Bernard Madoff's elder son, who took his own life in his New York apartment at the weekend, had been driven to despair by the stain of his father's financial swindles and by the battering of lawsuits against him, the latest of which was filed in London last Thursday, friends and associates said yesterday.
The body of Mark Madoff, 46, was founding hanging from a dog lead attached to a pipe in his SoHo apartment early on Saturday while his 2-year-old son, Nicholas, was sleeping in an adjoining room. While an autopsy is due this morning, the death was being treated as a suicide.
Police were still studying computer records and in particular emails to his wife, Stephanie Morgan, who was at Disney World in Florida yesterday. Written in the hours before his death, they made clear to her that their family "would be better off without 'this' hanging over them all, forever," a source told the Daily News. "He all but said he was going to kill himself."
Ms Morgan – who changed her family name earlier this year, with no objection from her husband, to try to escape the Madoff shame – became alarmed by the dismal emails and asked her father in New York to go around to the apartment. He found the body at 7.30 am on Saturday.
Her husband seems to have timed his suicide carefully to coincide with the very day of the arrest of his father two years ago. It came the day after he and his younger brother, Andrew, had confronted their father about concerns they had about his Manhattan investment firm, where they were both working. After their father told them of the Ponzi scheme he had constructed, Mark went directly to the police.
"I love you," he wrote in one of the missives to his wife just moments before his death. He added: "Send someone to take care of Nick".
Mark had seemingly not spoken to his father since Bernard Madoff's arrest on 11 December 2008 or to his mother, who he considered an "enabler" of the fraud. Valued at $65bn, the Ponzi scheme was the biggest in history and brought ruin to thousands of investors around the world.
Neither Mark nor Andrew faced criminal charges stemming from the scandal. But civil lawsuits had been coming in droves, filed in part by victims of the scheme trying to recoup their money or, more significantly, from Irving Picard, the trustee charged with liquidating the assets of Madoff's investment firm and its subsidiaries.
Mr Picard had until Saturday to file the suits on behalf of victims of the swindle. On Thursday in London, he filed a suit against a former UK Madoff subsidiary. Because Mark Madoff was on its board, he was named in it as one of the defendants. Most galling to Mark Madoff, it seems, however, was another of Mr Picard's suits which named his children, including Nicholas, the 2-year-old.
"I have a hard time believing this," said Eleanor Squillari, a former personal secretary to Bernard Madoff. "Mark was so sweet. He was a wonderful person and I cared about him very much. This doesn't seem like the Mark we knew."
While there were reports that the father, now serving a 150-year prison sentence in North Carolina, had been informed of his son's death on Saturday, there was no information on whether he would be allowed out to attend his funeral. Nor, for that matter, was there any certainty that he would be welcome at the burial anyway.