Stepping furtively through the streets of Paris, her face mysteriously shrouded, the figure in the heavy shawl was bound to attract attention – and so it proved.
For this was just months after the suicide of paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. And the woman who seemed so anxious to avoid attention bore a remarkable resemblance to Epstein’s former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell – now the most hunted woman on the planet. Had she fled from America to France?
From the moment Epstein was found dead in his New York cell in August 2019, the focus of attention turned to longtime associate Ghislaine, even though she had never been charged with any crime. Victims of Epstein accused her of being a ‘madam’ – claims she vehemently denies and will vigorously contest in court when her trial begins later this month.
Victims of Jeffrey Epstein accused Ghislaine Maxwell (Pictured) of being a ‘madam’ – claims she vehemently denies and will vigorously contest in court when her trial begins later this month
Today, for the first time, we can reveal the lengths that Ghislaine went to in order to keep a low profile – which included the extraordinary tactic of hiring ‘lookalikes’ to stroll through Paris to dupe the world’s media.
In an exclusive interview, British security expert Matt Hellyer, a decorated former Paratrooper who headed the crack security team staffed with ex-SAS members that guarded the heiress for a year, said: ‘We went to an agency in France. A security collaborating agency. They found us two people who resembled Ghislaine and her brother Kevin.
‘They strolled in Paris for a couple of days and we leaked it to a newspaper. That is how we distracted the attention away from where Ghislaine really was. She was in the US at all times.
‘Ghislaine was not running from the authorities, she was running from the media.
‘And, you know, many people don’t believe Epstein killed himself. So we were also hired to protect her from a potential killer.’
The astonishing details of Ghislaine Maxwell’s year-long cat and mouse ‘game’ can be revealed for the first time today.
She insists that, far from ‘being on the run’ as many have accused her of being, she was, in fact, available at all times to the American authorities had they wished to question her.
Instead, she says, the FBI staged a dramatic early-morning raid on her final hideaway – an £800,000 estate in New Hampshire – to gain maximum publicity and paint her in the worst light possible.
Mr Hellyer, a friend of Ghislaine’s brother Kevin, was hired within hours of Epstein’s death.
A friend of Ghislaine’s brother Kevin (pictured ) Mr Hellyer, was hired within hours of Epstein’s death to ‘get her out of her home’
At the time, Ghislaine was living in a secluded £3 million ocean-front property in Manchester-by-Sea, Massachusets, with her husband Scott Borgerson, the couple’s dogs and Scott’s two children.
In his first interview for a new documentary Ghislaine, which will air in the UK and US after her November 29 trial ends, Mr Hellyer said: ‘Our assignment was to get her out of her home within 12 hours of Epstein’s death. She was worried about Scott’s kids. She didn’t want the cameras around them or anything to happen that could affect their lives. I told her we could fly her out of the country immediately. She refused.’
Ghislaine, who was turned down for bail for the fourth time this week, claims she never planned to flee the US. After all, why would she? She insists she is innocent of all charges against her of procuring young women for Epstein and of engaging in sexual assaults against them herself. Her youngest alleged victim was just 14.
Despite having UK, French and US passports, Ghislaine chose to remain in the States, a fact that she and her supporters insist shows she has nothing to hide.
But she was constantly on the move, from one ‘safe house’ to another, as she tried to outrun the media.
Mr Hellyer recalled: ‘Scott felt he could protect her but we convinced him she had to go. From then on, it was, “Where in the world is Ghislaine?” Everyone was speculating.
‘We did not hide her from the authorities. They knew that at any point if they wanted to talk to Ghislaine we would bring her safely to them.’
Indeed, Ghislaine’s legal team claim they reached out to the FBI – but never heard back.
Some media outlets offered readers lucrative ‘bounties’ for the first pictures of the elusive heiress.
At one stage, Ghislaine was photographed outside an In-N-Out burger joint in Los Angeles. Bizarrely, she was reading The Book of Honour: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives.
A Ghislaine lookalike (pictured) in Paris to dupe the world’s media and help her keep a low profile
According to reports at the time, a stunned fellow diner asked: ‘Are you who I think you are?’ to which she replied: ‘Yes, I am.’
