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Misery of the Maxwells: Bankruptcy, sudden death, huge fortunes made and lost

Robert Maxwell was a ruthless bully who rose from impoverished beginnings in Czechoslovakia to become a multi-millionaire publisher living a life of luxury — funded by £460 million stolen from the Mirror Group pension pot.

His youngest daughter — and ‘favourite’ child — Ghislaine is now in hiding in the wake of the death of her ex-lover and mentor, the paedophile and alleged sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. 

But what of the other Maxwell siblings? From a brilliant scientist who fled to Argentina, to a former actress branded ‘ugly’ by her bullying father, they have all had their fair share of ups and perhaps inevitable downs. 

Christine and her twin sister Isabel made The Sunday Times Rich List in 1999 after amassing their £100 million in the dotcom boom. But Isabel would later fall on hard times, and was declared bankrupt in 2015. 

As the Maxwell family faces its latest bout of intense controversy, JANE FRYER peers through the keyhole at their extraordinary lives. 

Robert Maxwell (back row, centre) pictured with his wife Betty (sat with youngest daughter Ghislaine on her knee) and seven of their eight children at home in Headington Hill Hall, Oxford. When this photo was taken Ian (5) was 11 years old and attending preparatory school, while Isabel, then 17 (4) was at grammar school with their sister Christine (3), and youngest son Kevin, 8, (6) was at preparatory school. Second oldest son Philip, (1), had entered his second undergraduate yer at Balliol College, Oxford, while Anne (2) was also studying at the university, but at St Hugh’s College.

Robert Maxwell's youngest daughter Ghislaine pictured at the 2010 Alzheimer's Association Rita Hayworth Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. She is currently in hiding in the wake of the death of her ex-lover and mentor, the paedophile and alleged sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein

Robert Maxwell’s youngest daughter Ghislaine pictured at the 2010 Alzheimer’s Association Rita Hayworth Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. She is currently in hiding in the wake of the death of her ex-lover and mentor, the paedophile and alleged sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein

A TRAGIC EARLY DEATH

Michael, Ghislaine’s oldest brother

Robert and Betty Maxwell’s first-born fell into a coma aged 15 after a car crash in 1961 and died eight years later, never having regained consciousness. 

BRILLIANT SCIENTIST FLED TO ARGENTINA

Philip, 70, is the second-eldest sibling

Philip fled to Argentina to 'get as far away from (his father) as possible'

Philip fled to Argentina to ‘get as far away from (his father) as possible’

‘Poor Philip’, as his friends always knew him, was a brilliant scientist and mathematician who won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, aged just 16. But he so loathed his domineering father that, as soon as he could, Philip fled to Argentina to get ‘as far away from [him] as possible’.

The pair fell out irretrievably when he married Nilda, an Argentine, in 1977, against Robert’s wishes.

The marriage didn’t last — Nilda moved out taking their daughter Marcella with her and a second marriage also failed. Philip was last heard of living in a £65-a-week flat in North London trying to be a writer. The subject? His bullying father. 

EX-ACTRESS WAS CALLED ‘UGLY’ BY HER FATHER

Anne was called 'ugly' by her father

Anne was called ‘ugly’ by her father

Anne, 69, is Ghislaine’s eldest sister

When her fledgling acting career floundered, her father’s reaction was: ‘What have you and Pope John Paul II got in common? You’re both ugly and you’re both failed actors.’

Having studied Italian and French at Oxford, she then trained as a Montessori teacher, married an osteopath and is now believed to be a hypnotherapist in Surrey, practising under another name.

She has kept out of the limelight since her father’s death at the age of 68. He was found floating in the Atlantic off the Canary Islands after he went missing in 1991 off his private yacht, named Lady Ghislaine after his youngest daughter. 

Robert Maxwell (second left) with his wife Elisabeth (second right) and children Anne and Philip outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in 1971

Robert Maxwell (second left) with his wife Elisabeth (second right) and children Anne and Philip outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in 1971

DOTCOM TYCOON WHO MADE THE RICH LIST

Christine, 68, is one of twins

Christine amassed a £100million fortune during the dotcom boom

Christine amassed a £100million fortune during the dotcom boom

Christine and her twin sister Isabel made The Sunday Times Rich List in 1999 after amassing their £100 million in the dotcom boom.

She is the author of The Dictionary Of Perfect Spelling (a book with 20,000 words aimed at secondary school pupils) and is married to a Roger Malina, an astrophysicist at a French university.

They have two sons and a daughter and split their time between a Spanish-style mansion overlooking San Francisco and Aix-en-Provence in the South of France.

