By Brad Edwards and Carol Thompson
CHICAGO (CBS) – For nearly 20 years, Marilyn Hartman has baffled everyone. In a post 9/11 world, she flew across the world, she never got a ticket. It became American’s Serial Stowaway.
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The only thing she’s never done is talk about it – in depth. How? ‘Or’ What? Why? Will she do it again?
I’ve never talked about it until now, exclusively with CBS 2 investigator Brad Edwards.
Marilyn Hartman reflected on the nickname she is best known for: The Serial Stowaway.
“I don’t mind if people say, ‘She’s crazy.’
“… Because when I look at him objectively…”
“… That’s how I see it is madness.”
“I have remained a deliberate mystery, because of the mad factor.”
“It makes things even crazier, you might want to reconsider everything.”
“… It was like something out of a movie.”
CBS 2, over the years, has covered Hartman’s travels.
“So, Bradford, I don’t care if someone calls me crazy, I mean the story is crazy,” she said.
It started with a phone call from the prison on October 29, 2019.
Hartman: “Hello, is that Brad Edwards?”
Edwards: “Yeah. Hi Marilyn. How are you?”
Hartman: “I really appreciate you contacting me, it was a really nice letter and everything, and I also love your reporting… I’ve thought about this a lot and I’m ready to do it.”
Edwards: “May I record this call?”
Hartman: “You can definitely save it, that’s great,” Hartman said.
And they were gone. Like Marilyn Hartman herself: American’s Serial Stowaway.
Edwards and Hartman had been pen pals since late 2019 – his last free escape attempt.
Audio recordings, obtained by CBS 2 investigators, reveal that a Transportation Security Administration agent spotted her again in O’Hare on October 10, 2019 and called the police.
“There was a sighting of Marilyn here,” said a TSA agent.
The dispatcher then asked the officer, “Can you keep an eye on her for me?”
From Cook County Jail, she wrote that she wanted: “… apologize… my mea culpa to law enforcement including the TSA… I had no intention of surrendering their job. more difficult.”
She told Edwards that she thinks she’s taken at least 30 flights over the years.
CBS 2 investigators – through a series of sources, requests for public documents, Ms. Hartman’s memorabilia, and more – have compiled forensic accounts of her free rides.
A real Catch Me If You Can – she said, started in 2002.
Hartman remembers, “The first time I got across I flew to Copenhagen” and “The second time I flew to Paris.”
It was only 12 years later that she appeared on the radar of the police.
August 14, 2014: Ms. Hartman, without a ticket, flew from San Jose to Los Angeles.
A judge then warned her, don’t do it again.
Seven months later, in April 2015 in Jacksonville, she appeared in court where her fate was sealed: “Ms. Hartman has been determined by forensic psychologists as incompetent to continue.
“I know they continue to focus on mental illness… law enforcement… would like this to be in place. but uh… (laughs) no, I’m pretty good, ”she said.
Good to get by.
According to law enforcement documents, as of January 2015, Hartman was on the “intrusion list”.
In April 2015, documents show that she was known as a “serial stowaway”.
In May 2015, it was “… considered a high security risk”.
And, in July of that year: a “usual stowaway”.
So how did she manage to take so many flights for so long, without a ticket or boarding pass?
“The thing I have to tell you. I have never been able to board a plane on my own. I’ve always been passed up, ”Hartman revealed. “I mean I was able to pass the security line without a boarding pass.”
The year before his last arrest, his last success dates back to January 2018.
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According to reports obtained by CBS2 investigators, Hartman “evaded the security process” “and document / ticket verification” and caught a flight for $ 3,428 in London on a British Airways plane.
She had become ubiquitous at TSA checkpoints, with her photo at security checkpoints.
She described to CBS 2 how she did it.
“I got by, that’s the thing that’s so crazy, following someone they would carry like a blue bag,” she said. “And the next thing I know, I’m in the TSA line and TSA lets me go, and they think I’m with the guy with the blue bag.”
