Watch CBSN Live

Did Madoffs try suicide, or didn't they?

For the first time, Ruth Madoff is talking publicly about what happened when her husband, Bernard Madoff, admitted he was running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

In an interview with "60 minutes" correspondent Morley Safer airing Sunday night, Ruth Madoff said she and her husband tried to commit suicide on Christmas Eve 2008, two weeks after his arrest on securities fraud charges.

But on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," a man who personally provided protection for Bernie Madoff and was inside the Madoffs' apartment expressed doubt about Ruth Madoff's claim.

Nicholas Casale, of Casale Associates, was retained by the Madoffs the morning after someone reached out from a gaggle of reporters on a Manhattan street and shoved Bernie.

Did the Madoffs really try to commit suicide?

Life in the Madoff apartment was, he told co-anchor Russ Mitchell, "I guess, as normal as it could be. They would just stay about their house and spend some time watching TV and talking.

"There was nothing unusual specifically on Christmas Eve when I was there. There was nothing that I saw that would indicate, as Ruth Madoff had stated, that, later that night, they had attempted suicide. So I didn't observe anything in the planning stage, the logistics, the preparing of everything, nor did I see the following day or the days after any telltale evidence."

So, he says, he "would be" skeptical about the suicide-try story.

But Diana Henriques, senior financial writer for The New York Times and author of "The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust," said, "Nick had mentioned the situation within the apartment. I think we also need to look at the situation outside the apartment. Ruth and Bernie were the target of an extraordinary avalanche of hate and hostility during that week. It's hard for me to understand why Ruth would create a tale of a failed suicide attempt when she is so loathe to bring a spotlight on herself, so I'm inclined to give it more credibility as a barometer of where her emotions were at the time."

She explained she was "a little surprised" Ruth Madoff is speaking out now "because, of course, I attempted to get her to talk on the record for two-and-a-half years, and she had been careful about maintaining her seclusion and her privacy. But I think she is participating in the promotion for an authorized family biography that will be coming out on Monday, because her son has asked her to. She has one surviving son, Andrew, and is really determined to try to rebuild some piece of the family."

Casale said, "It's true there was a lot of hostility outside the apartment. There were people standing there with signs saying 'Jump, Bernie,' and the avalanche, it was almost a tsunami (of hate messages). ... But I would focus, you know, more onto not what was going on in the apartment, the fact is that, you know, she has made the statement that they had attempted suicide by using a mild sleeping pill (Ambien) that, even if taken in a large dose, would probably not be fatal. And I guess another point that I would get across is, if that was so, why does it (the suicide attempt story not) come out (until) now?"

Bernie Madoff was quoted by ABC News this week as saying, "The average person thinks I robbed widows and orphans. I made wealthy people wealthier."

"I think he is still in an amazing amount of denial," Henriques says. "Yes, he did take money from widows and orphans. He may not have realized that, but he did. I think he is so isolated in prison now. He is a respected figure there. He's treated with some dignity. I think he is just completely out of touch with how much he is still hated on the outside world and how much animosity there still is towards him. Otherwise, I can't imagine him saying anything like that.

"In emails he's traded with me over the past year, he has expressed remorse, he has especially expressed remorse about the death of his son Mark and about his estrangement from his wife, Ruth. So I know he does have some feelings. But he's so well-defended, so compartmentalized -- I just think he's completely out of touch."