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Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Thomas Gilbert High Society Murder Case

     Thirty-year-old Thomas Gilbert Jr. cut the figure of rich kid Dickie Greenleaf in the novel and film of the same name, The Talented Mr. Ripley. In the book and movie the slacker playboy was murdered by a friend who took up his identify. In real life, however, when someone in a wealthy family is murdered, it's usually the man or woman who created the wealth, not an offspring who depended on it.

     In 2015, 70-year-old Thomas Gilbert Sr. resided with his wife in an apartment building on the east side of Manhattan just north of the United Nations headquarters. Besides their two sons, the couple had a 24-year-old daughter who aspired to be a writer.

     A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School, Mr. Gilbert, in 2011, started a hedge fund called Wainscott Partners Fund, a firm that specialized in the biotech and healthcare industries. Three years after its inception, the fund handled $200 million in assets. Only people with $500,000 or more to invest were invited to participate in the fund.

     Mr. Gilbert worked hard to get his relatively small investment firm off the ground. A friendly man who enjoyed the upper-crust social life, Mr. Gilbert belonged to exclusive organizations such as the Maidstone Club in East Hampton and the River Club in Manhattan.

     Mr. Gilbert's youngest son, Thomas Jr., grew up benefiting from his father's wealth, hard work, and success. His parents enrolled him in elite boarding schools--the Buckley School ($30,000 a year tuition) and Deerfield Prep ($54,000 annual tuition)--where the six-foot-three student with the thick blond hair excelled at sports. Following boarding school, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert's quiet, reserved and socially awkward youngest son attended Princeton University. In 2009 Thomas Jr. graduated from the Ivy League school with a degree in economics.

     Notwithstanding his prestigious education, high social status, and all the advantages a young man could ask for, Thomas Jr. didn't enter the world of finance or any other business or profession. He wanted to start his own hedge fund but his father didn't think he had the ability or the drive to succeed in the field. As a result, Thomas assumed the role of a playboy reliant on his father's generosity. It didn't sit well with him.

     To maintain his high society lifestyle, Thomas needed more money than his father was willing to shell out. He existed on a $2,400 a month housing stipend and a $600 a week spending allowance. This was not nearly enough to support his expensive apartment in Chelsea, his gym fees, the party-going circuit, and his love of surfing. Deeply in debt, Thomas wanted a much larger allowance to continue living in the style he had become accustomed to.

     But there was a problem. Thomas and his father didn't get along. His father thought he was lazy and stupid and junior considered his father stingy and mean. Moreover, in September 2014, the family's 17th century mansion on eastern Long Island's East Hampton community burned down. Thomas Jr., an obsessive-compulsive sufferer who didn't always stay on his medication, surfaced quickly as the prime suspect in the arson. (No charges have been filed in the case.) That fire did not endear Mr. Gilbert to his son.

     A little after three in the afternoon on Sunday January 5, 2015, Thomas Jr. showed up at his parents' apartment to discuss his allowance with his father. Thomas Sr. had informed his son that he had decided to cut his weekly spending budget from $600 to $400.

     Upon his arrival at the apartment, the younger Mr. Gilbert sent his mother out of the building to buy him a sandwich. Shortly after she left the premises, the son, while confronting his father in the master bedroom, shot him once in the head with a handgun. In an inept attempt to make the shooting look like a suicide, Thomas laid the murder weapon on his father's chest and positioned the dead man's left hand over it.

     After the shooting, Thomas fled the apartment. When his mother returned with the sandwich, she discovered her husband's corpse and called 911.

     At ten-forty-five on the night of Mr. Gilbert's sudden and violent death, New York City detectives showed up at his son's apartment with an arrest and a search warrant. In the Chelsea dwelling officers found loose bullets and a shell casing that matched the caliber of the murder weapon.

     On Monday January 6, 2015, at his arraignment, the judge informed Thomas Gilbert Jr. that he had been charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon. After the judge denied the suspect bail, officers returned him to Riker's Island, the city's massive jail.

    On February 5, 2014, corrections officers took Gilbert Jr. out of his Rikers Island jail cell and escorted him to a Lower Manhattan courtroom. At the pre-trial hearing before Judge Melissa Jackson, the suspect pleaded not guilty. The defendant was represented by attorneys from the high-profile defense firm of Brafman & Associates. 

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