- Insider is taking you behind the scenes of our best stories with our series The Inside Story.
- Keenan Trotter, Angela Wang, and Meghan Morris reported on a second address book of Epstein’s.
- They explain how they verified the book (it took six months!) and the challenge of getting sources.
- You can check out the names in Epstein’s address book here.
Grace O’Connell-Joshua: How did you come across Jeffrey Epstein’s second little black book?
Angela Wang: The book was found by a woman named Denise Ondayko on a Manhattan sidewalk in the mid-1990s. She was a musician living in the East Village at the time. In her telling, she was walking down Fifth Avenue and happened to be looking down. Eventually she put it in storage and rediscovered it last year while cleaning out her storage unit with a relative. The relative recognized it as Epstein’s, who by then was infamous.
Ondayko reached out to several media outlets but didn’t hear back. She assumed the book was a copy of Epstein’s previously published address book and listed it on eBay after some friends told her it might be worth some money. It was purchased by a graduate student in Vermont named Christopher Helali for $425. Helali collects historical artifacts, and according to him, was Googling for Epstein’s little black book when he stumbled upon the listing. He was skeptical when he reached out to the seller, but Ondayko’s account struck him as genuine – and made him realize that it might be a different address book altogether.
Helali reached out to several journalists, including Nick Bryant, who had published Epstein’s little black book under Insider investigations editor John Cook’s tenure at Gawker. Bryant reached out to John, who brought us together to start investigating the book and its backstory.
O’Connell-Joshua: What’s new in the book that you found?
Wang: There are 221 entries for people that don’t appear in Epstein’s previously known address book, which dates to the early 2000s – nearly a decade later. Many of those people are prominent figures in the political, financial, and cultural elite, who had never previously been connected to Epstein before. The book also contains entries for more than 100 people who appear in both books, which helps us trace known Epstein relationships back to the 1990s.
Overall, the book contains much fewer entries than its successor, and the people listed are primarily located in the United States. By contrast, Epstein’s later address book contains entries for more than 1,500 people, many of whom are located internationally, with particularly large networks in London and Paris. That suggests that the decade between about 1995 and about 2005 was significant in the widening of Epstein’s orbit.
O’Connell-Joshua: How did you determine that this book actually belonged to Epstein?
Keenan Trotter: The tricky thing about this story is that, in the absence of time travel or omniscience, there is no consistent or reliable method for determining whether a particular object belonged to a particular person. But as we explain in the story, the book has a number of properties that strongly suggest this book did in fact belong to Epstein or one of his assistants in the 1990s.
Wang: To rule out the possibility that the book was forged or altered, we hired a forensic document examiner to study the book. The document examiner determined that the book dates between 1995 and 2000.
We also scrutinized the book’s entries. It contains comprehensive entries for all of Epstein’s estates, consistent with properties he owned in the mid-1990s, with details down to alarm codes and internet modem lines. His Paris apartment, which he purchased in the early 2000s, isn’t there. Neither is his private island, Little Saint James, which he acquired in 1998 – although the book does contain the contact information for the wife of the man from whom Epstein purchased the island. The book also contains detailed entries for Epstein’s relatives, whose addresses matched residences we found in public-records searches.
We also divided up calls to prominent people listed in the book, who had never previously been connected with Epstein before. More than a dozen told us on the record that they had met Epstein in the 1990s.
Meghan Morris: I called people I knew who appeared in the book. Without referencing the book’s October 1997 annotation, I asked them about the valid time period for their addresses and numbers. Multiple sources told me their information was correct only between 1995 and 2000, which served as one – but certainly not the only – validation point. Two explained that Epstein’s assistants would contact them irregularly to update their contact information throughout the years. My sources verified some of the entries that refer to information that doesn’t appear in any public records, including numbers for retired technology like car phones and pagers.
O’Connell-Joshua: How did you go about contacting people in the book?
Wang: We attempted to reach four dozen people who struck us as notable and who had never publicly been connected to Epstein before. We wanted to better understand what their relationships with Epstein were like, if any, and to verify the information in the book.
Although I was met with suspicion and reluctance more often than not, I was surprised that several people I called were very open about crossing paths with Epstein – though they all emphasized that they barely knew him.
Morris: My phone calls ranged from immediate hang-ups to long conversations. Many people, often through their legal or public-relations representatives, declined to comment. I was surprised that some big finance names did not seek to explain their relationship with Epstein, particularly in light of the fallout for Epstein-linked Apollo cofounder Leon Black and, to a lesser extent, hedge-fund billionaire Glenn Dubin. A representative for TPG cofounder David Bonderman, for example, declined to comment on the entry for the private-equity titan, who has six phone and fax numbers listed, including for his second home.
I was also surprised by people who denied ever knowing Epstein, perhaps a more believable claim for those who just had an office address or phone listed than for those whose entries included contact information for multiple vacation homes, car phones, and family members.
People who did speak to me said they had largely weak connections with Epstein and recounted anecdotes that showed how Epstein’s ties proliferated casually, like New York billionaire John Catsimatidis, who said he happened to meet Epstein while in a friend’s office.
O’Connell-Joshua: How long did it take to finish your reporting on this story?
Wang: The reporting process took about six months from start to finish. I started by pulling all of the text out of the scanned copy of the book and organizing the book’s entries into a spreadsheet. Because we had tabulated Epstein’s prior known little black book, I was able to programmatically compare all the names between the two Rolodexes, isolating those that were unique as well as those that appeared in both books. That allowed my colleagues to start the process of identifying notable figures and determining who to reach out to.
In March, I drove to Vermont alongside a cinematographer from our video team, to interview Chris Helali and to retrieve the address book in person. We then ferried it to the forensic document examiner, whose investigation took about a month.
O’Connell-Joshua: What were the challenges of reporting out a story like this?
Trotter: One challenge revolved around the planning process. Like, how exactly are we going to report this story? What sorts of things would provide some degree of confidence about the book’s provenance? How much can we learn about this book in the first place? Certain rabbit holes were another challenge. For example, it took several weeks, and a lot of phone calls, to figure out when Ricoh stopped selling the specific type of book-binding equipment that was used to create the book. Ricoh actually had to perform their own internal research, involving employees in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Morris: Just the mention of “Jeffrey Epstein” draws out lawyers and other representatives keen to protect their wealthy clients’ reputations. Some of those emissaries placed significant pressure on us to avoid mentioning their clients, while also declining to explain on the record how those people knew Epstein. Despite the opposition, we prioritized the public’s interest in knowing with whom Epstein associated. Meanwhile, for less-famous individuals, we weighed the risks of public scrutiny with the need for a fuller accounting of Epstein’s network.
O’Connell-Joshua: How important is this additional black book in helping us understand Epstein and his world?
Morris: The book offers a snapshot of Epstein’s network in the 1990s, helping us trace many more of his associations with the rich and influential. The anecdotes we collected also confirm what we’ve previously learned about Epstein, like his strength in devising creative tax structures and his seemingly fleeting relationships with some of the global elite as he built his network.
Epstein’s address book frustratingly raises more questions than it answers about the specifics of many of his associations. But it gives us another tool as we chip away at Epstein’s web of social, philanthropic, and business ties that propelled his ascent.
Trotter: It might be too early to say. The book is one piece (or maybe several related pieces) of a still-unfinished puzzle. And so much reporting on Epstein, including this effort, builds on the work of others. We analyzed the book and its contents to the best of our ability, but we can’t necessarily anticipate what others will notice, what names they might recognize. If publishing this book accomplishes anything, I hope it advances the broader effort, across both news media and civil society, to solve the remaining mysteries around Epstein.