True Crime

How a can of Coke caught a killer

He was rich and spoiled, but was he a murderer?

The murder of self-made millionaire shocked New York

Her voice was shaking when she described the scene to the emergency operator. Shelley Gilbert had found her husband of 33 years lying on the floor of their luxury apartment.

Thomas Gilbert Sr, 70, a self-made millionaire who ran a successful hedge fund and enjoyed tennis, had everything to live for. 

So why was he lying in a pool of blood, a gun in his left hand?

‘He’s been shot!’ Shelley gasped. When the operator asked her who’d done it, she didn’t hesitate in answering. 

‘My son, who is nuts,’ she replied bluntly. ‘But I had no idea he was this nuts. He shot him in the head.’ 

Her son was Thomas Gilbert Jr, 30, a 6ft 4in tall university graduate and keen surfer. On the face of it, Tommy – as he was known to his family – had it all… 

Striking good looks, an expensive education – and an endless supply of cash, courtesy of his wealthy parents, who gifted him a weekly allowance and paid his $3500 a month rent. 

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Thomas Gilbert Jnr was a young socialite (Credit: Facebook)

But Tommy’s gilded lifestyle hid a dark side – mental health issues, drug problems, violent rages. 

Something of a loner, he was aimless and jobless. 

During his time at university, he’d been arrested for possession of drugs and charged with third-degree aggravated assault after head-butting a hospital nurse who was treating him when he was high on drugs.

He’d taken part in a pre-trial intervention programme and the assault charge had been dismissed, leaving him free to complete his Economics degree. 

And yet, it seemed Tommy Gilbert hadn’t learnt his lesson. Five years later, he’d attacked his former flatmate Peter Smith Jr. 

Then, the following year, he was suspected of burning down Peter’s family home.

Nothing was ever proved. 

By January 2015, his parents were so worried about his erratic behaviour, they threatened to slash his allowance and stop paying his rent, in the hope it would push him into sorting out his life. 

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Thomas Gilbert Snr

But, on January 4, Tommy turned up at their apartment. 

He asked his mum to nip out and fetch him a can of Coke, while he talked to his dad. 

Soon after, a shot rang out. 

Rushing back, Shelley found her husband’s body and a .40 calibre Glock handgun resting in his hand. 

It appeared that whoever had shot Thomas Sr at close range had clumsily tried to stage a suicide. 

Shelley was so convinced that her son was responsible, she gave the police his address. 

When detectives arrested Thomas Gilbert Jr in his flat, they found bullets, handcuffs, a credit-card skimming device and 21 blank credit cards. 

Photos of the tall, gym-honed hunk being hauled away by the police sent shockwaves through the community. 

Thomas Gilbert Jr was charged with the murder of his father. 

But it was four years before he faced trial. 

By May 2019, the man standing before the jury at Manhattan Supreme Court was a shadow of his former self. 

Gone were the tousled, blond locks, the tan and arrogant air. 

Tommy was gaunt and pale, with an unkempt beard. 

Thomas Gilbert arrested
Thomas Gilbert Jnr under arrest (Credit: Getty Images)
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Thomas Gilbert’s police mugshot (Credit: NYPD)

With the defendant pleading insanity, his lawyers argued he was unfit to face trial. 

They claimed that Tommy had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and had been in the midst of a psychotic episode when he’d pulled the trigger. 

They also claimed that he hadn’t realised what he was doing. 

But the prosecutors rubbished this. 

They insisted he was a spoilt and vindictive man-child, who’d killed his dad in cold blood for cutting his weekly allowance.

‘Rather than being a compulsive act of a person deranged, the evidence will show this was a planned and calculated act of a self-absorbed and vengeful son,’ said the prosecution lawyer.

Tommy’s browser history on a computer he used showed he’d searched the internet for contract killers and hit-men in the months before he’d shot his father. 

The court heard how Tommy had turned up unannounced at his parents’ home that afternoon, and how Shelley had found her husband ‘lying dead on the floor, blood and brain matter oozing from his head’. 

She testified against her son, saying he’d specifically requested a can of Coke knowing she’d have to go out and get it. 

The jury had a difficult decision to make. 

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Shelley Gilbert doesn’t want her son to be jailed (Credit: James Keivom/Pool)

Was this privileged, rich kid a calculated killer? Had he murdered his father for slashing his weekly allowance? 

Or had he fallen prey to mental illness and shot Thomas Sr in the throes of insanity? 

The jurors rejected Tommy’s claim of insanity, and instead found the 34-year-old guilty of murder. 

The panel of 12 jury members was initially split. 

That was, until they considered his request to his mother for a can of Coke – to purposefully get her out the house so he could shoot his dad. 

According to one juror, the request demonstrated just how calculating he was when he carried out the crime. 

‘It was a light-bulb moment for me,’ the jury member said. 

Gilbert faces life in prison when he is sentenced. 

Despite giving evidence against him, his mother Shelley doesn’t believe her son should be in jail. 

‘He belongs in a hospital,’ she said. ‘It’s what my husband would have wanted for him, if he was still here.’

UPDATE: On Friday September 27, Thomas Gilbert Jnr was sentenced to life in prison by a Manhattan court. He will be eligible for parole in 30 years. His mother Shelley vowed to appeal the sentencing, telling the media her son should be in hospital.

Words Louise Baty. Original story first published by TI Media Content.
Republished with permission

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