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.

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.

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.

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