WARNING: Graphic content
Michael Jackson set up his famous Neverland ranch with a series of “trip” alarms and hideaways that enabled him to get away with his sexual abuse, one of his alleged victims has claimed.
It’s just one of many shocking allegations to come out of Leaving Neverland, a two-part documentary from acclaimed director Dan Reed that claims the late singer was a serial paedophile that groomed both his victims and their families for his own perverse gain.
After premiering amid outcry from his loyal fans at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Leaving Neverland makes it to Australian screens this week, airing on Network 10 in two parts tonight (Friday) and tomorrow night.
The documentary reveals in graphic detail the sexual abuse James Safechuck and Australian-born Wade Robson claim they endured from Jackson.
Mr Robson, now 36, first met Jackson during his 1987 Brisbane concert when he was only five and claims he was abused by the late singer between the ages of seven and 14.
Mr Safechuck, 40, met the singer in 1988 while filming a Pepsi commercial with him when he was 10 and alleges he endured a sexually abusive relationship with Jackson that lasted for four years.
Despite being dogged by allegations for decades Jackson, who died in 2009 of a drug overdose, denied all accusations of child sex abuse during his lifetime.
His family has continued to refute claims he was a paedophile, with his estate now suing HBO — the cable channel that aired the documentary in the US — for $100 million for a “posthumous character assassination”.
HOW IT BEGAN
While Mr Safechuck and Mr Robson claim they were abused in separate instances by Jackson both men and their families say they were groomed for months by the singer.
After the Pepsi commercial aired, Jackson began phoning Mr Safechuck and was soon visiting him at his home where the singer was regarded as one of the family.
Jackson then invited Mr Safechuck and his family to Hawaii for a Pepsi convention where they were treated to a luxury hotel stay, a day at a theme park booked out by the singer and a helicopter ride.
“It was like a fairytale and I got lost in it, and I know my husband got lost in it too,” Mr Safechuck’s mother Stephanie Safechuck said of the lavish lifestyle she enjoyed with Jackson.
While Mrs Safechuck at first refused to let the singer share a hotel room with her son in Hawaii, she relented when they joined Jackson a few months later on tour.
It was then that the abuse allegedly began, with Jackson first introducing Mr Safechuck to masturbation in a Paris hotel room, eventually progressing to acts of oral sex and fondling.
Like the Safechucks, the Robson family’s time with Jackson seemed like a fairytale, with the singer treating them to an A-list lifestyle and shopping sprees when they met up with him during a US holiday, inviting them for a weekend at Neverland.
“We were all tripping out on this place, it was just out of a fairytale,” Mr Robson said of Jackson’s famous ranch. “It felt like travelling to another planet.”
The first night the family stayed there, Mr Robson and his sister slept in the room together with Jackson and nothing untoward happened.
After the weekend Jackson asked if Mr Robson could stay with him at Neverland rather than go with the family for a planned trip to the Grand Canyon.
His parents agreed, and Mr Robson was left alone with the singer: He remembers “this contrast between the day and night” as the abuse began.
‘NOT GETTING CAUGHT’
As Jackson continued abusing Mr Safechuck in hotel suites during his tour the singer was said to be paranoid about them getting caught.
He began making the child practice what he would do if someone tried to find them while Jackson was abusing him.
“He would run drills with me where we would be in the hotel room and he would pretend like someone was coming in and you had to get dressed as fast as possible without any noise,” Mr Safechuck said.
“So not getting caught was a big fundamental. It was very much a secret and he would tell me if anyone found out his life would be over and my life would be over, and that’s something he told me over and over again.”
During this time Mrs Safechuck’s hotel suites began getting further and further apart from Jackson’s, but it never once crossed her mind anything sinister was going on.
“I would go to the door try and listen, hear what conversation was going on and then I’d sneak away,” she said. “I wasn’t worried that anything was going on, I was more curious.”
A HOUSE OF HORRORS
After Jackson’s tour ended Mr Safechuck and his family came to stay with the singer at the Neverland ranch.
But while the sprawling property looked like it was out of a fairytale, Mr Safechuck claims it was filled with hidden private areas where Jackson could abuse Mr Safechuck.
With his mother staying in a guesthouse away from the main house he would sleep with Jackson in his room, but the singer continued to take precautions.
“The routine was, we would get a blanket and lay it down on the floor inside of the closet next to his main bed so we could close the doors and have several doors people had to get through,” he explained.
“There was just a hall that leads to his room, there were bells so you could have a moment of hearing them trip and at least it alarmed him to when people are coming.”
Besides the bedroom there were multiple other spots around Neverland which included a “Indian fort with teepees,” a game room with a secret bedroom upstairs, a room in a movie theatre and a secluded guesthouse, filled with memorabilia, that Jackson would assault Mr Safechuck in.
“There’s a third floor attic that’s kind of secluded you could only kind of get to it from these steep stairs so you could tell if someone is coming so we would go in there,” Mr Safechuck said.
‘IT WAS ALMOST LIKE A BRILLO PAD’
Once he too was staying alone with Jackson at Neverland, Mr Robson said the sexual abuse “escalated rapidly” from just fondling each other’s genitals to oral sex. He was still only seven years old.
