Jeffrey Epstein's armed guards and the sharp rocks that lie beneath the turquoise waters glistening around his Caribbean island have long deterred boaters from the area, but curiosity has overcome concern since the financier apparently killed himself in jail as he awaited trial in New York on sex trafficking charges.
Tourists and locals alike are powering up boats to take a closer look at a place nicknamed "Pedophile Island" that lies just off the southeast coast of St. Thomas. Among the attractions are two huge white-and-yellow cockatiel statues that stand guard at the top of a set of stairs near the dock, as well as a life-size Holstein-Friesian cow statue that locals say was moved to a different spot weekly and sometimes even daily while Epstein lived there.
"No one used to pay attention to it," Jon Stewart, the owner of a charter boat company, said Wednesday. Now, "there's a ton more tourists."
Federal authorities consider Little St. James Island to have been Epstein's primary residence in the United States, a place where at least one alleged victim said in a court affidavit that she participated in an orgy as well as had sex with Epstein and other people.
Curiosity in St. Thomas peaked this week as a group of FBI agents descended on Little St. James Island and carried away what locals say were several large items from one of two islands that the 66-year-old Epstein owned.
"Now everyone is wondering what really happened to him and what's going to happen to the island," said Yvonne Light, a store manager who spied the federal agents while she watched a movie with her husband aboard their boat. "I was surprised to see them."
An FBI spokesman said the agency would not be issuing any statements, but confirmed it was conducting what he called a "court-authorized law enforcement activity."
On a recent afternoon, only a handful of Epstein's employees were seen kicking up dust as they drove around in all-terrain vehicles picking up brown palm fronds on an island that once boasted dozens of workers and several armed security guards. Locals recalled that some of the guards would come to the water's edge if there were snorkelers in the area, but Wednesday a lone armed guard only shielded his face from a photographer with a bright green umbrella.
It takes roughly 15 minutes to get to Little St. James Island by boat, and those who are unable to do so have wondered about Epstein's property since it is not visible from many spots in St. Thomas.
Dean Bofenkamp, who was visiting from Youngstown, Ohio, to attend his son's basketball game, said he was craning his neck to catch a glimpse while on the plane to St. Thomas.
"I was just curious where it was," he said.
Epstein bought Little St. James Island more than two decades ago and built a stone mansion with cream-colored walls and a bright turquoise roof on one end of it. Surrounding it are several other structures including the maids' quarters and a huge, square-shaped white building on the other end of the island that workers told each other was a music room fitted with a grand piano and acoustic walls. Its gold dome blew off during the deadly 2017 hurricane season.
He bought neighboring Great St. James Island in recent years but had not yet built anything on it.
Many in St. Thomas are debating what should be done with the structures and even the islands themselves, even though it is unclear who would inherit them. Some people in St. Thomas say the buildings on the smaller island should be turned into a school while others believe the sweeping ocean views should serve another purpose.
"A hotel would be a nice thing," mused Trevor Downes, a retiree from Oregon. "It would help the economy. They need work here."
Taxi driver John Richards, who said he was upset that Epstein is dead because he wanted the billionaire to face trial, feels there is only one appropriate solution for Epstein's property: "I believe the victims should get part of the island."