozen years ago.

Besides Dershowitz, several other prominent Jews were connected to Epstein, including Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of the L Brands clothing conglomerate (formerly Limited Brands) who trusted Epstein to manage his money. They called on federal authorities to investigate associates of Epstein for any role in his activities.

Attorney General William Barr said he was "appalled" by news of Epstein's death.

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  • Sonia Alvarado