BRADFORD, N.H. — The residents of this 1,700-person town disagree over the last major event that had everyone talking. There was the electrical fire that ravaged a house just before Christmas. There was the lawsuit alleging that the fire chief was conspiring against the owner of the local bed and breakfast. Surely, one resident mused, someone must have run off with someone else’s wife.
But everyone can agree that the drama accompanying the recent arrest of longtime Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell by a swarm of FBI special agents on a remote road at the edge of town surpassed all that.
When prosecutors last week announced that Maxwell was charged with recruiting underage girls for Epstein and participating in their abuse, they also noted that she had been hiding out on a 156-acre property in Bradford. She lived in an estate with “a fabulous barn for hoedowns, square dances, and hay rides,” according to the property site Zillow.
Residents couldn’t quite believe it. Bradford? The town where the police brought hand sanitizer to the pet supply store when the coronavirus hit?
“It’s very, very, very quiet,” said Jessica Michie, the owner of the 5 Acres Garden Center and Pet Supply, who was grateful for the hand sanitizer. “A nice hometown feel. Like when you drive by anybody, they wave.”
Maxwell, a citizen of three countries, apparently bought the home in an all-cash purchase at the end of December through an anonymous LLC, a prosecutor’s memo said. The LLC has a Boston-based mailing address, according to public records.
“We had been discreetly keeping tabs on Maxwell’s whereabouts,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York office, at a press conference. “More recently we learned she had slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire, continuing to live a life of privilege while her victims live with the trauma inflicted upon them years ago.” The memo said she had been “hiding out in locations in New England” for the past year.
Some residents are curious about how exactly one might live a lavish life in Bradford, especially on East Washington Road, which becomes unpaved halfway down, is freezing six months of the year, and is a 25-minute drive from the nearest supermarket.
With all her money and her three passports, “why wouldn’t she leave the country?” wondered Joe Torro, the owner of the Bradford Village Inn, who has been inundated with calls from British reporters in recent days. (Maxwell was the daughter of billionaire British publisher Robert Maxwell, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1991 after tumbling off the side of his yacht.)
Hidden by a winding driveway and dense woods, the property itself offered few clues. A black metal gate barred it from unwanted visitors; birds chirped and dew glistened on the ferns lining the path. A man on a four-wheeler who said he was managing the estate met a Globe reporter halfway up the driveway and insisted the reporter leave because it was private property. He seemed to be wearing a mask patterned with giant monster teeth.
The few neighbors nearby also keep mostly to themselves.
“I have spent 21 years here and I know about nobody,” said Lisa Morris, who lives directly across the street from the estate and was sweeping out her camper in the driveway after a week out of town.
Morris said she had never seen anyone at the house, except late last year when a skinny man with gray hair and a Massachusetts license plate tried and failed to get his car up the snowy driveway. Her family had initially moved to Bradford because it was rural, and she liked that everyone kept to themselves. Asked whether she worried that her own goings-on had been caught up in the FBI surveillance of Maxwell, she shrugged.
“They’re not gonna hear anything of any interest,” she said.
But if Maxwell had really been in Bradford this whole time, wouldn’t people have seen her? Now some past encounters are appearing to locals in a new light. One woman wondered if she had seen Maxwell at the local flea market. Another pondered whether she had sold vegetables to Maxwell, who, she reasoned, would have been wearing a mask. Had she been grocery shopping at the Market Basket? Had she walked past the Appleseed restaurant, wearing a baseball hat to disguise her haircut?
Pondering those potential encounters, residents concluded that yes, it was certainly surprising that an internationally infamous socialite and alleged child trafficker chose Bradford as her hideout. But, ultimately, didn’t it actually make a perfect kind of sense? Wouldn’t Bradford, in fact, be the best kind of town to go to in a situation like this?
“If you were a fugitive, even if you didn’t have any cash, this would be the place to come,” said Larry Sliger, a resident waiting outside the Pizza Chef restaurant for his son to pick him up. “As long as you hid when the people came to plow, nobody would even know you were there.”
New Hampshire, after all, does have a certain reputation. Vito Spatafore escaped to a small town in New Hampshire on “The Sopranos”; Walter White went into hiding here on “Breaking Bad.”
And so the question for some residents wasn’t exactly why Bradford, but instead an altogether more frightening one.
“How many other people are here?” asked Michie, lowering her voice. “I bet you there’s a lot of people up here.”