The words “a place in France and a place in Palm Beach” might still have been hanging in the air like a whiff of perfume when Ruth arrived at her husband’s office. Did she already know what they were going to discuss? Or was she in for the shock of her life? It’s impossible to say. That afternoon, Ruth kept a low profile and didn’t speak to many people. According to Boston regulators, she withdrew $10 million out of her personal account at Cohmad Securities. A few hours later, Bernie confessed to his sons that “it’s all just one big lie.” Bernie reportedly told Mark and Andy that once he’d distributed $200 million to $300 million to some employees and friends, he’d turn himself in. Instead of waiting, the boys left their parents’ apartment and met with lawyers from the firm Paul, Weiss, who promptly contacted the U.S. Attorney’s office and the SEC. They also retained Sard Verbinnen & Co., the crisis-management PR firm. As far as we know, Mark and Andy never discussed what their father had done with their mother, even though she was in the apartment when he told them. They haven’t spoken to Ruth since that day.
With the estrangement from her children, the public ostracism, no prospect of ever again living with her companion of 50 years, and the lingering possibility that she could be charged herself, Ruth is facing a bleak and isolated future. Her hope is that with Bernie’s sentencing behind her, she might be able to fade into non-notoriety, rent an apartment, and spend time with her grandchildren. Not wanting to become a shut-in, she makes a point of getting out and going for a walk every day, although she’s too timid to venture into places like museums, for fear of recognition. She is stung by the relentless press coverage. Reports of Bernie’s infidelities—one gossip item suggested that Bernie had had an affair with an executive assistant at a media company—were especially hurtful, although she doesn’t believe them. She is, amazingly, no longer angry with her husband for destroying their lives. Bernie, for his part, is said to be worried about his wife and whether she’ll be able to survive on her own.
The classmate who had lunch with Ruth on December 10 is convinced that she didn’t know a thing when they met that day. Ruth seemed relaxed and cheerful, not like a woman carrying a secret, who knew that her world was blowing apart and was putting on a brave face. Still, even her friends admit that Ruth is ultimately unknowable.
“I loved these people. I do not know who they are, but I loved them,” says another close friend. “I don’t know what she’s going to do. Too many people lost too much, too many people are so angry at her. People yell at me when I say she didn’t know anything. They say, ‘What, are you crazy?’”