When disgraced financier Bernie Madoff confessed to running the world’s biggest Ponzi-scheme that defrauded thousands of victims of $64 billion, the only member of his family who stuck by him was Ruth, his wife of more than 50 years.
The 79-year-old, who married Madoff when she was just 18, fled Manhattan in shame after her husband’s arrest in 2008, and has been living in exile in Greenwich, Connecticut, since 2012, stripped of the extravagant wealth she once enjoyed – and forced to live a frugal, and seemingly lonely, life.
Madoff’s death at the Federal Correctional Facility in Butner, North Carolina, on Wednesday has left Ruth all but alone, with no remaining close family.
The couple’s two sons both died in the wake of their father’s imprisonment; their eldest son Mark killed himself in December 2010 on the second anniversary of the Ponzi-schemer’s arrest, while his brother Andrew passed away from lymphoma in September 2014.
Remarkably, Ruth has always maintained that she knew nothing of her husband’s schemes, despite doing the company books for years.
Throughout their marriage, Ruth enjoyed an incredibly lavish lifestyle courtesy of her husband’s $80 million fortune; the couple split their time between their $7 million penthouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and a palatial $4 million mansion in the Hamptons – just two of many homes they owned.
Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff, the man behind the world’s biggest fraud in Wall Street’s history, passed away in prison on Wednesday, leaving behind wife Ruth, whom he was married to for more than 60 years
Ruth was just 18 when she and Bernie got married in 1959, a year before he founded his firm, and she was the only member of his family who stuck by him after his arrest in 2008. The couple is pictured together in Montauk in the 1980s
Family: Together, the couple had two sons, both of whom tragically died after Bernie’s imprisonment. Older son Mark hung himself in December 2010, on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest, and Andrew died of lymphoma in September 2014
After her husband’s Ponzi scheme was brought to light, Ruth (seen in 2017) fled Manhattan in shame and has been exiled in Greenwich, Connecticut, ever since – where she lives an incredibly frugal life, a world away from her once-glittering lifestyle
In addition to the New York and Long Island properties, the Madoffs had an $11 million estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and a home in the south of France, as well as private jets and a yacht.
Throughout her marriage, Ruth enjoyed extravagant shopping sprees in Paris, spent tens of thousands of dollars on antique furniture for their penthouse, and was gifted a staggering $2.5 million worth of jewelry by her husband.
Despite being pictured on her husband’s arm at some of New York’s most glittering events, where they rubbed elbows with the upper echelons of Manhattan society, Ruth remained incredibly private, keeping much of her life hidden from the public.
But her fall from societal grace was incredibly well documented; having once been the toast of Manhattan’s elite, Ruth’s life in Connecticut could not have been further from the extravagant wealth she once enjoyed. Gone were the glittering parties and sprawling homes to be replaced by a modest condominium, and shopping trips at IKEA.
Still, Ruth maintained her support of her husband while he served out his 150-year sentence at a North Carolina jail, and during his trial, she – along with Madoff’s brother Peter – paid his $10 million bond to free him from jail.
Before Bernie’s Ponzi scheme was laid bare, the couple seemed on the surface to have the perfect marriage. the However over the years, their decades-long relationship was revealed to have a much darker underbelly, not least as a result of Madoff’s underhanded financial dealings – which eventually saw him sentenced to 150 years in prison after he was handed over to the FBI by his own sons.
Madoff confessed that his business had been ‘all just one big lie’ during a meeting with Mark and Andrew at his Manhattan home, and despite his pleas that they give him 24 hours to get their family affairs in order, the brothers turned him into the authorities the following day.
After his arrest and eventual incarceration, details about Bernie’s constant criticism of Ruth came to light, while friends and family claimed that she had lived in ‘fear’ of her husband throughout much of their marriage.
It was also reported by Vanity Fair that her appearance was carefully curated during the early years of their rise through Manhattan’s elite society to ensure that she embodied a ‘perfectly preserved and packaged society wife’, with friends revealing how Ruth maintained her looks through rigorous personal training sessions, regular hair appointments, and even cosmetic procedures.
Ruth herself even offered a glimpse into the darker realities of their marriage, telling a biographer in 2011 that her husband frequently criticized her to the point where she thought she would be ‘fired’ as his wife – and revealing that Bernie had a 16-year-long affair with a woman named Sheryl Weinstein.
‘I always felt like I was going to be fired,’ she told Laurie Sandell, author of the Madoff tell-all Truth and Consequences.
She was so paranoid he was going to cheat on her that she only allowed him to travel for 24 hours alone at a time.