“For her, being able to say that over and over again is just mind boggling,” says aviation safety expert Jeff Price.
The genius of how it works is in its simplicity, ”he said and warned,“… It is the unsophisticated types of plans that are often the most successful. “
Price, formerly Deputy Director of Security at Denver International Airport and Professor at Metropolitan State University in Denver, wrote “Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats,” considered the premier manual on aviation safety.
“Did we take Marilyn Hartman done seriously enough,” Edwards asked.
“I don’t think it is,” Price replied.
Does the TSA use Hartman’s tactics as a training tool? We asked and were told to make a public information request. We did and are still waiting for a response.
“They should literally have a program designed around how she is able to pass security and that should be taught to every transportation security officer out there,” Price said.
Marilyn Hartman looks like a grandmother. It makes you wonder if the same kind of courtesy would be offered to a young man with olive skin or a mother with a hijab? Or do we need to think differently, we asked Price.
“We definitely need to think differently,” he said and added: “We can’t constantly prepare for the latest attack. The next attack won’t look like this.
“And the next striker?” Edwards asked.
“And the next striker. Exactly, ”Price said.
Let’s come back to Marilyn Hartman and why she took all these flights.
“When I took the plane, I was not happy. I wasn’t “Oh, I’m going here or there” – I was actually in a depressed state of mind, ”she told CBS2.
Diagnosed with bipolar, it was not a manic episode that triggered the flight, it was the opposite.
An example, in 2015.
Consecutive days – July 3 and July 4.
A Midway, an O’Hare.
Similar clothing, even hand luggage.
So depressed as she would admit, her desperation had gripped her, both times.
In a phone conversation from prison, Edwards asked Hartman if she felt a fight-or-flight response and literally took a flight.
She replied, “This is literally what happened.”
She later spoke about her mental health. “I am bipolar. And this is something that I have rejected for years.
She wrote in several letters to Edwards about her life growing up as a young child.
Hartman wrote that she was born in Jackson Park Hospital in 1951 and later told Edwards about her family life.
“There was so much violence and mental illness in the household,” she said.
Her life alone, sick, not much, until she took off.
In October 2019, when TSA last arrested her at O’Hare in an attempt to resume flight, she was already on probation for the 2018 flight to London.
“I have a very tough judge in this case,” she said. “Judge Chiampas is pissed off at me for the situation I found myself in.”
She has already been in custody for more than 500 days on the latest charges of burglary, criminal trespassing and breach of probation.
Details of a plea deal announced in early March would drop burglary charges and give Hartman 18 months probation, along with mental health counseling. A deal the judge didn’t seem interested in accepting.
Judge Chiampas said at this hearing: “I will not give him a third probation.”
In those many phone calls and letters with Edwards, Mrs. Hartman was warm about him, was contemplative. She wrote on inequality, Jim Crow – like in prison.
She is currently released from prison on electronic monitoring and a regular regimen of daily counseling and medication.
Edwards noted, “So you’ve had a hell of a life.”
“Yeah, it was. It was, ”she replied.
Edwards asked, “Do you consider yourself fascinating?”
“Yes, I would under the circumstances… and I play down, Brad, I don’t.” Yeah, ”she said.
Hartman never did an in-depth interview “… until I was convinced that I would no longer take an illegal flight,” she said.
And, added a final thought, “I want to have the opportunity to apologize to the people I have hurt.”
Hartman’s plea deal will likely be finalized in early April, when all parties are back in court.
CBS2 investigators could not find anyone, from the TSA to gate agents, who has ever been sanctioned for a Hartman blunder.
We contacted several major airlines.
Southwest told us they had no say in the matter.
Delta and United did not respond.
American Airlines sent a statement saying it had a rigorous process in place to ensure safety.
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“We are aware of the incidents involving Marilyn Hartman at O’Hare Airport. American’s corporate security and safety teams have rigorous processes in place to keep our operations safe and we continue to work with our law enforcement and TSA partners to maintain an airport environment. safe and secure. – American Airlines spokesperson