MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA, Mass. — In tony Manchester, the gossip spread quickly — on neighborhood Facebook groups, among waitresses at a pizza parlor and along the scenic docks where people paused to chat about how one of the most watched women in America could have been living in their midst.
Ghislaine Maxwell apparently lived with a friend in this former fishing village, one of the most sought-after addresses for Boston’s moneyed classes, known in the wider world largely thanks to a critically claimed 2016 movie starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.
Convicted pedophile and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, a multimillionaire financier with connections to celebrities and politicians, was found dead Saturday in his cell at a federal detention center in New York City, where he was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Maxwell, 57, whose name emerged in connection with a previous case against Epstein, has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. Efforts to reach her lawyers Wednesday were unsuccessful.
But girls interviewed as part of that previous case, in Palm Beach, Fla., repeatedly described Maxwell as the coordinator of Epstein’s sex-trafficking operation. And a New York woman on Wednesday sued Maxwell and three unnamed women who she said also allegedly recruited and groomed girls for Epstein. The Justice Department has indicated that it will investigate Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators.
Helicopters circled over the Sharksmouth Estate Wednesday, the wooded, waterfront, exceptionally secluded retreat where Maxwell is believed to have lived.
“It’s such a small town, we all know each other,” said Jackie Rich, who was brought out onto her front lawn by the sudden whomp-whomping of rotary wings overhead.
Maxwell’s whereabouts have been something of a mystery for quite some time. More than a decade ago, police in Palm Beach sought unsuccessfully to interview her about the allegations against Epstein. In the intervening years, Maxwell has spent time living in London, New York, Paris, on a variety of vessels in the Caribbean, and with friends in Southern California and Massachusetts, according to friends, business associates and law enforcement officials.
The New York Post on Thursday published photos of Maxwell sitting earlier this week on the outdoor patio of an In-N-Out burger joint in the Universal City area of Los Angeles. She was reading a book titled, “The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives.”
According to neighbors here, the Paris-born, Oxford-educated, New York socialite moved into a $2.5 million home on a 1.5-acre parcel of land sometime after the property, which was sold out of the Sharksmouth Estate more than 30 years ago, changed hands again in 2016. They said she lived there with Scott Borgerson, chief executive of CargoMetrics Technologies and an ocean conservation activist.
In an interview late Wednesday, Borgerson, a former Coast Guard officer, declined to say whether Maxwell had lived there with him. “My private life is my private life,” he said, adding that he was glad to be home with his cat after a tiring work trip. In a text message, he commented on how, in the echo chamber of the Internet, “a rumor like this can go crazy so quickly.”
She went by “G” rather than her distinctive first name, neighbors said, had a vizsla dog and took walks to the waterfront, but kept largely to herself.
The town’s newfound fame as the backdrop for a sordid story involving the super rich has irked some residents, adding to the area’s reputation as a hangout for the ultrawealthy.
“People born and raised here are getting upset — that it’s turning into a Nantucket,” said Rich.
One man, a former police officer who works in the harbor, said Manchester was proud of its British heritage, but he said he did not welcome Maxwell. He added that he led a brief hunt for a vessel that employees of a local boat yard said was owned by Borgerson — the Hopley Yeaten, an apparent nod to the 18th-century naval commander who was commissioned into a forerunner of today’s Coast Guard.
But most attention was focused on the historic, pale-yellow house down a tree-lined driveway, with its imposing “No Trespassing” sign.
It looks like a perfect hideaway, nestled inside another 40-acre estate. That property is owned by the Shelving Rock Trust, where descendants of a prominent local family still summer.
There are indications that Borgerson and his neighbors were not on the best of terms. Minutes from a 2018 meeting of the local zoning board suggest the trustees did not support Borgerson’s application to construct “a natural swimming pool and a new two-story, two-car garage attached addition with a second floor in-law apartment.” A lawyer for the trust described the house as a historically significant property that had been brought over by barge from Salem, Mass., and deserved preservation.
Borgerson said Wednesday that he did not know where Maxwell was. Even those who said they were sure she had been living there said they did not think she was still at the property. Such a jet-setter was sure to be far away by now, they opined.
Diners at the Eastern Point Yacht Club in Gloucester, Mass., speculated about whether Cape Ann’s rugged granite coast, with inlets and natural harbors that have hidden pirates and drug smugglers, could now be providing cover for Maxwell. New York artist Helen Beekman, who has summered here for years, spotted a large and unfamiliar yacht moored nearby.
“I wonder if it could be them,” she mused.