A piece in today’s Times:
She was almost 70, well travelled and adept at blending in, but even before she arrived at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago the police were preparing to thwart her latest crime.
Marilyn Hartman was arrested on Tuesday afternoon before she could sneak onto yet another passenger plane without a ticket, having successfully stowed away on at least 30 flights over the past 19 years.
She had announced her retirement from illicit air travel two days earlier in a CBS interview, in which she explained how she had managed to fly around the world for free for two decades. She had resisted an in-depth interview, she said, “until I was confident that I wouldn’t take an illegal flight again”.
“The thing I’ve got to tell you: I have never been able to board a plane by myself — I was always let through,” Hartman, 69, told the network. “I mean I was able to go through the security line without a boarding pass.”
She described how she repeatedly evaded the attention of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at security screenings. “I got by them . . . by following someone. They would be carrying like a blue bag. And the next thing I know, I get into the TSA line and TSA lets me through, and they think I’m with the guy with the blue bag.”
The “genius” of her method was its simplicity, according to Jeff Price, an aviation security expert. But it was “just mind-boggling” that she had been able to repeat it over and over, he said.
A CBS investigative reporting team compiled a list of destinations to which Hartman had flown for free, including Seattle, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco and London. She started in 2002, she said. “The first time I was able to get through I flew to Copenhagen. The second time I flew into Paris.”
Law enforcement did not notice her for 12 years, when she was caught in August 2014 flying from San Jose to Los Angeles in California. A judge warned her not to try again but seven months later she was back in court.
“Ms Hartman has been determined by forensic psychologists to be incompetent to proceed,” the court was told.
Hartman, who has bipolar disorder, grew up in a household full of “violence and mental illness”, she told CBS. “When I took the plane ride I wasn’t happy,” she said. “I wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’m going here or there’. I was in a depressed state of mind.”
Eventually she was classified in law enforcement documents as a “habitual stowaway”. At O’Hare, agents knew her by her first name. On October 10, 2019 an agent called police to say: “There’s been a Marilyn sighting over here.” She was arrested the following evening.
She was released from custody last spring under a scheme to free low-risk detainees and reduce the risk of them contracting the coronavirus.
Two weeks ago a judge rejected a plea deal that would have given her probation for her latest offence. On Tuesday she slipped away from the halfway house where she was staying and headed for the airport again.
A monitoring bracelet alerted Cook County sheriff deputies, who tipped off airport police. She was arrested and is being held on a trespassing charge.
Hartman told CBS the perception that she was “a nut” had helped her. “I don’t care at all if someone calls me crazy,” she said. “The story is crazy.”
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