Maybe it’s because of all those episodes of “48 Hours” and “Dateline” we’ve seen.
Maybe it’s because the Theresa Parker case is still fresh in our minds.
Maybe it’s because of Matthew Palmgren’s relative silence concerning the events surrounding his wife Gail’s disappearance.
Maybe it’s a combination of all three.
Regardless of the reason(s), when a married woman goes missing in this country, the husband is almost always deemed guilty until proven innocent-at least in the eyes of the public. The reason for this is tragic, yet understandable: Many husbands kill many wives. The circumstances from case to case are often eerily similar, as are the husbands’ actions in trying to conceal their crimes, and the mistakes they make that lead to their arrests.
Sadly, many of the events surrounding the Palmgren case mirror many other tragic cases.
One of Gail’s friends, Arlene Durham, told Jay “Jammer” Scott in a recent interview on WGOW that the couple was headed toward divorce, that Matthew Palmgren’s drinking caused him to be verbally abusive to both Gail and the kids, and that he once became so enraged that he knocked a door off a doorframe in the couple’s home. In the days and weeks prior to Gail’s disappearance, Signal Mountain police responded three times to arguments at the Palmgren home, and Gail distributed various documents and personal belongings to friends before she vanished. Durham claims that Matthew blocked Gail from access to the couple’s bank accounts. She believes that Gail is dead and that Matthew is somehow responsible.
On the flip side, however, there is a lack of evidence tying Matthew to a crime. He hasn’t been charged with anything and, according to a quote by his attorney, Lee Davis, in the Times Free Press, he has provided investigators with “information, investigative leads, physical evidence, DNA samples and access to all personal property” owned by the couple. According to WRCB, in a sworn statement, Matthew claimed that Gail suffers from depression, is on several medications, and is “delusional.” He also says that before she disappeared, she took jewelry, changed pin numbers on the couples’ bank accounts, and took their children’s passports. Matthew says he hired a private investigator, and claims that he is doing everything he can to find her. Davis says Gail may be hiding out somewhere.
Is Gail the victim of an accident? Did she commit suicide? Is she, as Davis surmises, hiding out? Did Matthew, as Durham and many in the community think, have something to do with her disappearance?
There is currently no solid evidence to answer any of these questions.
One thing is certain: Assuming that Matthew Palmgren is responsible for his wife’s death means conceding that Gail is dead. Not only are we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in this country, but assuming that Gail is dead needlessly robs her friends and loved ones of the one thing they are clinging to right now: hope. While the odds of Gail being found safe and sound seem to dim with each passing day, stranger things have happened.
Consider the case of Lula Cora Hood.
In 1970, Hood, a mother of 14 children, suffered from mental health issues and had briefly disappeared on several occasions. The last time she disappeared, after a family feud, she never came back.
In 1996, police found human remains which they believed were Hood’s. The police notified the family, and the family buried the remains, thinking the case was finally closed. Doubts within the family lingered, however, and in 2009 the family gave samples to investigators to test using then-improved DNA technology. The results came back last week: The remains weren’t Hood’s after all.
Motivated by the results, police reopened their investigation and, miraculously, later found an 84-year-old woman living in Florida whom they are firmly convinced is Hood.
“I’m going to see her as soon as I can,” Hood’s daughter, Grace Kivisto, told WQAD in Illinois. “I can’t believe it!”
The bonds of parent and child are strong-whether the parent and child have been apart for a matter of weeks like Palmgren and her children, or for 41 years like Kivisto and her mother. My most common recurring thought when contemplating this case is the fact that Palmgren’s children don’t know when or even if they’ll ever see their mom again. All efforts and priorities-more than assigning blame, pressing charges or defending reputations-need to be focused on giving them (and the rest of her friends and loved ones) an answer.
Hopefully, it won’t take 41 years to do so.
Gail Palmgren is 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 135 pounds and has blond hair and brown eyes. She was last seen driving a 2010 Jeep Rubicon with a “Life is Good” tire cover and a personalized Alabama license plate that reads, “EAZY ST.” If you or anyone you know has any information that can help investigators, please call the Signal Mountain Police Department at 423-886-2124.
Bill Colrus writes about local news, culture and media. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at [email protected].