Three short words succeed Ghislaine Maxwell's name in the most popular online search relating to her: "Where is she?"

The 57-year-old British socialite is the daughter of disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell and hasn't been seen in public for months.

That's despite her being repeatedly identified as a key figure in Jeffrey Epstein's life prior to his suicide death in August and the woman who introduced the paedophile to Prince Andrew, sparking the scandal that's engulfed the royal family, reports News.com.au.

The wealthy American financier took his own life in jail while awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges related to his alleged abuse of dozens of underage girls from 2002 to 2005 at his luxurious properties in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida.

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Meanwhile, attention has turned to Maxwell, who has been accused by multiple women of acting as one of Epstein's procurers. She has denied the allegations and has not been charged but her current whereabouts is unknown, with various reports of sightings everywhere from the US to Brazil and Europe.

Ghislaine Maxwell is Jeffrey Epstein's ex and has been accused of acting as one of his key procurers. But no one knows where she is. Photo / Getty Images
Ghislaine Maxwell is Jeffrey Epstein's ex and has been accused of acting as one of his key procurers. But no one knows where she is. Photo / Getty Images

She was last spotted dining at an In-N-Out Burger while reading The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives, a nonfiction bestseller by journalist Ted Gupn just days after Epstein's death.

"No one knows where she is," a lawyer for one of Epstein's victims said recently.

"She's done the greatest disappearing act known to man – or woman."

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In an extraordinary interview aired on the BBC's Newsnight this week, the Duke of York named Maxwell as the person who brought him into Epstein's orbit. Prince Andrew has come under fire over allegations he also sexually abused girls — claims he has vehemently denied — while visiting his then-friend Epstein at his various properties.

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The Prince told the BBC his last contact with Maxwell was "earlier this year, funnily enough", when she "was here doing some rally".

The BBC's Emily Maitlis asked him: "So even though he had by then been arrested and was facing charges of sex trafficking?"

The Duke said that was incorrect, clarifying that "this was early spring", before Epstein's arrest in July.

When asked if the pair discussed Epstein at all, Andrew said "not at all", before shifting blame to Maxwell.

Prince Andrew (left) and Virginia Roberts, aged 17 at Ghislaine Maxwell's townhouse in London. Photo / US District Court Southern District of Florida
Prince Andrew (left) and Virginia Roberts, aged 17 at Ghislaine Maxwell's townhouse in London. Photo / US District Court Southern District of Florida

"There wasn't anything to discuss about him because he wasn't in the news, you know, it was just…we had moved on," he continued.

"If there are questions that Ghislaine has to answer, that's her problem I'm afraid, I'm not in a position to be able to comment one way or the other."

Prince Andrew said his friendship with Maxwell began when she was at Oxford University, and it was she who introduced him to her then-boyfriend Epstein in 1999.

A photo of the British royal posing with his hand around teen Virginia Giuffre — one of Epstein's alleged victims — was purportedly taken at Maxwell's home and has become a source of contention as the saga unfolds.

In a 2009 legal case, Ms Giuffre publicly claimed Maxwell had recruited her into Epstein's sex ring to be a "sex slave" when she was just 16 years old.

Ms Giuffre claim Epstein flew her to London on his private jet. After dining with the prince and dancing with him at the Tramp nightclub, she claims, they had a sexual encounter in Maxwell's Belgravia house.

Ms Giuffre says Maxwell directed her as a teenager to have sex with Prince Andrew, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. They deny her claims. She also claimed in the case, which was settled out of court, that Maxwell and Epstein sexually assaulted her, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Left to Right: Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump (Melania Knauss, girlfriend at the time) with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo / Getty Images
Left to Right: Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump (Melania Knauss, girlfriend at the time) with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo / Getty Images

Maxwell called Ms Giuffre's claims "entirely false", compelling the latter to file the 2015 defamation suit. In May 2017, the case was settled the day before the trial was scheduled to start.

The Daily Mail reported in August that Maxwell was living at tech firm executive Scott Borgerson's mansion in Massachusetts. But he told CNBC at the time that she "is not at my house. I don't know where she is".

Prince Andrew told the program that Maxwell was the reason he invited Epstein to Windsor Castle and Sandringham in 2000.

"Remember that it was his girlfriend (Maxwell) that was the key element in this," he said. "He was the… plus one."

