Brazil. The south of France. Israel. For more than a year now, stories have circulated about where Ghislaine Maxwell, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's alleged procurer of girls, was hiding out in the world. With her vast contact book and a rumoured US$20 million fortune, she had the resources to go anywhere.

Instead, when the 20 armed agents and police swooped in to arrest her on July 2, they found her in a nondescript cottage in New Hampshire and when they burst through the door, she was reportedly wearing tracksuit pants.

For Maxwell, 58, it was an ignominious moment. According to inmates at Merrimack County jail where she was briefly held, "she was a depressed loner".

Ghislaine Maxwell at Epsom Racecourse in 1991. Photo / AP
Ghislaine Maxwell at Epsom Racecourse in 1991. Photo / AP

It is a stunning fall from grace for a woman brought up in the heart of the British establishment with extraordinary wealth. A graduate of one of the UK's most exclusive private girls' schools (Marlborough – Kate Duchess of Cambridge's alma mater) and Oxford University, she moved in royal circles for a time, her father hoped she might marry John F. Kennedy Junior.

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Currently, she is being held in a New York jail cell and will face court via video conference this coming week.

So how did a woman who once had the world at her feet end up the most wanted woman in the world?

The Lady Ghislaine

It is impossible to tell the story of Maxwell without beginning with her father Robert. Born in Czechoslovakia, he fought during World War Two, served as a British MP and later built an international publishing behemoth that included the UK's Daily Mirror and the New York Daily News.

By the time the 90s rolled around, Robert Maxwell was one of the world's biggest publishing barons and he, wife Elisabeth and their nine children enjoyed a lifestyle to match. His pride and joy was his boat, the Lady Ghislaine, named after his youngest child.

In 1991 Robert Maxwell disappeared from the Lady Ghislaine off the coast of the Canary Islands and his body was found floating kilometres away. Rumours began to swirl: Was he murdered, a suicide or an accident?

Ghislaine Maxwell in November 1991, after her father Robert Maxwell's death. Photo / AP
Ghislaine Maxwell in November 1991, after her father Robert Maxwell's death. Photo / AP

Maxwell, then aged 29, immediately flew in from London. Stepping off the deck of the 55-metre long yacht, the waiting press pack quizzed her: What did she think had happened to her father? "I think he was murdered," she told the assembled journalists.

In the wake of his death there was another bombshell. It seemed that Robert Maxwell had been plundering hundreds of millions of pounds from the Mirror Group's pension fund to prop up the business and the family went from unimaginable wealth to comparative penury. Grief-stricken she fled to New York. (Reports vary but it has been claimed that after Robert Maxwell's death, she had a US$140,000-a-year to live on thanks to a trust fund.)

At some stage during her New York life, she met Jeffrey Epstein.

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The boy from Brooklyn

Epstein could not have a more different background, having been raised in Brooklyn by his parents who were a homemaker and a gardener. In his 20s he got a job teaching at the exclusive Dalton School in New York and it was there he met a pupil's father who worked for the investment bank Bear Stearns, who hired him in 1976.

In 1981 he left the bank to start his own consulting firm.

Wherever Maxwell and Epstein first met, theirs was a mutually attractive proposition: He had the money while she had a vast contact book of society friends and international power players.

It has been reported that Maxwell and Epstein dated however at some point that relationship seems to have shifted and she allegedly became his employee, organising the staff at his houses in New York, Arizona, France and the Caribbean. In a court deposition in 2017 she said:

"My job included hiring many people. There were six homes. I hired assistants, architects, decorators, cooks, cleaners, gardeners, pool people, pilots. I hired all sorts of people. A very small part of my job was to find adult professional massage therapists for Jeffrey. As far as I'm concerned, everyone who came to his house was an adult professional person."

Jeffrey Epstein in 2017 when he was registered as a sex offender. Photo / AP
Jeffrey Epstein in 2017 when he was registered as a sex offender. Photo / AP

Speaking to the New York Times, investment banker Euan Rellie who had been at dinner parties with Maxwell and Epstein, she "seemed to be half ex-girlfriend, half employee, half best friend, and fixer."

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A vast number of women have come forward to allege that Maxwell's key function was far more nefarious.

Royal connections

In the 90s, Maxwell's life involved jetting between Epstein's properties – and allegedly procuring young women for him. (Maxwell has previously denied these allegations.)

Lawyer Dan Kaiser, who is representing Jennifer Araoz, a women who alleges she was raped by Epstein told the Guardian: "She was integral in maintaining the sex trafficking ring. She provided important administrative services in terms of the hiring of recruiters, and management of those employees, the making of appointments and dates for interactions between Mr Epstein and the underage girls that were providing sexual services to him. She also maintained the ring by intimidating girls, by ensuring their silence.

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell in a car driven by Britain's Prince Andrew. Photo / AP
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell in a car driven by Britain's Prince Andrew. Photo / AP

"Jeffrey Epstein couldn't have done what he did for as long as he did it without the services of somebody like Ghislaine Maxwell. She is as culpable, in my judgment, as Jeffrey Epstein himself."

It has also been alleged that Maxwell participated in the abuse.

