To her Australian neighbours, the only thing that made the slight, blonde mother-of-three stand out was her American accent. Otherwise ‘Gina’ or ‘Ginny’, as she was known to them, was just another ‘Central Coast mum’ enjoying her new life close to the ocean in New South Wales.
Only later would they discover that Virginia Giuffre’s very ordinary life hid an extraordinary past.
On a bookshelf in the three-bedroom bungalow she shared with her husband was a small, white envelope containing a collection of photos dating back a decade or so, documenting her teenage years.
Among pictures of her partying and riding horses was a single 7 x 5in photo taken in early 2001 when Virginia Roberts – as she was before she married – was 17.
Dressed in sparkly embroidered jeans and a pink singlet bought specially for the occasion, the teenager looks her age. But while smiling broadly for the camera, there is an underlying tension in her pose, one arm held uneasily to her hip.
Given the circumstances in which she claims it was taken, and considering the other people in the picture, any nervousness is entirely understandable.
Behind Roberts, off to one side, stands a smiling Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell.
And then there is the older man who has his arm around Roberts’s waist, the fingers of his left hand touching the bare skin of the teenager’s midriff.
The photo that haunts him: Prince Andrew with his arm around the waist of Virginia Roberts. While smiling broadly for the camera, there is an underlying tension in her pose, one arm held uneasily to her hip
Same shirt and cufflinks: Other photos show this was a look Andrew favoured at the time. A few months before, he was photographed leaving London’s Chinawhite club in almost the exactly the same clothing (pictured)
It is, of course, Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son, who was 41 when the photo was taken. By then divorced from Sarah Ferguson, his elder daughter Beatrice would have been 13 – just four years younger than Roberts.
His young companion had requested the picture as a keepsake of the moment she met a real-life prince.
The reflection of the flash in the window behind her helped obscure who took the photo but the Daily Mail can reveal that it was Jeffrey Epstein.
It would take ten years for the existence of that photo to be revealed – in 2011, it was published by The Mail on Sunday after it located Roberts in Australia.
The newspaper was investigating reports that the FBI was planning to re-open an investigation into the sexual exploitation of teenagers by the American multi-millionaire who several years earlier had admitted soliciting sex from girls as young as 14.
At the time, few would have known much about those involved in the photo, Prince Andrew aside. Today, it is a different story. And, like that photo, which hangs like an albatross around the Duke of York’s neck, it is a story that will not go away.
Because that picture preceded what California-born Roberts claims was the first of a number of sexual encounters with the prince.
She has alleged that at the age of 15 she was procured by Maxwell to become Epstein’s ‘personal masseuse’. She would claim that she and other girls were subsequently sexually exploited by Epstein and his roster of rich friends.
Prince Andrew has denied being among them, with Buckingham Palace saying ‘any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue’.
A spokesman added: ‘It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts.’ As for that photo, some close to Andrew have even suggested it may have been tampered with by someone wanting to stir up trouble for him.
A source close to Andrew told the London Evening Standard: ‘Look at his fingers in the photo. The duke has quite chubby fingers – they don’t look right and nor does the height of the duke and the girl.’
Same chubby fingers? Sources say Andrew’s fingers ‘don’t look right’ in the photo with Roberts and suggest the photo may have been doctored
Correct heights: Sources close to the prince also claim the height differences between the two in the original photograph ‘aren’t right’
However, while Andrew is said to be around 6ft tall, Virginia is understood to be around 5ft 8in – which is reflected in the picture.
Another anonymous source told the Standard: ‘Many close to the duke believe this is a witch-hunt based on absolutely no evidence.’ But Andrew’s harshest critics point out that in the eight years that have passed since Virginia went public with her claims, he has never addressed them in detail.
Another source close to the prince has also claimed that Roberts alleged that, later the night the picture was taken, Andrew was drinking cocktails with her at a London nightclub. The source said such a claim could not be true because the duke is teetotal. However, Roberts’s account is that cocktails were bought for her alone by Andrew. The prince, meanwhile, reportedly claims he is unable to recall the photo being taken.
While that may be the case, the details Roberts has provided over the years, combined with other evidence revealed today in The Daily Mail, paint a compelling picture of how this extraordinary image came into existence. For starters, at the time it was taken, it is known Andrew had established a close friendship with Epstein after they were introduced by Ferguson in the late 1990s.
The duchess had been introduced to Epstein by Maxwell, by then a New York socialite.
Maxwell and Epstein dated for a time but after they broke up they remained close, she connecting him with high-profile friends such as Andrew, magician David Copperfield, disgraced film tycoon Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.
