It's an old story.
A successful businessman loses it all—his reputation, his money, possibly his freedom—and decides to take his own life.
How many times has that played out? It's a headline one day, forgotten the next.
But not this time.
Disgraced tycoon Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide Saturday in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York while awaiting trial on charges that could send him to prison for 45 years.
His sex offenses involving underage girls had already earned him a Florida prosecution and plea deal. He had served time in jail and was a registered sex offender. He faced numerous civil lawsuits. And now the federal government was coming after him.
His life was in ruins. So he committed suicide.
But not everyone accepts that story.
No, Epstein's association with rich and powerful figures from American presidents to British royalty have fueled all sorts of conspiracy theories. The Clintons had him killed. Or was it President Trump? Or maybe MI6?
Anything but the most likely—he killed himself.
The most popular of the conspiracies is that Epstein was just another name added to the "Clinton Body Count." The idea that Bill and Hillary are so powerful they could have 50, 60 or whatever number the list is up to, killed with impunity is nothing new. The couple's enemies have been hurling the accusations around for a long time and with social media the theory has only grown more widespread.
It doesn't matter that most of those on the list are only peripherally connected to the Clintons or that the "mysterious" deaths are usually not so mysterious, true believers don't delve beyond the surface. Rumor and innuendo suffice.
Unexplained in the Clinton Body Count theory is why so many people who had damaging information on the pair—or claimed to—managed to escape their clutches. Monica Lewinsky is alive and well, as are Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, Linda Tripp and so many others.
Plus, you have to wonder how many people were involved in all these murders? Besides the hit men, there would have to be hundreds of police officers and first responders, medical examiners, hospital and funeral home workers. And none has spilled the beans?
Heck, the Clintons couldn't even keep the lid on a private extramarital affair with an intern. They couldn't get Hillary into the White House. Yet they can mastermind a hit list that would have made John Gotti envious?
Start asking serious questions and most of these conspiracy theories just fall apart.
Occam's Razor tells us that given a number of potential solutions to a mystery, the simplest is the most likely. In other words, if you have to add a lot of rumor, speculation and assumptions, you're usually on the wrong track. And the simplest solution to the Jeffrey Epstein mystery is that he couldn't face the consequences of his own wicked choices. And so he hanged himself.
But there are a lot of people out there who don't buy simple solutions. They have to believe there's something more to the story.
It doesn't help that there's a whole industry out there built around the conspiracy mindset. There's no telling how many books and films have been sold purporting to reveal the deep, dark truths behind these evil plots. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy alone must have been "solved" a hundred times by now, with a wide array of culprits.
Now, with the Internet, online publishers have found that conspiracy stories get read and shared, over and over, ensuring plenty of page views and advertising revenue. Conspiracy theories have proven to be contagious and addictive. Pretty profitable, too.
Well, sometimes a suicide is just a suicide.
There are real conspiracies. Every time a couple of guys get together to plan a crime, for example. Or some company execs cooking the books and covering it up. Even governments going behind their citizens' backs—Watergate and Iran-Contra, for example. They generally come to light. If there is one thing the conspiracy theories have in common it's that they give the supposed puppet masters way too much credit.
Are there questions remaining in Epstein's death? Sure. But from what we know so far, the explanation looks like bungling and malfeasance on the part of the Bureau of Prisons and the MCC staff, not some grand plan by the dark side. If the investigation finds something more, so be it. But we'll have to wait and see.
There is nothing wrong with doubt or with asking questions. But the spreading certainty that some conspiracy must be in play is nothing but herd mentality.