NOTE: This article contains sexually graphic language and disturbing content. Please read at your own discretion.
In the wake of Leaving Neverland‘s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, Michael Jackson‘s unconfirmed and sordid history of alleged sexual abuse of children is making the rounds once again.
The Dan Reed-directed documentary — produced in partnership with HBO and the U.K.’s Channel 4 — delves deeper into the sexual abuse allegations made against the late King of Pop for more than a decade before his tragic death in 2009.
Through the same lawyer, both men sued the Jackson estate, claiming that the singer had molested them when they were children, between the late ’80s and early ’90s. Both cases were dismissed in 2017.
Members of the Jackson family have publicly denounced Leaving Neverland, calling it a “public lynching.” The family further suggested the “allegations would not have been made” if Jackson were still alive to defend himself.
Between 1979 and 1991, Jackson released hit after hit on each album, from Off the Wall to Dangerous, and was nothing short of a worldwide musical sensation. With record-defying success and an untouchable music career, the singer was practically invincible.
He was untouchable for a time, but Jackson’s favourable public reputation began to dwindle once the first sexual abuse allegation was made against him in 1993, and his personal life and career began to derail.
May 1992: Jackson meets 12-year-old Jordan Chandler
Only a year before the first allegation, Jackson befriended the family of a young boy named Jordan Chandler in May 1992.
According to a piece published by Vanity Fair in Jan. 1994, Jackson’s car broke down one day while driving through Beverly Hills. He called a local car rental agency, requesting someone come help him out.
The unidentified owner contacted his wife, June Chandler-Schwartz, and asked her to rush to the stranded pop star’s aid.
Chandler-Schwartz decided to bring her son Jordan, who was 12 years old at the time and a huge Jackson fan. The boy had reportedly sent the pop star letters in the late ’80s expressing his love for his music. He was sent concert tickets in return.
After Jackson’s car problems were solved, Jackson and Chandler-Schwartz exchanged contact numbers and almost immediately after their run-in, Jackson was allegedly calling the boy on a regular basis — establishing what would become their very intimate relationship.
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Feb. – July 1993: Jackson invites the Chandlers to travel with him
It was in Feb. 1993 when the Chandler-Schwartzes were first invited to Jackson’s private home in Santa Barbara, Calif., known more colloquially as Neverland Ranch. They would often spend evenings at the property in a guesthouse, becoming closer with the singer.
According to the family, Jackson began to fly them across the world during his extensive Dangerous world tour in late March.
As reported by Rolling Stone, it was during that time that Jackson invited Jordan over for sleepovers — where they would allegedly sleep in the same bed. The 12-year-old’s adventurous new lifestyle resulted in a skewed visitation schedule for his biological father, Evan Chandler.
An article entitled ‘Michael Jackson’s Secret Family’ was published by The National Enquirer that May. It raised concerns about Jordan’s father as it explored Jackson’s relationship with the boy, glorifying the pop star as a replacement father-type figure.
As his suspicions grew, Chandler launched a custody battle for his children against his ex-wife, June. He claimed Jordan privately disclosed to him that he had been repeatedly molested by Jackson. Chandler lived with Jordan until August, before June fought back and reclaimed custody.
WATCH: ‘Leaving Neverland’: Michael Jackson’s legacy facing new sex-abuse claims in HBO doc
Aug. 1993: First public sexual abuse allegation and police investigation
Chandler met with Jackson’s lawyer that August, according to Spin, where he demanded $20 million in exchange for him keeping the alleged sexual abuse private.
Jordan was taken to psychiatrist Dr. Mathis Abrams only a day before Chandler lost custody of him. The 13-year-old described to Mathis in detail what Jackson had allegedly done to him, including cuddling and open-mouthed kissing.
This is the first-known reported allegation ever made against the pop legend. As per law, Abrams was obliged to report the boy’s accusations to the authorities.
Both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office began formal investigations into Jackson and filed search warrants for Neverland Ranch, his L.A. condo and a Las Vegas hotel.
The L.A. Times reported that videotapes seized from Jackson’s condominium — some of which reportedly contained pornography — were not enough evidence to incriminate him.
The allegations made headlines across the globe, and suddenly, Jackson’s actions with many of the children he befriended throughout his adult life began to raise concerns.
Investigations began with some of the children who had become “friends” with Jackson and appeared in some of his music videos. CNN interviewed a boy named Brett Barnes as well as a then-10-year-old Robson — who had once defended the pop star — about sleepovers at Neverland Ranch.
“We sleep in the same bed,” claimed Robson. “We’re both fully dressed pajamas. It’s a huge bed. He sleeps on one side. I sleep on the other.”
