Why Would a Son Who Has Everything Murder His Loving Mom?
When Money and Love Aren’t Enough
On July 19, 2022, an uncommon murder took place in an unlikely place. Twenty-six-year-old Doug Solomon beat his 65-year-old mother, Diane Gallagher, to death with a table lamp. He then leaped out of their 16-floor New York City luxury apartment building. Both died at the scene.When his father had left for work two hours earlier, both were sound asleep.
But-still-he murdered his mom. Why?
An Affluent Family
Doug is the only one who can answer that question, and he’s gone. So, the people he left behind must sift through the clues and create a picture that makes sense. My musings stem from what we know so far and how that syncs up with what we know about similar offenders.
We know that Doug has some material advantages that most kids don’t have. He attended the prestigious Poly Prep Country Day School, where he excelled at lacrosse. Former classmates describe him as kind-hearted, genuine, and light-hearted but lacking the drive or motivation to succeed on or off the field.
Doug had a high-achieving sister who was about to get married. His father is former Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon. After the recent events, the retired Justice said he wasn’t close to his son, but his wife was. People who knew and loved Diane described her as intelligent, sweet, and well-spoken. She was a gifted dancer.
An apartment resident heard yelling the morning of the murder. “I heard a bunch of voices,” said the neighbor, who lives several floors below the Solomon apartment. The noise was an anomaly; the neighbors never heard any commotion or fighting and said the apartment was usually quiet. None of the neighbors saw any hint of domestic violence or family drama.
Losing His Way
The transition from high school to college can be tricky. There is a straightforward path from kindergarten to high school graduation for most kids, without much thought. The road is smoother and the course easier for some, but the destination is generally the same.
After high school, though, the road branches out. Children with educated parents are often encouraged to go down the same path and head off to college. That’s what Doug Solomon did, too, entering Rhodes College in the fall of 2014. By the end of his first year, he was back home. It is unclear if he dropped out or flunked out. Charles Solomon told investigators that his son began drinking alcohol and smokingmarijuana when he was away at college and never stopped. He also told police that his son “had a temper” and could get “frustrated” when he didn’t get his way.
Doug had been living at home for eight years at the time of the murder-suicide; there does not appear to be any proof he ever held a job. Former high school friends described Doug as “rudderless” and adrift since leaving college. More than one said he appeared to be depressed, withdrawn, and drinking and smoking pot too much. One of his former classmates said, “We all loved Doug. But if he was still alive, and if we hit him up right now, he would probably be chilling in his room.”
Resisting the Temptation to Monday Morning Quarterback
Many parents struggle to know what to do when a young adult veers off track. Do you provide a safe place for them to land, thinking it will make it easier for them to figure things out? If so, for how long?
Do you kick them out, using tough love to communicate that they’re a legal adult and perfectly capable of navigating the transition from dependence to self-sufficiency? If your child is self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, how should that change your strategy?
It isn’t very easy.
The former judge reportedly said he and Diane discussed their son’s future the night before and were considering what options were best for their troubled son. Had they decided that enough was enough? Did this discussion have anything to do with the argument between Doug and his mother the next day? There are so many unanswered questions.
What Kind of Child Murders His Mom?
A rare one.
Matricide, the killing of mothers by their biological children, happens in less than 2 percent of all U.S. homicides when the perpetrator knows the victim. Most are killed by their adult sons.
Doug shared several things in common with many of these killers. Most perpetrators are under 30. They are single and living in the family home at the time of the crime, the place where 91 percent commit the murder. The majority were living with their parents. The most common murder weapon (33 percent) was a blunt instrument; Doug beat his mother to death with a table lamp. An argument almost always precedes the murder; this was apparently true in Doug’s situation. Almost 30 percent of the matricide offenders committed suicide after the murder.
Three-quarters of the matricides occur without any warning signs. Everyone who knew this family said Doug and his mother rarely argued. Solomon said his son and wife were asleep when he left for work at around 8:30 a.m.
But what about motive? Research suggests there are typically one of three scenarios when matricide occurs. One involves a chronically abusive parent, and a child who snaps. A second occurs when an untreated or undertreated mentally ill offspring responds to their psychiatric symptoms and kills. And the third is when an antisocial child kills for a predatory reason — to get insurance money, for instance.
This story is recent. I’m sure more will come to light. From what we know, there is no history of child abuse or domestic violence in this family. There is no clear evidence that Doug Solomon was antisocial; he had no criminal record, seemed to get along with peers and teachers, and, from what we know, never assaulted anyone outside the family. This issue of mental illness is a murky one. Several behaviors suggest Doug was depressed; his motivation was low, he was abusing substances, and he was increasingly socially withdrawn. We know he received minimal mental health treatment.
The Bottom Line
Things always seem more transparent when we know how a story ends. But questions linger.
That is one of life’s mysteries: how our unique biology and psychology interact with our life circumstances to shape our destiny. As we know more, we may decide that Doug’s decision was driven by ineffective parenting, untreated substance abuse, or an undiagnosed mental illness or personality disorder.
How did Doug feel about his dad’s career success? Did he feel unbearable pressure from a high-achieving dad with expectations Doug could never reach? Many people with superstar parents struggle to make their mark in the world. Did this cause him to give up? If so, why did his sister, raised in the same family with similar pressures, respond so differently?
Or we may realize that, just like bad things happen to good people, tragic things happen in loving families.
Originally published at https://joniejohnstonpsyd.substack.com on July 27, 2022.