Following his arrest, Ruth confessed that she turned to alcohol to attempt to deal with the fallout from the scandal, revealing that she would regularly slip into what she called a ‘rosé coma’.
Ignorance is bliss? Ruth (seen with Bernie at their niece’s wedding in 2007) has maintained that she knew nothing of his underhanded dealings – despite the fact that she managed his company’s books for years
Behind the scenes: In the years after Bernie was sentenced to 150 years in jail, Ruth (seen with her husband in Montauk in 1980) shared intimate details about their marriage, including details about his constant criticism of her
Friends and family members have claimed that Ruth’s appearance was carefully curated to ensure that she looked like a ‘perfectly preserved society wife’. She is pictured with son Andrew on the beach in Montauk in 1981
Lavish: During their marriage, Ruth had the run of several different properties, including a penthouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (left) and a palatial mansion in the Hamptons (right)
Getaway: The couple also had a property in Palm Beach, Florida (left) – which was paid for with his victims’ money – and a private jet (right), which Bernie was infamously particular about
But despite his constant criticism, lengthy affair, and scandalous financial dealings, Ruth never faltered in her public support of her husband – and in a 2011 interview with 60 Minutes she even revealed that she had tried to commit suicide alongside him just months after his arrest, because they ‘couldn’t go on anymore’.
In her first interview since her husband’s imprisonment, the diminutive blonde recalled how the couple swallowed a large number of pills and then lay down on their bed next to each other on Christmas Eve 2008 hoping to die, however they woke up the next morning unharmed.
‘I don’t know whose idea it was, but we decided to kill ourselves because it was so horrendous what was happening,’ she said, complaining about the hateful messages and criticism they had faced after her husband’s horrific crimes were brought to light.
‘We had terrible phone calls. Hate mail, just beyond anything and I said: “I just can’t go on anymore,”‘ she said.
‘I took what we had, he took more. We took pills and woke up the next day… It was very impulsive and I am glad we woke up,’ she added.
Before trying the kill themselves Ruth said she had sent her younger son Andrew a package of sentimental items such as jewelry and when he later asked why, she revealed their plot to him.
During Madoff’s trial, Ruth was vilified by the public, and faced furious backlash over her decision to support him – and, initially, her apparent lack of contrition or sympathy for her husband’s tens of thousands of victims, many of whom lost everything as a result of his Ponzi scheme.
When it was revealed that she had cut a deal with prosecutors to keep $2.5 million of her husband’s wealth in exchange for surrendering a claim to his $80 million fortune, public bitterness towards her increased ten-fold, particularly after she finally spoke out, only to lament the fact that ‘the life she had known for 50 years was over’.
‘I am breaking my silence now, because my reluctance to speak has been interpreted as indifference or lack of sympathy for the victims of my husband Bernie’s crime, which is exactly the opposite of the truth,’ she said upon the news of her husband’s sentencing.
‘From the moment I learned from my husband that he had committed an enormous fraud, I have had two thoughts – first, that so many people who trusted him would be ruined financially and emotionally, and second, that my life with the man I have known for over 50 years was over.’
Ruth went on to express her ‘devastation’ for the victims of her husband’s crimes, many of whom, she said, were ‘her close friends and family’.
‘I am embarrassed and ashamed,’ she said. ‘Like everyone else, I feel betrayed and confused. The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years.’
Ruth has been left as the sole survivor of her family after her husband’s death. Their son Mark (left) hung himself in December 2010, while Andrew (center) died of lymphoma in September 2014
New reality: Since moving to Greenwhich, where she lives in a modest condominium, Ruth’s life has changed drastically, and she has been pictured in recent years shopping at bargain stores
Downfall: Having once spent tens of thousands of dollars on antique furniture for her New York penthouse, Ruth’s new lifestyle saw her shopping for bargain items at Ikea in 2015
Home: Ruth has most recently been living in this modest apartment complex in Old Greenwich
After watching her husband be sentenced to 150 years in jail, and mourning the loss of her once-extravagant, globe-trotting lifestyle, Ruth had to weather further tragedy when her older son Mark Madoff hanged himself on December 11, 2010 – the second anniversary of his father’s arrest.
He and brother Andrew had been the ones who turned him in but after years of negative headlines he was unable to move on, and he took his own life at the age of 46.
In the wake of his death, Mark’s widow, Stephanie Madoff Mack released an explosive tell-all book about the Madoff family, painting a deeply unflattering, and at times very pitiful, portrait of her mother-in-law.
Madoff Mack claimed that Ruth was so obsessed with dieting that she would pour salt all over food to prevent herself from eating it – but would then dig the carcass of a roast chicken out of the trash so she could lick the bones clean.