“I remember him putting my hands on his head when he was down there, I’ll never forget the feeling of his hair, it was almost like a brillo pad, this roughness,” he said.
“And he’s down there and with his mouth on my seven-year-old penis and quickly it turned into me performing oral sex on him too.”
‘WE WERE LIKE THIS MARRIED COUPLE’
Both Mr Safechuck and Mr Robson allege Jackson’s abuse was also emotional, with the singer going to extreme efforts to alienate them from their families.
While Mr Safechuck and his mother stayed at Neverland, Jackson would encourage him to eavesdrop on his parents fighting on the phone.
“He would tell me, ‘look how mean your mum is and how evil women are’ … you start to think that your parents are bad and Michael is good,” Mr Safechuck said.
The singer repeatedly told Mr Robson he and the singer had been brought together by God and the abuse was “showing our love”.
Mr Safechuck was also made to feel like he and Jackson were “fully in love,” with the singer even conducting a fake wedding ceremony between them.
“We were like this married couple — and I say married because we had this mock wedding ceremony,” Mr Safechuck said, producing a ring that he claims Jackson gave him.
“We did this in this bedroom and we filled out some vows so like we’re bonded together. It felt good and the ring is nice … it’s hard to go back to that moment.”
‘SELL HIM SOME’
The “wedding ring” wasn’t the only gift Mr Safechuck received from Jackson, with the singer also showering him with other pieces during their abusive relationship.
“He would reward me with jewellery for doing sexual acts for him. He would say that I need to, ‘sell him some’ so that I could earn the gift,” Mr Safechuck said.
“I liked jewellery and I liked it as a kid and feel that something that I enjoyed was used against me so I think that causes discomfort. It’s still hard for me to not blame myself.”
Mr Safechuck and Jackson would go shopping for the pieces together, with the singer telling shopkeepers he was buying it for a mystery female.
“We would pretend like my small hand fit whatever female we were buying it for,” he said.
MOMENT JACKSON ALMOST GOT CAUGHT
As both Mr Safechuck and Mr Robson got older, their contact with Jackson became more sporadic — but they claim the abuse got darker.
Mr Robson alleges after he and his mother and sister moved from Brisbane to Los Angeles so he could pursue a dance career the singer began showing him graphic adult pornography photos and videos.
Mr Safechuck claims he was also shown pornography and given wine by Jackson and their abusive encounters became “more dirty sexual rather than friends who were touching each other”.
“It was probably because I was getting to be nearly a teenager, like he wanted to do some anal. He put his finger inside of me and I didn’t like it at all so he kind of backed off that,” Mr Safechuck said.
Mr Robson said, when he was 14, he had his last abusive encounter with Jackson in a hotel room, with the singer allegedly anally raping him before stopping when it became “too painful” for the teen.
After Mr Robson had gone home with a new camera from Jackson, the next day he said he received an urgent call from the singer’s private secretary summoning him back.
A “super nervous” Jackson asked the teenager what he had done with the underwear he had been wearing the night before.
“He said you’ve got to go home and find them, there might be some blood on them and if there is you have to get rid of them,” Mr Robson said.
Mr Robson raced home and found his bloodstained underwear. Feeling relieved they hadn’t been found by his mother he went to his apartment building garage and threw them in the bin.
It was the closest Jackson every came to being caught.
‘I WAS EXCITED’
In 1993 Jordan Chandler came forward to accuse Jackson of sexual abuse and the singer was suddenly back front and centre in both Mr Safechuck and Mr Robson’s lives after years of waning contact.
Both boys and their families ended up speaking publicly in defence of Jackson, with Mr Safechuck, heavily coached by the singer’s legal team.
He would deny Jackson ever abused him in a pre-trial hearing, describing himself as so rehearsed he felt “robotic” as he gave evidence.
Mr Robson also vehemently denied he was abused by Jackson in an interview with police and a later TV interview alongside his mother and sister.
“I was excited by the idea of being able to defend him and being able to save him,” Mr Robson said.
Mr Safechuck also admitted to feeling “happy that he’s back” when Jackson asked him to testify as he too felt the singer had dropped him in favour of other boys in recent years.
WHY JACKSON MARRIED ELVIS’S DAUGHTER
After reaching an out-of-court settlement with Jordan Chandler, Jackson secretly married Lisa Marie Presley in May 1994.
While the marriage might have surprised the world it didn’t shock Mr Safechuck, who claimed Jackson had hinted he would have to fake a relationship with a woman in order to preserve his reputation.
“I remember Michael saying to me that he’s going to have to have these public relationships with women so that people don’t think anything,” Mr Safechuck said.
“He would always say that he is going to get married, he said he would have to get married at some point but it wouldn’t mean anything.”
Jackson’s marriage to Presley was short-lived, with the two splitting in 1996 after she filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences.
Presley later said she “wanted to save” Jackson after the highly-publicised child sex abuse allegations surfaced.
“I believed he didn’t do anything wrong, and that he was wrongly accused and, yes, I started falling for him. I wanted to save him. I felt that I could do it,” she said in 2003.