Same mews house features: Matching windows where the duke and Virginia met and posed for the original photo
It is claimed she also acted as Epstein’s ‘madame’, recruiting young girls for ‘massages’ and more. A 15-year-old Roberts was among those recruits.
Andrew was quickly swept into Epstein’s orbit, holidaying on his private island in the Caribbean and enjoying trips on his jet and invitations to carouse with supermodels at star-studded parties.
Andrew would repay Epstein’s hospitality by inviting him to sample the perks of royal life. In 1999 Epstein and his entourage visited Balmoral as his guests. The following year, Epstein and Maxwell attended a party at Windsor Castle hosted by the Queen.
In March 2001, they returned to London – this time with Roberts. She would outline what she claimed happened during that visit in interviews with The Mail on Sunday and in depositions and documents submitted in subsequent legal proceedings in the US.
On arrival in London, it is claimed the trio drove straight to Maxwell’s Knightsbridge mews house in Kinnerton Street, near Harrods.
Epstein killed himself in his jail cell earlier this month
‘Ghislaine showed me upstairs to a small bedroom,’ Roberts recalled. ‘That night I gave Jeffrey an erotic massage. I was jetlagged. I went to sleep. The next morning, Ghislaine came into my room. She was chirpy and really giddy. She jumped on the bed and said, “Get up, get up, sleepyhead. You’ve got a big day. We’ve gotta go shopping. You need a dress because you’re going to dance with a prince tonight.”
‘She said I needed to be smiley and bubbly and very happy to be around him and give a lot of energy to him because he was the Queen’s son.’ They went shopping for designer dresses, perfume and make-up and returned to Maxwell’s house around 4pm.
Soon after, the Duke of York arrived with his security guards. They had tea during which ‘Ghislaine played one of her favourite guessing games’.
Roberts said: ‘She asked Andrew how old he thought I was and he guessed 17 and they all kind of laughed about it and Ghislaine made a joke that I was getting too old for Jeffrey. She said, “He’ll soon have to trade her in.”’
Dinner out followed. ‘I sat between Jeffrey and Andrew at dinner,’ she said. ‘Andrew was making eye contact with me at every chance and concentrating on my plunging V-neck top.’
Next stop was Tramp nightclub in Mayfair. There they headed for the VIP area where Andrew got her a cocktail and asked her to dance.
‘He was the most hideous dancer I had ever seen,’ she would recall. ‘He was grabbing my hips and he was pouring with perspiration and he had this cheesy smile.’
They then returned to Maxwell’s house, where it is claimed the photo was taken. ‘All of us went upstairs and I asked Jeffrey to snap a picture of me with the prince,’ she said. ‘I wanted something to show my mom. Ghislaine and Jeffrey left us after that.’
The photo was taken on the first floor of the property. The window in the picture appears to match one at the front of the house.
In the photo Andrew is dressed in dark trousers and a light blue shirt with several buttons undone at the neck and its sleeves adorned with cufflinks. Other photos show this was a look he favoured at the time. A few months before, for example, he was photographed leaving London’s Chinawhite club in almost the exactly the same clothing.
What happened next is fiercely disputed. In sworn court depositions, Roberts has alleged she and the prince took a bath together.
‘He started licking my toes, between my toes, the arches of my feet,’ she said. ‘And then we went into the bedroom and he proceeded to make love to me, so to speak.’
Virginia Roberts (pictured as a teenager) claims she had sexual encounters with Prince Andrew on a number of occasions
According to Roberts, Epstein paid her $15,000 (£10,000) the following day.
Andrew has denied he had sexual contact with the teenager, and in 2015 her claims were ordered to be struck from the record by a US judge. There has been no claim that Andrew knew about the alleged payment by Epstein.
Lawyers for Maxwell also dismissed the allegations, saying the bath was ‘too small for a man of Prince Andrew’s size to enjoy a bath in, let alone sex’.
Roberts claimed she had two subsequent sexual encounters with the prince in Epstein’s Manhattan mansion and at his hideaway in the US Virgin Islands. Buckingham Palace has denied the allegations.
But however strident those denials may be, the story – and that photo – will not go away.
In July, Epstein faced even more serious criminal charges of sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. The 66-year-old was found hanging in his prison cell at the New York Metropolitan Correctional Centre on August 10.
His reported suicide means Maxwell is regarded by many as the best witness to the crimes he is said to have committed. However, she has not been arrested and has repeatedly denied allegations levelled against her.
Earlier this month, she was photographed in Los Angeles, seemingly reading a book entitled The Book of Honour – The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives.
It has since been claimed the picture – the first of Maxwell in three years – was staged by her attorney. If her hope was that it would quell interest in the story, it seems highly unlikely then, given the huge number of unanswered questions.