She also wrote that Bernie would make crude remarks about his daughters-in-law in front of his wife – and their sons – with Madoff Mack recalling one incident when Madoff ‘ogled’ her bottom and remarked how big it was when she was pregnant, while on another occasion, he complimented the body of Andrew’s wife Catherine, before remarking that she ‘could have been heavier on top’.
According to Ruth’s daughter-in-law, Madoff’s infidelity made her all the more insecure about her appearance – and Madoff Mack claimed in her book, The End of Normal, that Ruth regularly got Botox and filler, had veneers, and had undergone two facelifts in order to maintain her youthful appearance – all in an attempt to meet Madoff’s high standards.
Friends and family members revealed how closely Bernie had monitored Ruth’s transformation from Queens native to the toast of Manhattan society, with former employee Julia Fenwick telling Vanity Fair in 2009 that Ruth was very clearly ‘under Bernie’s thumb’.
‘Ruth wasn’t independent,’ Julia said. ‘Ruth was absolutely under Bernie’s thumb. If Bernie said, “Jump,” Ruth would say, “How high?” If her makeup was slightly off, he’d say, “What happened to your face?” For Ruth, looking good was all for Bernie.’
To that end, Ruth turned to well-established socialite – and her new neighbor – Susan Blumenfeld, wife of property developer Edward Blumenfeld, for advice, Julia revealed. Bernie and Ruth formed a fast friendship with the Blumenfelds after they moved from an apartment in Bayside, Queens, to a much larger home on Long Island.
The Blumenfelds were among the tens of thousands of victims of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
Unwavering: Ruth (seen leaving the Metropolitan Correctional Center after visiting her husband in 2009) spent years living ‘under Bernie’s thumb’, a former employee revealed to Vanity Fair
According to Julia – who ran the Madoffs’ London office – every decision that Ruth made about her appearance, from her haircut and color to her wardrobe purchases, were run by Susan for ‘approval’.
‘I was told by Shana Madoff [Bernie’s niece and a compliance lawyer in his firm] that Ruth would not buy any clothing without Susan’s approval,’ Julia recalled. ‘They went everywhere together, and she would wear a lot of the same clothes as Susan. They were kind of like clones – everything was very basic, straightforward. Neither would go out on a limb.’
For Ruth – who was raised in a modest household in Queens, where she was known as Ruthie Alpern – the wealth and extravagance that came along with her husband’s financial success was entirely new, however she seems to have been determined to succeed as the ideal society wife, if anything simply to please Madoff, and help his ascent in Wall Street wherever possible.
But despite living ‘under Bernie’s thumb’, it was actually Ruth who helped to launch her husband’s financial career in the first place; her father, accountant Saul Alpern, helped Madoff to get his career off the ground by advising him, and helping him to raise money to start his own business.
As swift as the Madoffs’ ascent to the upper echelons of Manhattan society was, their fall from grace was even quicker – and Ruth’s life today could not be further from the glittering lifestyle she once enjoyed, surrounded by members of the city’s most elite circles.
For the most part, the mother-of-two appears to live an incredibly lonely life. Even before her sons tragically passed away, it was reported that they had both refused to see her, and Andrew is said to have banned her from contacting his two daughters, her grandchildren, Anne and Emily.
However Ruth does have a relationship with her former daughter-in-law, Susan Elkin, 56, the first wife of her late son Mark, with whom he fathered two children – Daniel, 29, and Kate, 26.
It is understood that Ruth chose Old Greenwich as her new home so that she could be close to her two eldest grandchildren, and while she was initially living in a 989-square-foot apartment in the area, the New York Post reports that she has now moved into a $3.8 million waterfront mansion nearby that is owned by Elkin and her second husband, Richard, 56.
Ruth is understood to have been living in the home since September.
Although Ruth was able to to ink a deal with prosecutors that allowed her to keep $2.5 million, it is unlikely that she has many assets to her name, and she agreed in 2019 to pay $594,000 to her husband’s victims, and surrender all of her remaining assets when she dies.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein in Manhattan authorized the settlement in May of that year, ending a decade-old lawsuit.
The accord called for the former socialite, who was never charged over her husband’s Ponzi scheme, to pay $250,000 in cash and give up $344,000 of trusts for two grandchildren.
She also agreed to surrender her remaining assets upon her death to Irving Picard, the trustee liquidating Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.
The disgraced Wall Street banker’s wife had been sued by Picard for $44.8 million in 2009, but in a May 3, 2019 filing, the judge said that the new settlement a ‘fair and reasonable compromise,’ citing her limited assets and the litigation risks.