08/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Creature Walked Among Us

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin cited the unprecedented nature of the
multibillion-dollar fraud as he sentenced (Bernard) Madoff to the maximum of
150 years in prison.......

"Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil..." said Chin.

(Madoff) showed no emotion... as he listened to nine victims spend nearly
an hour venting their despair and anger.

Sheryl Weinstein, a certified accountant, said Madoff was effective because
he seemed normal.

"But underneath the facade is a true beast," she said. "He should not be
given the opportunity to blend so seamlessly into our society again."

---Associated Press 6/29/09

From across the country, new reports trickle in daily, tiny pieces of a terrifying puzzle that may never be fully understood.

Not every potential investor was caught in the insidious web. But those lucky enough to avoid the trap cannot escape a feeling of lingering dread, a residue of evil that time has not washed away.

His name is Bill. Now retired, his tidy haircut and Rotary Club lapel pin are evidence of a career in the insurance industry. On the couch beside him, a large German shepherd sleeps peacefully. "I can't believe that arrogant SOB almost got me," Bill says, shaking his head. "Me, the expert on telling people how to avoid risk. It's incredible. Nothing sneaky, either. He did it all out in the open."

The approach happened in a supermarket parking lot. "I had put my groceries in the car, took my shopping cart over to the little collection corral, and when I turned around, there he was."

Bill stops for a moment, and swallows. His face turns slightly pink, and he grimaces. "I can't recall his words, but his voice--it was hypnotic. I felt myself nodding at everything he said. He had a briefcase, and papers he wanted me to sign, and my future was all going to be safe and secure."

Bill pauses. "Sorry," he says, taking a deep breath, "it's hard to talk about it. I was like a lamb being led to the butcher shop. Literally. He took my arm and told me we could close the deal in the front seat of my car. Thank God for Gustav."

Hearing his name, the canine opens his eyes. Bill lovingly scratches behind both furry ears. "I was like a zombie," Bill continues, "and then, as I opened the passenger door, Gustav went nuts. He was barking like a crazed wolf, pushed his way out, and sank his teeth into briefcase.

"It snapped me back to reality. The guy dropped the case and ran. I was about to yell for help but he just vanished. Totally blended into the crowd by the front entrance, seamlessly. Like a ghost."

A bead of perspiration rolls down Bill's right cheek. He takes several more breaths. "So then," he goes on, "I pulled Gustav away from the briefcase, and the damn thing started smoldering! It just incinerated itself, burned into a little pile of ashes. You can still see the outline on the asphalt, all these years later."

He looks up the ceiling, and exhales with obvious relief. "I couldn't figure out what the hell it all meant. And then last fall I had the TV on and went into the kitchen for a snack. Pretty soon I heard Gustav barking with that wild wolf sound again, and when I ran back to the living room I
looked at the TV and the cops were taking some guy into custody and I thought, "Holy crap! It's him! The phantom of the parking lot!"

Bill allows himself a small chuckle at this point. "I count my blessings every day now," he says. "And if anybody asks me for advice on making a safe investment, I just tell 'em to buy a dog."

Joe and Emily are college sweethearts who married after graduation and now run a profitable public relations business from their home. Standing by the staircase in the main hall, Emily points toward a large mirror attached to the front door. "We use that whenever we're heading out for client meetings," she explains, "just to check for, like, stains or wrinkles on our clothes, anything that would look unprofessional."

"And we're never taking it down after what happened, that's for damn sure!" Joe adds emphatically. "I had just come downstairs, and I remember hearing Elaine's voice say something like, 'That's an excellent rate of return.' And she was standing in the hallway, face to face with a man who was showing her some kind of prospectus. The front door was wide open, which I thought was odd because Elaine has this obsession about bugs flying in, so she always shuts it immediately."

"I don't recall any of this," Elaine cuts in. "All I remember is hearing a knock on the door, and going to answer it."

