This story was first published on August 12, 2019, and has been updated.
Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide and sexual abuse that some readers may find triggering. For mental health crisis support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
During Wednesday night’s ARIA Awards ceremony, Suffa of Australian hip hop group Hilltop Hoods stepped up to the microphone, having accepted the trophy for 2019’s Best Live Act.
After offering the standard thanks to the group’s wives and children, the veteran MC closed with a bizarre claim: “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.”
The eyebrow-raising statement referred to the death of a billionaire financier, who was found dead in his New York prison cell on August 10 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
The New York City medical examiner’s office ruled Epstein’s death a suicide. But the sex offender’s ties to princes, politicians and other powerful people has fuelled wild conspiracy theories to the contrary.
Within hours of his death, online theorists offered unsubstantiated speculation – including some retweeted by President Donald Trump – that the disgraced financier’s death wasn’t a suicide, or it was faked, to prevent him from criminally implicating his famous friends.
Conjecture resurged after Epstein's July 6 arrest on allegations that he orchestrated a sex-trafficking ring involving a number of underage girls. Several of his accusers have described being recruited by the wealthy financier with an offer of genuine employment, before being sexually abused by him and his circle of wealthy friends and acquaintances.
The combination created fertile ground for theories and misinformation to breed on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.