In classical tragedy, betrayal and vengeance, once set in motion, can’t be stopped. They become an inheritance passed through generations. So it goes in the house of Madoff, where Bernie Madoff’s daughter-in-law and surviving son are now publicly dueling with one another, each offering a tell-all book that promises juicy details from inside the monster’s lair. There are profits at stake, but the larger fight is to control the family’s story.
The original betrayal, of course, was revealed in December 2008, when Madoff confessed to his two sons, Mark and Andrew, and wife Ruth. Neither brother would speak to Bernie again; nor, in the immediate aftermath, did they speak to Ruth, who was temporarily excommunicated for sympathizing with her husband of 50 years, initially trying to believe that he’d simply made a mistake. Then, on the second anniversary of Bernie’s arrest, Mark tied a dog leash to a beam in his Soho loft and hanged himself. Andrew called his mother to break the news—the first time he’d spoken to her since Bernie revealed his scheme. Ruth rushed to New York from her place in Florida. But daughter-in-law Stephanie didn’t want her at the memorial service. She didn’t even want to let Ruth see Mark’s children.
Stephanie was first at publishers’ doors. Early this year, she began to quietly shop her book, published last week as The End of Normal—a few letters she’d received from her father-in-law was one draw. She kept news of the project from Andrew. “She denied it point-blank,” he said, according to people who have spoken with him. Andrew was never a fan of his sister-in-law, but news of her book pushed him over the edge. “He didn’t want her to be the arbiter,” said a person close to the family. He told people that Stephanie “really didn’t know the family” very well. At the time of Bernie’s confession, they’d only been married four years, which in Andrew’s view made her an interloper.
It was Andrew’s fiancée, Catherine Hooper, who met writer Laurie Sandell—she’d written a graphic novel about her own con-man father—and presented her as suited to tell his version of the saga. Andrew and Catherine sat for extensive interviews for what became Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family and Andrew pressured his mother to participate, the price of reconciliation. “She participated under duress,” said the person close to the family. “Andrew insisted on it, and she was too afraid to resist him. She’d already lost Mark.” After Stephanie’s book deal was announced, she met with TV producers, but Andrew swiped the big prize, 60 Minutes, by again leaning on Ruth, getting her to agree to appear on-camera, something she’d long refused. Their segment airs next Sunday. Stephanie went with ABC, appearing on Good Morning America and 20/20.
As she began her book project, Stephanie wrote Ruth that she didn’t intend to do a hatchet job on the family. Her anger would be directed at Bernie alone. The story she wanted to tell was this: “She and Mark had a fairy-tale marriage until Bernie ruined everything.” Once, these books might have served as catharsis for this generation of Madoffs. The story of how they coped with ruin might have evoked sympathy in readers, and their shared public humiliation could even have united the family—all of them except Bernie, who will die in prison alone. (Not even Ruth speaks to him these days.) Instead, the competing memoirs offer one more sordid chapter in a larger tale of woe. “I wish branches of the family could come together to heal,” one family member told me. “It’s never going to happen now.”