In a rare interview in 1998 about her then role on the Internet Society Board Of Trustees (which works ‘for an open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy internet for everyone’), she spoke of the years spent in her father’s publishing business:

‘Both of my parents had a strong work ethic, which they instilled in me and my brothers and sisters when we were very young. They also communicated a very clear understanding that advantages always come with responsibilities — that there was no such thing as a free ride.’ 

‘FIREBALL’ LOST £50M AND WED ILLUSIONIST

Isabel, 68, is the second twin

Isabel lost an estimated £50million that she made during the dotcom boom with her sister

Isabel lost an estimated £50million that she made during the dotcom boom with her sister

Once described in The Jerusalem Post as ‘a fireball’ who is ‘always in your face’, Isabel was always the Maxwell to watch. She never wanted to join the family firm, so after graduating from Oxford with a degree in modern languages, followed by a masters from Edinburgh, she became a TV reporter.

In 1981, she moved to California to work in TV before making a film set in 1968 starring rock singer Neil Young. ‘It wasn’t ET,’ she said, ‘. . . more a labour of love.’

But technology was her future. She and twin Christine co-founded one of the earliest internet search engines, known as Magellan, in 1992.

In 1996, they sold it for shares in a rival company Excite — which rocketed in value, giving the sisters their joint £100 million fortune, before dipping again.

But despite being worth an estimated £50 million in the 1990s, she was declared bankrupt in 2015.

She was married twice. Her first husband was U.S. film-maker Dale Djerassi, with whom she has a son, and then she wed Magellan co-founder David Hayden.

Robert Maxwell with his 'favourite' daughter Ghislaine watching the Oxford vs Brighton football match in October 1984

Robert Maxwell with his ‘favourite’ daughter Ghislaine watching the Oxford vs Brighton football match in October 1984

Robert Maxwell pictured speaking to the press in 1990

Robert Maxwell pictured at the Football Writers' Association, also in 1990

Robert Maxwell pictured speaking to the press and at the Football Writers’ Association in 1990

Her third ‘husband’, illusionist Al Seckel, was once a significant player in the Californian literary, academic and celebrity scene. He was famous for holding parties for the great and good. Jeffrey Epstein was a friend.

In 2009, the two men organised a science conference called Mindshift on Epstein’s private island Little Saint James.

Isabel and Seckel ‘married’ in Malibu in 2007 but their union was never legal as he had forgotten to file the papers to annul the second of three previous marriages (to Denice Lewis, a former model who appeared in music videos for Bryan Ferry, Elton John and Cliff Richard. She became an artist specialising in memorial paintings in which the ashes of the deceased are mixed with the pigment.)

Isabel was branded a 'fireball' by The Jerusalem Post and someone who is 'always in your face'

Isabel was branded a ‘fireball’ by The Jerusalem Post and someone who is ‘always in your face’

Similarly, Seckel had forgotten to repay countless debts over the years that resulted in endless legal proceedings.

One law suit, brought by Ensign Consulting Ltd, a firm based in the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, accused both him and Isabel of perpetrating a fraud involving ‘the purchase of antique rare books and a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton painted in 1689’.

In 2015, Seckel was found dead below a cliff near their home in the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in France’s Lot Valley. Isabel still lives in the south of France. 

HEARTRENDING LOSS

Karine, the middle sister

Died of leukaemia aged just three in 1957. 

WIFE SOBBED AS HE WAS ARRESTED

Ian, 62, the ‘fall guy’ brother

Ian's wife, American former college Basketball star Laura Plumb, was photographed sobbing when he was arrested

Ian’s wife, American former college Basketball star Laura Plumb, was photographed sobbing when he was arrested

Taunted mercilessly at home — his father would ridicule him in front of visiting friends. When he joined the family business, he was compared unfavourably to his younger brother, Kevin. In the aftermath, of their father’s death, Ian, then 35, and Kevin, 32, assumed control of the company and stood trial for their part in their father’s £460 million pension fraud.

They were acquitted, but the Maxwell name was mud for years and business opportunities were limited to overseas ventures. Ian’s first wife was an American former college basketball star and model called Laura Marie Plumb.

They met when she moved to London to help set up a TV cable company. The couple married in 1991 — the year of Robert Maxwell’s death — and the ensuing media attention put Laura under great strain. On the day that Ian and Kevin were arrested, she was photographed sobbing. The couple divorced in 1996.

Next, he married Tara Dudley Smith, the daughter of a Jockey Club steward and ex-Army officer. But that relationship also ended. He found happiness with Cecilia French, 58, director of public protection at the Home Office.

