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Golden Boy: A Murder Among the Manhattan Elite

Review

Golden Boy: A Murder Among the Manhattan Elite

It is easy to see why the murder of Thomas Gilbert Sr. captured media attention and why investigative journalist and true crime writer John Glatt chose to recount it in his latest book, GOLDEN BOY. It is a story of prestige, privilege and wealth, soured by mental illness, devastating violence and a frustrated justice system. 

In January 2015, Thomas Gilbert Jr., known his entire life as Tommy, arrived unexpectedly at his parents’ New York home. After convincing his mother, Shelley, to leave, he shot his father dead and tried to make it look like a suicide. He then locked himself in his apartment and quickly contacted his lawyer. Glatt’s account pivots on this shocking patricide, examining Tommy’s life up to that point and what happened after.

"You may experience some schadenfreude reading about an elite and rich family brought low, but most will find what Glatt sets out to reveal --- the evident pain of the Gilberts and the struggles and horrors that their advantages couldn’t shield them from."

As the title suggests, Tommy was a “golden boy” who came from a prosperous family. A talented athlete and strong student at his elite private schools, he was a handsome and shy young man, loved and even spoiled by his parents. But as he reached adolescence, things began to change. His shyness transformed into what may have been anxiety, and he exhibited some compulsive behaviors and paranoid thinking. He began to struggle in school and use drugs, and his personal relationships grew increasingly tense. While Thomas and Shelley were concerned and did seek help for their son, they never received a clear diagnosis and rejected any recommendations that involved lengthy in-patient treatment.

Preferring surfing and partying to college, Tommy eventually graduated from Princeton. But his mental deterioration continued. Whereas his father and others saw a “failure to take flight,” Glatt shows a man struggling against a swelling tide of drug and health issues, compounded by familial and social pressure to succeed. Still, none of this can explain, at least from Glatt’s perspective, his violence, even if they are reasons for his instability.

Tommy never held a job after college, attempted to sever ties with his father while still accepting his financial support, had a series of short and strange romantic relationships, physically attacked a friend, and burned down a historic home all before killing his father in cold blood. The motive for the murder has never been quite clear, but Glatt and others surmise it was tied to a reduction in allowance as well as long-simmering resentment. Tommy’s behavior while awaiting trial and throughout the proceedings was often bizarre, swinging between uncooperative, seeming self-sabotage and even incoherence. Yet expert after expert found him sane enough to stand trial and know right from wrong at the moment of his crime.

Glatt lays out the facts of this story but resists analysis, penning an interesting tale that ultimately lacks insight. More exploration of Tommy’s childhood and relationships to his immediate family --- his younger sister is all but missing from this book --- as well as a nuanced look at the connections between his drug use, mental health and feelings for his father would’ve been welcome additions to the narrative. Glatt relies heavily on court documents and even an early Vanity Fair article, which results in a compelling story but a somewhat flat delivery.

However, GOLDEN BOY remains a worthwhile read for its disturbing peek into a horrific and avoidable event. You may experience some schadenfreude reading about an elite and rich family brought low, but most will find what Glatt sets out to reveal --- the evident pain of the Gilberts and the struggles and horrors that their advantages couldn’t shield them from. As to Tommy’s control of his actions, and the mental health and court systems in general, Glatt gives readers lots of good discussion fodder.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 23, 2021

Golden Boy: A Murder Among the Manhattan Elite
by John Glatt

  • Publication Date: July 20, 2021
  • Genres: Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250271029
  • ISBN-13: 9781250271020