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Crime News Snapped

Why Did Ivy League Hedge Fund Heir Thomas Gilbert Jr. Murder His Father?

While Thomas Gilbert, Jr. Was tall, fit, and good-looking, friends described him as awkward and prone to violent outbursts.

By Benjamin H. Smith

The Gilbert family seemed to have it all. Thomas and Shelley Gilbert both had successful careers in finance, and they hoped their children would follow in their footsteps.  

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Instead, their son, Thomas Gilbert,Jr., went on to kill his father in what prosecutors called “the ultimate tantrum,” according to The New York Times

Born in 1945, Thomas Gilbert Sr. grew up wealthy and moved easily from exclusive prep schools to Ivy League universities, earning degrees from Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration. 

On Wall Street, Thomas quickly found success as an investor and as a family man, and he married debutante Shelley Stevens Rea, then an assistant vice president for the New Court Securities Corporation, in 1981, USA Today reported in 2015. 

The couple became fixtures of New York high society and were included in the Social Register, which indexes the city’s wealthiest and most well-connected families. They had homes in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and East Hampton and were well-liked and respected in their community, according to "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.

Thomas and Shelley welcomed a son, Thomas Gilbert Jr., in 1984, and a daughter, Clare, followed soon after. Shelley would eventually put her career on hold, opting to stay home as a full-time mom. 

Known to friends and family as “Tommy,” Thomas Gilbert Jr. appeared to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was good at sports, attended elite private schools, and earned a degree in economics from Princeton. Tall, fit, and good-looking, Tommy stood out among his classmates.  

Although his father wanted him to come work for him, Tommy had other ideas. He wanted to establish his own business and succeed without his family’s help. 

Tommy’s endeavors, unfortunately, went nowhere. Unable to cover the rent at his $2,400 a month apartment in Manhattan’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, his parents picked up the tab and gave him an allowance of up to $1,000 a week. 

As his professional ambitions floundered, Tommy spent his free time in the Hamptons, surfing, partying, and dating socialites. While handsome and stylish, people described him as awkward, erratic, and prone to violent outbursts, reported The New York Times in 2015. 

Tommy grew increasingly estranged from his family, especially his father, whom he emailed in late 2013, “The more you respect my space, the more I will appreciate you!"  

Tommy’s dependence on his family’s financial support, however, remained unchanged until Jan. 4, 2015, when Tommy showed up at his parents’ Manhattan home unannounced.  

“He told me he wanted to see [Thomas Gilbert Sr.] to discuss business,” Shelley told “Snapped.” “I thought, ‘This is good news. He’s really doing well. He wants to work with Tom. That’s terrific.’” 

Tommy asked his mother to go to the store and buy him a sandwich and a Coca-Cola, which she obliged, but halfway down the block, she turned around.  

“There was something about it that was concerning, so I came right back,” Shelley told producers. 

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Once inside the apartment, she found her son gone and her husband unresponsive on the bedroom floor. Initially thinking he had been knocked out during a fistfight, she recoiled in horror when she saw a gun in his hand and a bullet wound to his head. 

Shelley immediately called 911, telling the dispatcher her husband had been shot in the head, and that she thought he was dead. When asked who shot him, she said, “My son, who is nuts. But I didn’t know he was this nuts,” according to NBC News

When detectives with the New York City Police Department arrived, Shelley told them her son had a long history of mental illness. As a teenager, Tommy exhibited signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the East Hampton Star newspaper. Doctors suspected he may be schizophrenic, but he refused help, often rejecting phone calls and texts from his family.  

The NYPD launched a manhunt, and six hours after the murder, detectives were able to trace Tommy’s cell phone to his Chelsea apartment. Upon their arrival, Tommy casually opened the door and told officers he was on the phone with his lawyer.  

“He knew the jig was up,” former NYPD Homicide Detective Richard Tirelli told “Snapped.”  

Tommy was arrested and charged with homicide and criminal possession of a weapon, reported Reuters in 2015. 

Interviewing Tommy’s social circle, detectives learned he was a person of interest in a 2014 arson that occurred in the Hamptons, but no charges were ever filed against him. The home was owned by banking executive Peter Smith Sr., whose son Peter Smith, Jr., had been a friend of Tommy’s until they had a falling out.  

Tommy allegedly assaulted Smith Jr. outside his Williamsburg apartment in 2013, breaking his nose, according to the New York Post. Smith Jr. did not press charges against Tommy, but he later obtained an order of protection against him, reported the East Hampton Star.  

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Investigators learned Tommy had bought his pistol over the internet, driving out to Ohio to purchase it after the seller realized mailing it to him was illegal. In examining his computer, they found he had searched for websites like "Hire-a-Killer.com" and "Find-a-Hitman.com" in the months before his father’s murder, according to CNN.  

Tommy’s friends also said that he had long harbored a grudge against his father.  

“He talked a lot about his dad and how mean he was to him and how nothing was good enough,” former girlfriend Anna Rothschild told New York Post shortly after his arrest.  

Prosecutors contended that the final straw was when Thomas reduced his son’s weekly allowance to $300 on the morning of the murder, according to The Washington Post. Armed with his pistol, Tommy went to confront his father.  

“His intent was to go there, and if he didn’t get what he wanted, being the spoiled brat he was, he shot him,” Tirelli told “Snapped.” 

Tommy’s defense team argued he was unfit to stand trial and that his mental health was getting worse while in custody. He was evaluated by multiple psychiatrists, who deemed Tommy unfit to participate in his defense. Prosecutors, however, also hired a health professional who declared he was able to stand trial. 

The judge sided with the prosecution, and the trial proceeded. When Tommy showed up to court in 2019, the 34-year-old was unrecognizably gaunt, bearded, and pale. 

Determined to prove Tommy’s true mental state at the time of the murder, Shelley took to the stand to testify. 

“He thought his father was controlling the horror show that was going on in his head, and that’s I think was his reasoning for it. But he had no way of comprehending the gravity of it,” Shelley told producers. 

A jury found Tommy guilty of one count of murder in the second degree and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. In September 2019, he was given the maximum sentence of 30 years to life in prison, reported The New York Times.  

He is currently incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. He is not eligible for parole until 2044, at which time he will be 60 years old.   

Shelley plans to appeal his conviction. 

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