Recently, after pursuing business opportunities in property, energy and telecoms, mostly outside the UK, Ian and Kevin said they’d felt the urge to do something for the greater good. So three years ago, in the middle of the Greek financial crisis, they launched an organisation similar to the Prince’s Trust in Greece which has raised millions of euros and helped to launch several hundred businesses. 

Robert Maxwell pictured with his son Ian (left), who was taunted mercilessly by his siblings, and youngest son Kevin (right), who became Britain's biggest ever bankrupt when a £407million bankruptcy order was made against him

Robert Maxwell pictured with his son Ian (left), who was taunted mercilessly by his siblings, and youngest son Kevin (right), who became Britain’s biggest ever bankrupt when a £407million bankruptcy order was made against him

Ian pictured with his wife Laura at court on the first day of his trial, where he and his brother were accused of taking at least £122million worth of pension funds

Ian pictured with his wife Laura at court on the first day of his trial, where he and his brother were accused of taking at least £122million worth of pension funds

BRITAIN’S BIGGEST EVER BANKRUPT

Kevin, 60, the youngest brother

The cleverest son and driving force of the family, Kevin was crestfallen by his father’s death, saying that he ‘missed his presence and ability to dominate’. He admitted to being totally in awe of him.

Kevin was arrested and charged with fraud in 1992 after hundreds of millions disappeared from the Maxwell empire's employee pension funds

Kevin was arrested and charged with fraud in 1992 after hundreds of millions disappeared from the Maxwell empire’s employee pension funds

The only Maxwell sibling ever to express remorse in public for the fallout from Robert Maxwell’s crimes, Kevin made reference to the ‘moral burden I will bear for the rest of my life’. His first wife, Pandora Warnford-Davis called her father-in-law Robert the ‘fat fraudster’.

When, in June 1992, Kevin was arrested and charged with fraud after hundreds of millions disappeared from the Maxwell empire’s employee pension funds, she appeared at the window of their home at dawn and shouted: ‘P*** off, or I’ll call the police!’ only to realise the early morning callers were the police.

In 2007, they divorced after 23 years and seven children together. Pandora was last heard of living in Oxford, renting out a room through Airbnb. Soon after his arrest, Kevin became Britain’s biggest ever bankrupt when a £407 million bankruptcy order was made against him.

Kevin (left) and Ian (right). Kevin, the youngest son, became Britain's biggest ever bankrupt when a bankruptcy order of £407million was made against him

Kevin pictured shortly after being made bankrupt in 2007

Kevin (left) became Britain’s biggest ever bankrupt when a £407million bankruptcy order was made against him in 2007. (Right: Kevin pictured shortly after being declared bankrupt)

Ian photographed trying to drive a moped while wearing a suit and tie. Three years ago, in the middle of the Greek financial crisis, he launched an organisation with his brother that has raised millions of euros to save several hundred businesses

Ian photographed trying to drive a moped while wearing a suit and tie. Three years ago, in the middle of the Greek financial crisis, he launched an organisation with his brother that has raised millions of euros to save several hundred businesses

The bankruptcy was discharged in 1995, following the mandatory three years. And, after an Old Bailey trial that cost taxpayers £12 million in legal aid, he was acquitted of fraud a year later — even though a subsequent Whitehall report concluded Kevin bore a ‘heavy responsibility’ for what happened.

In 1998, he went on to co-found media company Telemonde, a U.S.-based commercial vehicle for what he hoped would be ‘the Maxwell comeback story’. It was not to be. When Telemonde floated in 1999, Kevin looked on course to becoming a multi-millionaire; on paper he owned a seven per cent stake, worth £16 million.

But by 2001, the company had debts of more than £100 million and failed. Kevin then moved into high end commercial property.

His venture came tumbling down in 2011 when he was disqualified from being a director for eight years. The same year, Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz, two tycoons he shared an office with, were arrested by the Serious Fraud Office. Today, he is working again with Ian in their Greek charitable venture.

Robert Maxwell once said: ‘The thing I’d most like to see invented is a way of teaching children and grown-ups the difference between right and wrong.’ Considering how some of his own turned out, it was perhaps the most prescient thing the old rogue ever said.

Kevin's first wife Pandora Maxwell, who referred to his father as the 'fat fraudster'. They divorced after 23 years of marriage and having seven children together. She was last heard of renting out a room through Airbnb in Oxford

Kevin’s first wife Pandora Maxwell, who referred to his father as the ‘fat fraudster’. They divorced after 23 years of marriage and having seven children together. She was last heard of renting out a room through Airbnb in Oxford

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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