Sept. 14, 1993: The Chandlers file civil lawsuit against Jackson
In the midst of the criminal investigations, a civil suit was filed on Sept. 14 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
For undisclosed reasons, June had a change of heart and agreed to file against Jackson with Chandler on behalf of their son.
The $30-million civil lawsuit accused Jackson of willful misconduct, seduction, sexual battery, battery, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.
Dec. 22, 1993: Jackson denies allegations in public broadcast
On Dec. 20, the authorities conducted a strip search on Jackson after Jordan gave them a description of the singer’s nude body.
The warrant was reportedly launched to match Jordan’s unique description of Jackson’s genitals (possibly due to Jackson’s skin-altering vitiligo condition).
Only two days later, Jackson released a broadcast he recorded at Neverland Ranch, where — for the first time — he addressed the claims made against him.
WATCH: Michael Jackson’s Dec. 22, 1993 statement from Neverland Ranch
Jackson refuted the allegations, claiming that they were all “totally false” and that he was completely innocent. He addressed the strip-search and called it the “most humiliating ordeal of his life.”
“If this is what I have to endure to prove my complete innocence, so be it,” Jackson said.
Jan. 24, 1994: Jackson settles civil suit with Chandlers
In mid-2004, CNN reported a private settlement between Jackson and the Chandlers had been made on Jan. 24, 1994.
Both parties in the highly publicized lawsuit had reached an agreement of more than $23 million — most of which went to Jordan’s trust fund.
Jackson disclaimed “any liability to, and denies any wrongful acts.” Although he was never charged with any crime, his reputation in the public eye began to erode.
The criminal cases in both Santa Barbara and Los Angeles remained open.
Sept. 1994: Criminal charges can’t be filed against Jackson
On Sept. 22, the New York Times reported that both L.A. district attorney Gil Garcetti and Santa Barbara DA Thomas Sneddon revealed their 18-month criminal investigations produced absolutely no incriminating evidence against the singer.
The only way the investigations could continue was if Jordan testified against Jackson. He refused.
Feb. 3, 2003: Martin Bashir documentary Living with Michael Jackson airs
Between 2002 and 2003, renowned BBC journalist Martin Bashir conducted a series of in-depth interviews with Jackson for the documentary Living with Michael Jackson.
TV personality and illusionist Uri Geller — who was one of Jackson’s closest friends — arranged the interviews under the terms that it would be an “honest film about life.”
With more than eight months’ worth of footage, the final cut featured a number of conversations between Bashir and Jackson. Most of the footage suggested Jackson may have had underhanded, predatory intentions. The documentary also shamelessly highlighted the more bizarre aspects of Jackson’s life and tastes.
The selected interviews questioned the singer’s appearance, his intimate relationships with young children and more specifically, the 1993 trials.
However, the primary focus of the doc was Jackson’s relationship with a young boy named Gavin Arvizo. The two became friends in 2000 after Arvizo revealed his only wish was to meet the singer. He was only 10 years old and fighting cancer at the time.
The exposé features an interview with the “inseparable” pair holding hands. Jackson further defended himself for allowing children to sleep in his bedroom and called it “a beautiful thing. It’s not sexual,” he claimed. “We’re going to sleep.”
“I tuck them in. It’s very charming,” he told Bashir. “It’s very loving. That’s what the world needs now. More love. What’s wrong with sharing love?” he asked.
Jackson claimed that he allowed Arvizo to sleep in his bed while he slept on the floor. The boy added that he was “happy” while staying at Neverland Ranch.
Living with Michael Jackson aired in the U.K. on Feb. 3 and North America on Feb. 6. More than 55-million viewers tuned in during its premiere and it sparked outrage across the world, bringing the ’90s accusations back to the foreground.
According to the BBC, Jackson felt “utterly betrayed” by Bashir.
“Martin Bashir persuaded me to trust him,” Jackson said. “And that this would be an honest and fair portrayal of my life. I am surprised a professional journalist would compromise his integrity by deceiving me in this way.”
March – Aug. 2003: Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department reopens its investigation
Arvizo stopped visiting Neverland Ranch in March of 2003, according to the Telegraph.
The backlash surrounding Living with Michael Jackson sparked major concern about the singer’s off-stage behaviour once again, particularly among authorities at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
Throughout July and August, Arvizo reportedly privately disclosed to the authorities that Jackson had abused him on several occasions. His claims were made as a “John Doe.” Following these claims, DA Sneddon officially renewed the criminal investigation against Jackson.
