Prolific true crime author John Glatt’s latest book, Golden Boy: Murder Among the Manhattan Elite (St. Martin’s Press 2021) is a thorough and harrowing journey through a story of wealth, mental illness, and murder. Golden Boy details the consequences of a culture of privilege that led to a son’s untreated illness and a father’s tragic death.
Born to two wealthy financiers in New York, Thomas Gilbert Jr. (Tommy) was wealthy in more ways than one. In addition to having a loving and supportive family, staples of Gilbert’s childhood included every luxury—such as a mansion in the Hamptons and an elite education (culminating in his BA from Princeton). Undeniably handsome and well-connected, Tommy was able, in his early adult years, to make friends and cultivate relationships with many people, all of whom moved in the high-class, Upper East Side world of wealth and power. However, in school, Tommy began to show signs of instability that none of his family or friends saw coming. Compulsive paranoia manifested in several ways; alternately, Tommy believed that everyone around him was ‘contaminated’ and only certain rituals would ward off this contamination, or that his father was trying to take over his body and steal his soul.
Over several years, many doctors provided different diagnoses for Tommy’s mental condition, but the truth was clear: Tommy was deteriorating, and doctors struggled to find the root cause. Tommy’s struggles culminated in a mysterious fire that destroyed his best friend’s house in the Hamptons—for which he was never charged—and a seemingly-inexplicable hatred of his father. However, in 2015, when Tommy’s father slashed Tommy’s weekly allowance by $200, Tommy arrived at his parent’s apartment and asked his mother to leave, at which point he shot his father in the head, killing him instantly.
Glatt’s account of this very recent and galvanizing case was as compelling as it was thorough. Two narratives are in-tension within Glatt’s text: the narrative of Tommy as the severely ill child of two wealthy parents who never received proper treatment, and the narrative of Tommy as the man enraged that his allowance was cut yet again. The defense and the prosecution advocated for the latter and former narratives respectively, and Glatt presents the arguments for each side, never overstepping in his mandate as a journalist to present only the facts. If anything, Glatt seems to wonder throughout the book whether a combination of factors led Tommy to kill his father—did his mental illness coupled with his extreme and unmitigated privilege lead him to this tragic solution?
What’s fascinating about this case is Glatt’s up-to-the-minute account. The trial did not finish until 2019, and the case has a stunningly current quality. It is a shocking realization that debates over competency and the ability to stand trial such as those that occurred in the Gilbert case are so recent and yet seem so antiquated. Glatt’s account of the four-year legal proceedings never drags, however, as the trial itself proves to be one of the most bizarre and unexpected aspects of the entire case.
Perhaps most compelling factor about Golden Boy is Glatt’s interrogation of the degree to which drug-culture contributed to Tommy’s instability. Glatt draws on several narratives to expose both the casual use of drugs—designer or otherwise—in private educational institutions such as the ones Tommy attended. Without proper treatment, and with the repeated opportunity to self-medicate with various substances, Tommy’s paranoia and fear grew and deepened. Glatt acknowledges that Tommy’s environment was a contributing factor to the ultimate outcome of this case, and as shocked as wealthy New Yorkers were over Tommy Gilbert’s crime, one wonders if anything could have been done to change things.
Overall, Golden Boy is a compelling and thorough account of a complex and recent case that is essential for any true crime reader who is interested in current events.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.
A copy of this book was graciously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.