Reporter's Notebook: Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest shocks rural New Hampshire town

On a muggy midsummer morning last July, as the nation was in the grips of a second surge of the coronavirus, a racial reckoning following the police murder of George Floyd and a contentious presidential campaign, one pastoral New Hampshire farm town found themselves perplexed as a swarm of FBI agents stormed one particularly secluded property.

Shortly thereafter, they learned the jaw-dropping identity of the mysterious neighbor who federal authorities had handcuffed and taken into custody on July 2, 2020: Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and alleged co-conspirator of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Despite intense interest from the news media, the British socialite, who had previously been a regular fixture photographed on red carpets and around the glamorous New York City social circuit, had mostly gone unseen seen in public since 2016.

Now one of the world’s most notorious accused sex traffickers, Maxwell currently awaits trial on charges brought by the Southern District of New York, which hadn’t stopped investigating Epstein’s associates after his jailhouse death by suicide in 2019. The charges against her include allegations of conspiring to entice minors to travel to different states which Maxwell knew would result in their sexual abuse and perjury.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against her.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell attend a concert at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, March 15, 2005.

A ‘surreal scene’ in Bradford

I’m an ABC News investigative reporter based in Washington, D.C., but at the time of Maxwell’s arrest, I’d temporarily relocated to Boston, Massachusetts to work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The moment my email chimed with ABC News’ breaking report of Maxwell’s unlikely arrest in a New Hampshire farm town, I was immediately directed to hop in the car for the nearly 2-hour drive to Bradford. What I found there was a befuddled tight-knit community trying to make sense of the events that had unfolded in its own backyard.

Watch the full story on “20/20” Friday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

In 2019, the community of Bradford had an estimated population of just 1,707 people, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Largely dominated by local farm land, the town’s epicenter is at a remote crossroads. On one end, it’s home to a single-story stretch reminiscent of America’s Wild West, containing a Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway sandwich shop and auto repair garage. On the other end, it houses Bradford’s local police station, a salon and a couple of other storefronts.

Shortly after Maxwell’s arrest, a crush of reporters and news crews from far and wide flocked to Bradford, including me. When I arrived, the community was still in a state of shell shock.

It was “all so surreal,” one local shopkeeper told me.

PHOTO: Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss speaks to the media at a press conference to announce the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell on July 02, 2020 in New York City.

A local farmer tilling land that bordered the acres of land shrouding Maxwell’s secluded multimillion-dollar home told me that the furious rumbling of helicopters circling overhead that morning woke him up. He regretted not recording a video of the scene, he told me. He had guessed that federal agents were busting an illegal marijuana-growing operation. While it seemed slightly far-fetched, he said it was plausible due to the seclusion and mystery surrounding the property the FBI agents had raided.

That Bradford had suddenly become the epicenter for the conclusion of an international manhunt was something the farmer said he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams. Maxwell’s lawyers have insisted that she went there to protect her family and herself against threats and to evade the scrutiny of the media.

‘Tucked Away’ in Bradford

While Maxwell’s lawyers and her family have argued she wasn’t hiding in Bradford. I was immediately struck by how perfectly it fit the mold of a hideout. If it weren’t on the East Coast, a summer’s day in Bradford could easily pass for a ghost town in the Wild West. I even saw a tumbleweed rolling down the winding central road. The location of Maxwell’s home was true to its name: “Tucked Away.” To get there, you would first have to traverse one of New Hampshire’s few remaining 19th-century covered bridges. The road winds through forests and farmlands. After making a turn down a barely marked gravel road, all cell phone and Wi-Fi reception goes dark.

Even if you knew what you were looking for among the tall trees that crowd the remote country backroad, it’s a challenge to spot. There’s no address and only a “private road” marking signaling the hidden sideroad leading there.

PHOTO: A sign marks the Bradford Police Department after the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell in Bradford, N.H., July 2, 2020.

Maxwell purchased the home using a limited liability company, according to a detention memo penned by federal prosecutors and filed publicly on the day of her arrest.

“Most recently, the defendant appears to have been hiding on a 156-acre property acquired in an all-cash purchase in December 2019 (through a carefully anonymized LLC) in Bradford, New Hampshire, an area to which she has no other known connections,” the memo said.

On the afternoon of her arrest, Maxwell appeared virtually before a federal magistrate and waived her right to a detention hearing in New Hampshire, clearing the way for her transfer to New York, where she’s been detained until her November 29 trial. Earlier this month, Maxwell was denied bail for the fifth time.

PHOTO: Ghislaine Maxwell appears via video link during her arraignment hearing in Manhattan Federal Court, in the Manhattan borough of New York, July 14, 2020.

In April, Maxwell pleaded not guilty to an eight-count superseding indictment that alleges she aided and conspired with Epstein in the sexual abuse of four minor girls by Epstein between 1994 and 2004.

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