"She was smiling strangely," Joe continues, "and she looked at me and said, 'Honey, this is a great opportunity for us, but we have to act now.' I was flustered that she'd let some stranger in our home, and I said, 'Well, let's close the door first, and then we don't have the whole neighborhood watching, okay?' And I stepped between them, took two more steps to the
door, and shut it."

"Oh, wait, I lied," Elaine says. "I do remember the sound of Joe screaming, 'Sweet bleeding Christ Almighty!' I did hear that part."

"So, picture this," Joe goes on, "I close the door, and that means I'm looking right into the mirror, so I can see myself, and I can see behind me, where Elaine is standing, and she looks like herself. But the guy--it wasn't him! What the mirror shows is, like, a horror movie! Did you ever
see The Beast With A Million Eyes? It was hideous, all quivering and gelatinous. I turned, lifted Emily into my arms, and just bolted up the stairs--like I was on steroids. She felt light as a feather.

"And she seemed dazed, so I put her on our bed and ran back downstairs, which was probably a dumb thing to do, but I wasn't thinking straight at that point. Anyway, the front door was open again and the guy, or thing, was gone."

"We probably should've called the police," Emily says, "but it was all so bizarre. We worried they might suspect us of taking drugs."

"I did call a floor cleaning specialist," Joe adds. "About an hour after the whole thing happened, we noticed the linoleum in the hallway had a weird, sticky trail leading out the door, like the markings a snail leaves behind. And it started to stink, like old cheese cooking in a septic

"I still get nervous whenever there's a bad smell anywhere in the house," Emily confesses. "It makes me wonder if that creep left something else behind we don't know about."

Angela is a successful real estate agent who now faces an uncertain future. On her flight home after a vacation in Hawaii, a routine trip to the lavatory took a nightmarish turn.

"One second everything is normal," she says with a tone of bitterness, "and then a moment later the world is upside down. You're screwed and there's no going back. I call that plane ride my Moment of Screwth." Her hands are clasped together tightly as she speaks.

"I've always hated airline restrooms on principal," she says. "They're claustrophobic. But I never would have dreamed--" The sentence stops, unfinished. Her hands clasp tighter.

"It's such a violation!" she exclaims. "You want privacy for this moment, right? So I latched the door shut, reached down to lift the lid on the toilet, and WHAMMO! His face is right there, staring up at me with the little smirk! And he says, "Hi Angela. How does twelve-and-a-half percent
annually sound to you?"

The hands unclasp, and she folds her arms, as if huddling against a cold wind.

"The truly incredible part is, I didn't feel scared," she admits. "Most people would freak out if they met a talking head in a toilet bowl, and it knew their name, but I felt strangely calm. In fact, I wanted to hear more about that twelve-and-a-half percent.

"But right then the plane ran into a storm system, and the turbulence flung me up against the ceiling. I heard a voice say, 'We'll talk about this some other time' and then I fainted. Later I found out the latch was jammed, and the flight attendants had to pry the door open to rescue me."

She lights a cigarette and takes a long drag. "And then we landed and my private Hell started. Exactly seventy minutes after drinking any fluids, I begin to hear that voice again--'Hi Angela, how does twelve-and-a-half sound?' And then my heart starts pounding and I feel like the walls are closing in, and I want to run outside."

Her tone is now pure anger. "I'm a realtor, damn it!" she exclaims. "You know what this is like? I'll tell you. It's like temporary insanity, trying to show a client through a house when you can't go near any of the bathrooms without having a panic attack!

"I've done counseling, physical therapy, acupuncture, and nothing helps. I used to love my work and now every day is a grinding, tedious ordeal."

The cigarette in her hand seems to burn more intensely with each word.

"People say that monster got what he deserved," she snarls, "but really, he got off easy. Nice prison bed, handy toilet right there in his cell, to use whenever he wants. Meanwhile, I'm up to smoking ten packs a week and wearing Depends day and night. So please, somebody tell me: where do I go to get my justice?"