The Prince corrected previous reports that he threw a birthday party for Maxwell at Sandringham at which Epstein is believed to have met other members of the Royal Family including Prince Charles.

"It was a shooting weekend," he said.

Maxwell fled to New York after the 1991 death of her father and according to media reports, she widely credited Epstein with helping her cope with her "overwhelming" grief.

Prior to that, she lived a life of extreme privilege.

Maxwell grew up in a 53-room mansion; owned a private helicopter; had a yacht named after her; and acquired many friends in high places.

Ghislaine Maxwell's Belgravia property in London where the photo of Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts was taken. Photo / Getty Images
Ghislaine Maxwell's Belgravia property in London where the photo of Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts was taken. Photo / Getty Images

From Prince Andrew, Elon Musk, Naomi Campbell and Paul Allen to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump — her standing among the elite was cemented from the moment she was born to her media baron father Robert Maxwell and mother Elisabeth.

Her close ties with royalty and celebrities later led her to Epstein who appeared to collect famous friends as readily as he did money. It was an encounter that would ultimately change the course of her life.

Maxwell and Epstein reportedly dated for a short period in 1992 before breaking up and remaining close friends — often appearing together on the international fashion circuit, and at prestigious events and lavish parties over the decades that followed.

New York Magazine society journalist David Patrick Columbia previously described their relationship as "mysterious".

"In one way, they are soulmates, yet they are hardly companions anymore," he wrote.

"It's a nice conventional relationship, where they serve each other's purposes."

He also provided an insight into Maxwell's social life, saying, "One is just as apt to see Russian ladies of the night as one is to see Prince Andrew" at her parties.

But with Epstein under federal indictment on charges of sexually trafficking and abusing girls — he pleaded not guilty on all counts — prior to his death, questions have continued to mount about Maxwell's connection to the late businessman.

Jeffrey Epstein took his own life in prison earlier this year. Photo / New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP
Jeffrey Epstein took his own life in prison earlier this year. Photo / New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP

Epstein's New York indictment referred to unnamed employees who prosecutors said were involved in his alleged crimes in the early 2000s by accepting payment to arrange massages that led to sex acts with young girls, then encouraging them to recruit others.

"Through these victim recruiters, Epstein gained access to and was able to abuse dozens of additional minor girls," the indictment read.

According to multiple court filings reviewed by the Miami Herald, lawyers for one alleged victim claimed that Epstein and Maxwell acted as the leaders of an "organised crime family" and that Maxwell helped traffic girls and women to powerful figures.

According to the documents, Maxwell lured the alleged victims into the sex ring by offering them modelling, fashion, and educational opportunities. Two of the women alleged that Epstein and Maxwell together sexually assaulted them, according to court documents.

Maxwell was described in accuser Sarah Ransome's 2017 legal case as the "highest-ranking employee" of Epstein's alleged sex-trafficking enterprise. She managed his household and sex life, developed recruiting plans and helped conceal the activity from law enforcement, Ms Ransome alleged.

Socialite Ghislaine Maxwell (right) has been accused of being disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein's
Socialite Ghislaine Maxwell (right) has been accused of being disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein's "madam" and hasn't been sighted in public for months. Photo / Supplied

The New York Times

reports that one former employee of Epstein's Florida mansion referred to Maxwell as the "lady of the house".

Euan Rellie, an investment banker who attended dinner parties that she and Epstein hosted in New York, said she "seemed to be half ex-girlfriend, half employee, half best friend, and fixer". Court documents show that one of Epstein's accusers described Maxwell as his "madam".

Maxwell has repeatedly denied accusations against her and has never been charged.

But in recent years, she has struck confidential settlements in civil court with two of the women who say she participated in Epstein's sexual exploitation of them, according to the The New York Times.

Epstein was spared from a heavy prison sentence on similar allegations a decade ago as part of a controversial non-prosecution agreement, binding only on federal prosecutors in Florida, where the deal was made, not on authorities in New York.

That unusual deal, initially filed in secret, went as far as to bar the federal government from charging "any potential co-conspirators of Epstein".

Just a week after the new charges brought by New York federal prosecutors against Epstein became public, Maxwell's environmental non-profit organisation involved in protecting the world's oceans, the TerraMar Project, shut down. The website posted a message saying it was "sad to announce that it will cease all operations". And just like that, Maxwell also disappeared.