Maria Farmer, who met Epstein and Maxwell at a New York art show in 1995 has alleged that in 1996 they sexually assaulted her.

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The picture that Maxwell painted of her life publicly was vastly different. In a 1997 Hello magazine interview, she said she was a "business consultant" and that she would "get married and have kids. But it has never been a focus: My focus is my business."

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, driven by Britain's Prince Andrew leaves the wedding of a former girlfriend of the prince, Aurelia Cecil in 2000. Photo / AP
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, driven by Britain's Prince Andrew leaves the wedding of a former girlfriend of the prince, Aurelia Cecil in 2000. Photo / AP

Maxwell's life again now had the trappings of vast wealth, the private plane, the Parisian pied-à-terre and a vast New York townhouse. She also had long standing royal connections.

In 2000, Prince Andrew invited both Maxwell and Epstein to the Queen's private Norfolk estate for what the royal later termed "a straightforward shooting weekend." The same year they were also invited to Windsor Castle for the Dance of the Decades, which was thrown by the Queen to mark Prince Andrew's 40th, the Princess Royal's 50th, the Queen Mother's 100th and Princess Margaret's 70th.

n 2001, it has been alleged that Maxwell flew to London with then 17-year-old Virginia Roberts Giuffre who she had met while the teen was working at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.

Roberts Giuffre has subsequently alleged that during that trip to the UK, she had sex with Prince Andrew, and then on two other occasion. (Andrew has repeatedly denied her allegations. In a statement last year, Buckingham Palace said "It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with [Giuffre]. The allegations made are false and without any foundation."

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2005. Photo / Getty Images
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2005. Photo / Getty Images

Only a year later, in 2002, Andrew invited Maxwell and the actor Kevin Spacey to Buckingham Palace for a tour. Earlier this month, photos emerged of Maxwell and Spacey sitting on the Queen and Prince Philip's thrones.

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Jail time

Epstein's abuse caught up with him in 2005 when a 14-year-old told Florida police she had been paid US$300 to strip and massage the financier. Over the course of a 13-month investigation, detectives found dozens of other young girls who had similarly been lured to Epstein's Palm Beach home. (The Miami Herald would later identify 80 victims.) The following year, the FBI launched an investigation of their own.

In 2007 the then US Attorney for Southern Florida Alexander Acosta signed off on a sweetheart for Epstein which saw him plead guilty to a charge of procuring for prostitution a girl below age 18 and serve 13-months. During that time he was allowed to leave for 12-hours-a-day and go to his office.

Epstein was released in August 2010 and he and Maxwell were never photographed together in public after that. Her connections to him did not tarnish her social standing and she was still invited to glittering social events including Chelsea Clinton's wedding. ("I didn't get the sense she was being shunned," author Jay McInerney told the New York Times.)

In 2011 Roberts Giuffre told spoke to the Daily Mail about her experiences at the hands of Epstein and in 2014 in court documents described Maxwell as Epstein's "primary coconspirator and participant in his sexual abuse and sex trafficking scheme."

Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announces charges against Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo / AP
Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announces charges against Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo / AP

After Maxwell then told the media that Roberts Giuffre's claims were "obvious lies," Roberts Giuffre sued her for defamation. (The case was later settled out of court.)

In the wake of that case Maxwell largely fell off the social radar and in 2016 sold her New York townhouse for US$21 million.

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In June last year, Maxwell was back in London for a charity car rally during which she paid a visit to see her old friend Prince Andrew.

From left, Donald Trump and Melania, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell at the Mar-a-Lago club in 2000. Photo / Getty Images
From left, Donald Trump and Melania, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell at the Mar-a-Lago club in 2000. Photo / Getty Images

On July 6 2019 Epstein was arrested after landing at Teterboro airport in New Jersey and slapped with new sex trafficking charges. A month later, his body was found in a cell in the same correctional facility where Maxwell is currently being held.

When a photo emerged of Maxwell eating at an LA burger chain and looking dowdy the same month, the image soon faced scrutiny and it has been alleged that it was faked.

With Epstein dead and his myriad victims looking for justice, the spotlight turned to Maxwell. But where was she?

One person "familiar with the lengths people went to track her down" has told Vanity Fair: "She could be anywhere. Russia, China, Singapore, the Middle East, England. She's in some friend's castle in the middle of nowhere. Or in a tent somewhere deep in some desert. Wherever she is, she's on the down low."

The truth, we now know, was far less exotic and on July 2, police descended on her rural hideaway and charging her in relation to sex crimes, conspiracy and perjury.

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Speaking at a press conference in Manhattan after the arrest, Audrey Strauss the acting United States attorney for the southern district of New York said "Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse. In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse.

"She set the trap. She pretended to be a woman they [alleged victims] could trust."

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2005. Photo / Getty Images
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2005. Photo / Getty Images

This week, Maxwell will appear in court for her arraignment and the looming question is what will happen next in this sorry, sordid saga.

Earlier this week, a friend of Maxwell's told the Daily Mail she had a "secret stash of sex tapes" that "could end up being her get out of jail card if the authorities are willing to trade. She has copies of everything Epstein had. They could implicate some twisted movers and shakers.

"If Ghislaine goes down, she's going to take the whole damn lot of them with her."