Understanding Mark Madoff's Misery

The son of the Ponzi schemer, who committed suicide last Saturday, was in a tough situation: his friends couldn't defend him, and he couldn't clear his name

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Bernie Madoff's son Mark Madoff committed suicide this past Saturday. When the Wire reported response to the story earlier this week, much was mere speculation. Now, though, The New York Times' Diana B. Henriques and Peter Lattman have pieced together the story:

In the two years after his father was arrested, Mark Madoff tried to put his life back together. Though he wasn't a target of a criminal investigation into Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, the younger Madoff's name was so toxic that not only would no one would give him a job on Wall Street. His wife filed to change her last name--and that of the couple's two sons--to Morgan. Still, Madoff rose at 4 a.m. to work on a real estate newsletter he'd founded. On the second anniversary of his father's arrest, Madoff decided he couldn't fight any longer, and killed himself.

One of Mark Madoff's lifelong friends explained to the Times that "the pressure of the last two years weighed on him enormously ... He was deeply, deeply angry at what his father had done to him--to everybody. That anger just seemed to feed on itself." The Times team reports, too, that "the burden had eased as the public's fierce interest in the case seemed to fade, this person said. But the spate of lawsuits filed last week by the Madoff trustee included a troubling one against his children." Worse, all potential allies were "muzzled" by their lawyers, so they couldn't defend Madoff in public.

The night he died, Madoff walked his beloved dog and put his 2-year-old to bed. He emailed his wife to send someone to care for the toddler. Then he hanged himself with a dog leash. To avoid more media scrutiny, Madoff's widow decided not to have a funeral for her husband.

Here's some of the ongoing discussion as more of the details of this story come out.

  • Bullied to Death? Caroline Howard wonders at Forbes. Howard cites several cases of teens who were bullied online and then killed themselves. Sure, she says, these were teens bullied by peers, while the adult Madoff faced an avalanche of legal troubles and criticism. Yet, she continues. "the common thread I'm suggesting here is a shared experience of unrelenting pressure from accusations and innuendo. One wonders what this man with young children, a wife and family went through to drive him to suicide. Just calling him 'Madoff' may have been enough."
  • Out of Options, Jillian Bandes writes at Townhall. "If Mark didn't feel like living like a schmuck in the middle of nowhere where he could just work some job and no one knew his name, then his choices were looking pretty bad. Suicide clearly wasn’t the only option, but to him, it was."
  • If Only He Could Have Proved His Innocence, Mara Gay says at AOL News. "If Mark Madoff had been able to clear his name, he might still be alive."
  • Did Madoff Have PTSD? Mark Goulston wonders at Psychology Today. Though it's impossible to diagnose someone without having met him, Goulston, a clinical psychiatrist who has treated suicidal people for decades, says "there are a number of factors known to the public about Mark Madoff that have caused me to conjecture that undiagnosed and untreated PTSD might have contributed to his committing suicide." Madoff fits Goulston's checklist, starting with "feeling bulletproof"--"Prior to the trauma, they often felt invulnerable as if nothing could harm them (the way a very wealthy person who can buy anything--and sometimes anyone--can feel all the way to a freshly trained soldier before they enter battle)."
Bernie Madoff endangered his family and his friendships for money. He inflicted untold pain on thousands of people. Somehow there is cruel justice in the fact that the shocks of his crimes should reverberate back on him in this way. He has to live with the knowledge that he caused his son’s death. ... [I]n those old [Greek] tragedies, pain would course through families; and the sons, as the unavoidable saying goes, would pay for the sins of their fathers. Those old plays presumed that the universe is essentially just, and that there are moral laws and filaments so that evil eventually leads to evil.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.