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October 28, 2021

A Ponzi schemer's depressing suicide note

In spite of all the pain they’ve caused, the great Ponzi schemers of the past few years have also become sort of cultural punch lines.

Yes, Bernie Madoff, for example, will never be able to repay his victims. But the 72-year-old Ponzi king has at least lost any shred of dignity he – or anyone with his last name – will ever have. There are even joke sites dedicated solely to the notorious swindler (“Q: Why should Bernie Madoff learn about insider trading? A: Because he’ll learn soon enough after he goes to jail!”).

But any light-hearted jabs at pyramid scammers may take a hit going forward after the depressing suicide note of one U.S. money crook has come to light.

Indeed, a new feature in the Minneapolis Star Tribune has highlighted the grim note left by Robert Markham, a 58-year-old money manager who shot himself to death earlier this year.

“I owe millions of dollars, and have nothing but my life insurance with which to pay it back,” read an excerpt of the 14-page note obtained by the newspaper.

“For decades I’ve felt trapped, like, someone who has had a stroke who can think on the inside, but cannot communicate on the outside … I feel like I have disappeared long ago … So here is the story. My secret life of terrible crime.”

Markham, who oversaw some $700 million in assets from his off-Wall Street financial firm, Markham Capital, goes on in despondent detail about how his perennial guilt from the scam left him willing to take his own life, leaving behind a wife and two grown daughters.

The disgraced money manager, as we imagine most would, goes on to say how his scheme originally started with fair intentions – yet soon his promises of wealth left him no choice but to skirt the law to repay investors.

“By this time,” he writes, “the monthly obligations to make payments to … investors far exceeded what I was able to earn from Markham Capital. All of these people thought they were so fortunate to get a 10 percent return with no risk.

“Even when my returns were the best in the country, I felt I was just a fraud.”

On Feb. 19 of this year, Markham’s wife dropped him off at his Minnesota office, the Star Tribute reports, briefcase and cup of coffee in hand. Later, in the building’s private gym, he shot himself. According to the newspaper, Markham left behind four books on suicide grieving.

Emilee Markham, Robert’s widow, has said she will use her husband’s life insurance benefits to repay investors who lost cash at Markham Capital.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...