Nov. 18 – 20, 2003: Neverland Ranch searched, Jackson arrested
On Nov. 18, Jackson was served a warrant that allowed a brigade of police officers to search his 2,600-acre estate. (The singer was away with his children at the time filming a music video in Las Vegas, according to The Guardian.)
More than 40 vehicles parked outside of Neverland Ranch for several hours while Jackson’s home was raided by 70 officers. The findings were never revealed — only a stash of pornography allegedly found inside the ranch, which was made public in 2016.
Jackson flew back to California three days later and surrendered to authorities. He was arrested on Nov. 20 and subsequently released a week later on a $3-million bond.
WATCH: Michael Jackson had stockpile of pornography, erotic art: report
Dec. 18, 2003: Jackson formally charged
On Dec. 18, DA Sneddon formally charged Jackson with nine criminal counts: seven counts of child molestation and two for administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of committing a felony.
Sneddon revealed that the charges were based on incidents that took place between Feb. 7 and March 10, beginning only one day after Living with Michael Jackson aired in the U.S.
April 30, 2004: Jackson’s first appearance in court
Jackson was indicted to stand trial by a Santa Barbara county grand jury on April 21. The singer’s lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, revealed his client would plead not guilty to child abuse charges.
The then-45-year-old appeared in court on April 30, and pleaded not guilty to the charges, including a brand-new charge of “conspiracy to abduct a child.”
Feb. – June 2005: The ‘People v. Jackson’ criminal trial begins
Case No. 1133603 went to trial on Feb. 28 in a Santa Monica courthouse, with Judge Rodney Melville presiding.
A large number of witnesses were called to testify against Jackson, including various Neverland Ranch employees, Bashir, and the Arvizo family.
Many of Jackson’s employees claimed they had seen him performing inappropriate sexual acts on many of the little boys, including Jordan Chandler and then-child star Macaulay Culkin (who, for decades, has vehemently denied any and all sexual accusations against Jackson).
Chandler, however, was not in attendance to testify. He reportedly fled the country and was legally emancipated from his parents years prior. His former mother, June Schwartz-Chandler, testified on his behalf and claimed Jackson bribed her with expensive gifts to let Jordan sleep in his bed with him.
Gavin Arvizo — who was 15 years old at the time — claimed Jackson gave him and his younger brother Star “Jesus juice” and began making sexual advances. Gavin was later revealed to be the “John Doe” accuser that sparked the renewal of the criminal investigation.
Mesereau pointed out a multitude of inconsistencies in the testimonies, and he managed to convince the jury that Janet Arvizo, Gavin’s mother, was a “con artist” who exploited her children by having them lie.
The defense included actors Chris Tucker, George Lopez and Culkin. Lopez claimed that he helped out Arvizo family in the past with medical expenses and the like.
Lopez said he had to cut the Arvizo family off after Gavin’s father became “aggressive” by constantly requesting money from the comedian. When the elder Arvizo asked what he would tell his son, Lopez allegedly responded, “Tell him his father’s an extortionist.”
Tucker backed up Lopez’s accusations by claiming he went through the same ordeal with Arvizo. The actor claimed he warned Jackson about the “cunning” family.
Culkin’s testimony was what surprised the public the most. The Home Alone actor, 24 years old at the time, claimed he’d “never seen do anything improper with anybody.”
The two became friends in the early 1990s, shortly after the first Home Alone movie was released. Their friendship was heavily publicized. Culkin also famously appeared in the 1991 Black or White music video.
Culkin revealed that he slept in Jackson’s bed more than a dozen times between the ages of 9 and 14.
“I’ve fallen asleep in the same bed with him,” he said, adding that Jackson never sexually abused him.
Australian dancer and choreographer Wade Robson also testified that Jackson never committed any improper acts with him and that he slept in Jackson’s bedroom on more than 20 separate occasions.
June 13, 2005: Jackson is cleared of all charges
The People of the State of California v. Michael Joe Jackson went on for more than three months before a decision was made.
“The man’s innocent. He always was,” claimed Mesereau to CNN.
Jackson was acquitted of all charges on June 13, 2005. He never returned to Neverland Ranch.
June 25, 2009: Michael Jackson dies
Jackson died at age 50 in his rented LA mansion. He was rushed to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest, which was brought on by a number of prescription drugs, including propofol.
Conrad Murray — Jackson’s physician — was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2011. He was sentenced to four years in prison but was released after only two for good behaviour.
WATCH: Michael Jackson’s family rejects assault claims detailed in ‘Leaving Neverland’
To this day, the truth about Jackson remains unknown, but the singer was never found guilty of any crime in a court of law.
Jackson denied all sexual assault accusations throughout his life, and since his death, he’s been unable to either defend himself in the court of public opinion.
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