The photograph was pored over, with some claiming it was a fake because a poster on a bus stop behind her had long been removed by the time the image was released, according to the ad agency who controlled the bus stop hoarding.
Yet Ghislaine really was in Los Angeles – staying at the home of an old friend. So was it a stunt?
Mr Hellyer says not, adding: ‘We had to move her immediately after that photo came out.’
Ghislaine remained on the move, even as speculation about her whereabouts reached fever pitch.
Everyone, it seemed, had a theory, each one wilder than the last. The New York Post speculated she was in Israel or even on a submarine (she is a qualified submersible pilot). There were rumours she was with Epstein’s friend, former model agent Jean-Luc Brunel, in Brazil.
Was she a secret agent for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency linked to her late father, disgraced newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell? Was it true she had been seen being spirited away in the dead of night by Israeli agents?
There were theories that she was holed up in a private villa in the South of France, had been ‘hidden’ by South African supporters deep in the bush, and even that she was in an underground bunker owned by rich and powerful friends who were terrified of the secrets she might ‘spill’ if she chose to tell all.
There were sightings in New Zealand, the Caribbean, London… and, yes, Paris.
The Sun newspaper reported that she had been seen there, claiming to have identified her from a distinctive signet ring.
‘She rarely went out, but when she did, she wore a large patterned blanket which she pulled tightly around her face and draped across her shoulders,’ it said.
‘She clearly didn’t want to be recognised and was able to blend in.’
The ruse was a good one. Epstein owned an apartment there on the Avenue Foch, close to the Arc de Triomphe. It is now on the market for £10 million. Ghislaine’s mother is French and Ghislaine was born in France and has French citizenship.
‘Everyone loved the Paris sighting,’ said a source close to the case. ‘Sometimes it’s a matter of giving the people what they want. The sighting kept everyone happy for a while and sent the dogs barking down the wrong trail. She never left America.’
In reality, Ghislaine would move from safe house to safe house, always under cover of darkness.
She regularly changed her phone to avoid being tracked and spoke only to her closest family.
Everything she needed was bought with cash. But by early last year, she was tired of being, in effect, ‘homeless’.
Mr Hellyer said: ‘She missed her family. She was getting tired. She needed a home.’
Ghislaine told her security team: ‘Enough running!’ A refuge was found in the sleepy town of Bradford, New Hampshire, an hour’s drive away from the home she shared with her husband and stepchildren.
Isolated in 156 acres of rural woodland, it was the perfect spot for her to relax and stop running.
Mr Hellyer said: ‘She and Scott and the kids reunited at weekend. We brought the family to her home, her animals. They were able to be a real, loving family.’
But in the early hours of July 2, 2020, all that changed.
Ghislaine and her guards heard a small plane flying directly over the property at around 5am.
Mr Hellyer recalled: ‘I immediately knew it was the authorities. We were in the pandemic lockdown. What small plane could it be unless it was the authorities?’
He insists Ghislaine was trained to go to a ‘safe room’ and did not try to flee as FBI agents broke through the door, as authorities claimed in a press conference later that day.
FBI assistant director William Sweeney told assembled reporters: ‘She is one of the villains… who slithered away to a gorgeous property where she was continuing to live a life of privilege while her victims live with the trauma inflicted upon them years ago.’
But Mr Hellyer claimed: ‘She did exactly what she was told by us. She did not run from the authorities like some have claimed.
‘The moment we identified it was the authorities, she cooperated.
‘She was not handcuffed.
‘She asked to say goodbye to her beloved animals.’
Ghislaine’s brother Ian added: ‘The authorities knew at all times where my sister was, so to have this “big show”, the aeroplanes, the press conference. They had an agenda. Clearly.’
It is a charge the FBI denies. In court filings agents claimed they tracked her via her mobile, which she opened in the name of ‘G Max’ and used to call her sister Isabel.
Regardless, Ghislaine has spent every night since then behind bars. Within weeks, a jury will decide if she will walk free – or remain locked up for ever.