With the sad news of the discovery of missing Signal Mountain mother Gail Palmgren’s remains last week, a large number of people around the city are being forced to look at an ugly truth: Matthew Palmgren may not have been a faithful husband, but it does not appear that he was a killer, as so many had believed and professed quite publicly.
Two days after Gail dropped her children off with Matthew and drove off in her distinctive Jeep Rubicon, he reported her missing. Immediately, the news media jumped on the story and a number of reporters began digging into the details of the Palmgrens’ life. What they found was a sad, but not all that uncommon, story of infidelity and a marriage on the rocks.
As the days passed with no sign of Gail, suspicion began to fall on Matthew Palmgren. News broke of an affair with a co-worker that led to both he and the “other woman” losing their insurance company jobs. A “close friend” of Gail’s from Alabama began mounting a one-woman media offensive in which she did her best to insinuate that Matt was responsible for his wife’s disappearance. Some of Gail’s relatives joined in the media chorus as well.
Matthew did himself no favors with his subsequent actions—an initial filing for divorce, an attempt to sell the family home, hiring high-profile lawyers (which in our scandal-loving society now seems almost to be an admission of wrong-doing)—but cooperated with every law enforcement agency that became involved.
Yet his steadfast denials of wrongdoing were either ignored or dismissed out-of-hand by Gail’s friends. They went on radio talk shows, gave television and newspaper interviews, and wrote nearly daily letters to the editor wanting to know why law enforcement was “dragging their heels” or “failing to follow up” on their concerns.
Police officials in Signal Mountain and investigators with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office did their part. They searched the homes owned by the Palmgrens, they questioned Matthew Palmgren several times, they followed up on every rumor and purported sighting of Gail. But, in spite of strong urgings from a number of people, they never arrested Matthew or even named him as a suspect, a decision that was soundly derided by many at the time.
It turns out, at least according to preliminary results from the newly discovered accident scene that local law enforcement was right. Sheriff Jim Hammond told reporters that all evidence so far points towards a tragic accident. He and his investigators are treating it as a traffic fatality, and nothing more.
The real victims in all of this, who have seemingly been ignored or outright forgotten in all the media frenzy, are the Palmgren children. They’ve lost not only their mother, but seen relatives and close family friends turn on their father, painting him as a murderer and even trying to remove them from the only parent they have left.
What they need now is time to grieve. Hopefully all of us in the media and in the community can finally give them some peace and quiet to do so. It’s truly the only decent thing we can do.