It wasn't fear of criminal charges that drove Bernie Madoff's son Mark to suicide, it was fear of permanent disgrace.
"If he asked the question, 'Would my wife and children be better off without me?' the answer would probably be yes,' '' said one person familiar with his circumstances.
"He had been struggling," said another source close to Mark Madoff. "This wasn't something he thought of overnight."
Madoff, who was found dead yesterday in his Manhattan apartment, had been attempting for two years to find a way out from under his felonious father's shadow.
The 46-year-old father of four saw a glimmer of hope in the possibility of starting his own public relations business, family friends and lawyers say.
But those hopes were dashed in recent days. A surge of publicity timed to the second anniversary of his father's heinous crimes and a flurry of multi-billion-dollar civil suits filed on behalf of Madoff fraud victims loomed large in his mind. His four-year-old and two-year-old children had been named in one suit filed by the bankruptcy trustee tasked with recovering funds for victims. Criminal charges against Madoff were possible, though lawyers say none were imminent.
He felt hopeless, according to associates, and not even a child sleeping in a nearby room could keep him from taking his life.
Madoff was found hanged Saturday two years to the day after his father's arrest. The medical examiner confirmed Sunday that his death was a suicide.
Madoff left behind several emails, including one to his wife, Stephanie, telling her that he loved her, but no explanation of why he chose to take his life.
"I love you," the email said. "... send someone to take care of Nick."
In a separate email to his lawyer Martin Flumenbaum, Mark Madoff wrote, "No one wants to hear the truth take care of my family," according to law enforcement sources.
He also sent one to his wife and to his father-in-law asking that someone come to get the couple's two-year-old child.
Madoff's father-in-law came to the apartment and found his son-in-law hanged in the living room around 7:30 a.m. Saturday, police said. The two-year-old was sleeping peacefully in a bedroom nearby.
Two years ago, shortly after his father summoned him to his posh upper East Side Manhattan home to disclose the $60 billion Ponzi scheme that has cost so many their life's savings, he told friends that despite his own involvement in his father's business affairs, he was stunned when he learned of the scam. His lawyer had instructed him to have no communication at all with his father, or with his mother, Ruth Madoff, who Mark Madoff is said to have considered "an enabler."
The trustee appointed by the court to recover funds for Madoff investment fraud victims, Irving Picard, has filed numerous lawsuits against Mark and other Madoff family members seeking to recover billions.
On Thursday, Picard named Mark Madoff and other family members as respondents in an $80 million suit filed against Madoff Securities International Ltd. (MSIL), the London office of the Madoff investment company.
But lawyers deny that Mark Madoff had any pending criminal charges -- here or abroad -- and reiterate that their client never had an inkling of his father's decades long crime spree.
"Mark and Andrew Madoff had no prior knowledge of their father's crimes and contacted the U.S. Department of Justice and the SEC immediately after their father told them he had defrauded his investment advisory clients," said Martin Flumenbaum.
His wife Stephanie meanwhile, according to family friends, will not set foot in the couple's apartment at 158 Mercer Street ever again.