NEW YORK — Preliminary findings from an autopsy of Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who apparently committed suicide in a New York City jail last week while facing sex trafficking charges, show that bones in his neck were broken, a person familiar with the autopsy report said Thursday.
Epstein’s body was found Saturday morning in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, touching off several investigations into how a high-profile inmate died by apparent suicide only weeks after he had made an earlier attempt and was placed on a watch.
On Sunday, the office of the New York City medical examiner said it had completed the autopsy of Epstein, but indicated it was waiting for more information from investigators before releasing a determination about the cause of death. A city official said at the time that the office was confident that the cause of death was suicide by hanging.
A medical examiner who performed the autopsy determined that Epstein had a broken hyoid bone, which is near the Adam’s apple, the person familiar with the report said.
Such an injury can occur in a suicide by hanging, especially in older people like Epstein, who was 66. But it can also be found in cases of strangulation, experts said. The Washington Post first reported Thursday that Epstein’s hyoid had been broken.
Marcella Sorg, a forensic anthropologist who teaches at the University of Maine, cautioned against drawing any direct conclusions solely from the fact that Epstein’s hyoid bone was broken.
In an interview, she said a broken hyoid is “a sign of neck trauma. Neck trauma can occur due to a strangulation. It can also occur during a suicide hanging.”
Dr. Burton Bentley II, the head of Elite Medical Experts, a consulting firm based in Arizona, said a broken hyoid was not strong enough evidence to determine a cause of death.
“It’s not a hundred percent,” he said, adding that to determine the cause of death, other factors needed to be considered, from other markings on the body to what the deceased person had access to at the time of death.
Epstein’s death stirred conspiracy theories across the ideological spectrum, as people speculated online, without evidence, about the circumstances of his death. Over the decades, he had developed relationships with numerous luminaries in politics, business, science, and academia, among them former President Bill Clinton and President Trump.
Epstein was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. An indictment accused him of sexually abusing dozens of adolescent girls at his mansions in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla., in the early 2000s.
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in Florida under a plea agreement that allowed him to avoid federal prosecution. He served 13 months in a local jail, but was allowed to leave for 12 hours a day, six days a week, as part of a work-release program. Florida prosecutors at the time also agreed to shield Epstein and unnamed coconspirators from related federal charges.
Interest in Epstein’s case rose after a 2018 investigative report by the Miami Herald exposed his unusual deal with prosecutors and included interviews with some of the women who said they were abused by him.