Serial stowaway Marilyn Hartman, 70, is sentenced to three-and-a-half years


'Serial Stowaway' Marilyn Hartman has been sentenced to 3.5 years behind bars

‘Serial Stowaway’ Marilyn Hartman has been sentenced to 3.5 years behind bars

A 70-year-old woman with a history of slipping past security at airports and sneaking onto flights was sentenced on Thursday to more than three years in prison for trespassing at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 2019.

After Marilyn Hartman pleaded guilty to felony counts of criminal trespass and escape from electronic monitoring, Cook County Judge Peggy Chiampas sentenced her to 18 months for the trespassing charge and two years for the escape charge.

She must serve the sentences consecutively for a total of three years and six months, the judge said. 

However, she was given two years and five months of credit for the time she has already been in custody, and will thus be eligible for release in about a year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

In exchange for her plea, prosecutors agreed to drop other similar charges against her – including those stemming from an incident last March when she allegedly left a facility where she´d been staying on electronic monitoring and went to O´Hare in the apparent hopes of sneaking onto another flight.

The hearing marks the latest chapter in a years-long odyssey of a woman dubbed the ‘serial stowaway’ who has sneaked into airports in Chicago, Hawaii, San Francisco, Florida and elsewhere and tried – sometimes successfully – to board passenger jets without a ticket. 

Hartman's is seen above at her March 2021 arraignment after her latest arrest

Hartman’s is seen above at her March 2021 arraignment after her latest arrest

Her 2019 arrest violated a probation sentence she received for her conviction on charges that she sneaked past O’Hare security in January 2018, boarded a jet and flew to London’s Heathrow Airport without a ticket.

Hartman has apologized before and on Thursday she apologized for leaving the facility where she was receiving mental health treatment and housing.

‘I’ve struggled with depression and medication management my whole life,’ Hartman said.

The story of a woman who has for years illegally boarded or tried to board jets at airports across the United States captivated the nation. 

Hartman in an interview with WBBM-TV previously detailed her stunning history of illegal joyrides around the country and across the world, estimating that she managed to get onto at least 30 flights illegally since 2002. 

Asked how she managed to get by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints, Hartman’s explanation was startling simple. 

Hartman, an unassuming older woman, said that she slipped through checkpoints by pretending to be accompanying other groups of people. 

‘I got by them – this is the thing that is so crazy – by following someone they would be carrying like a blue bag,’ she said. ‘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.’

Hartman estimated that she managed to get onto at least 30 flights illegally since 2002. She is pictured in airport surveillance footage from one of her many arrests in 2018

Hartman estimated that she managed to get onto at least 30 flights illegally since 2002. She is pictured in airport surveillance footage from one of her many arrests in 2018

Once through the security checkpoint, she would often look for a boarding pass that had been discarded by another passenger, or slip onto a plane and wait in the lavatory until she could take an empty seat.  

Airports where the ‘Serial Stowaway’ has been caught trying to board passenger flights

San Francisco International Airport

Los Angeles International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

 St. Paul International Airport (Minneapolis)

Jacksonville International Airport

Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Chicago Midway International Airport

Heathrow Airport (London)

A WBBM review of court records and police reports showed that Hartman was repeatedly caught carrying a boarding pass from another passenger or arriving in another country without documentation to get through Customs. 

But those accounts only tell part of Hartman’s story, as she claims to have flown under the radar for 12 years before authorities first caught on to her scheme. 

Records show Hartman was arrested in at least 20 airport incidents between 2014 and 2019. Over that period TSA agents became well acquainted with her face and ultimately started calling for back-up as soon as they spotted her. 

Her notoriety was exemplified in an audio recording obtained by CBS2, in which a TSA agent was heard saying: ‘There’s been a Marilyn sighting over here.’  

Hartman said she had been taking flights illegally well before 2014, but no one noticed. 

‘The first time I was able to to get through I flew to Copenhagen,’ she said. ‘The second time I flew into Paris.’

The first few times she was caught in airports without a ticket, she was interviewed by police and released. Her first arrest came on August 14, 2014, when she flew from San Jose, California, to Los Angeles without a ticket. 

Hartman’s name was subsequently added to the TSA’s ‘trespass list’ and a judge let her off with a warning to never do that again – but she didn’t listen. 

She was arrested again seven months later in Jacksonville, Florida, after flying in from Minnesota without a ticket.  

Hartman, 69, was busted at the O'Hare CTA station (seen in a file photo) in 2021 when the ankle bracelet monitoring her home confinement stopped pinging

Hartman, 69, was busted at the O’Hare CTA station (seen in a file photo) in 2021 when the ankle bracelet monitoring her home confinement stopped pinging

The court overseeing that case determined that she was not mentally competent to face prosecution. 

But Hartman insisted that concerns about her mental state were overblown.  

‘I know they keep emphasizing the mental illness. Law enforcement would like to have that in place. But umm … no, I’m pretty good,’ she told CBS2 with a laugh. 

‘I don’t mind if people say: ‘She’s a nut.’ Because when I look at it objectively, that’s how I see it, is craziness. I purposely remained a mystery, because of the crazy factor. It was like something out of a movie.’

In the four years after the Jacksonville arrest, Hartman had at least seven more brushes with law enforcement at Chicago’s main airports – O’Hare and Midway.  

The last time she successfully boarded a plane without a ticket was in January 2018, when she slipped past security at O’Hare and took a seat on a British Airways flight to London Heathrow.  

But her plan was foiled upon arrival in the United Kingdom, where border officials discovered that she didn’t have proper documentation. 

Hartman was then shuttled back to Chicago, where she was charged with felony theft and misdemeanor trespass. 

She was released from custody and ordered to wear an ankle monitor and undergo psychiatric evaluation. She later pleaded guilty to the trespassing charge and was sentenced to 18 months probation.  

Hartman’s next trip to O’Hare came in October 2019, when officers spotted her trying to get through a security checkpoint without a boarding pass. 

After that arrest, Hartman became pen pals with CBS2 investigator Brad Edwards, who conducted the series of phone interviews with her behind bars. 

Hartman said she wanted to apologize to law enforcement and the TSA, saying: ‘It was not my intention to make their jobs more difficult.’

She said that her bipolar disorder was behind the relentless urge to travel, explaining that she took the flights whenever she fell into a depressive episode.  

‘When I took the plane ride, I wasn’t happy,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’m going here or there’ – I was actually in a depressed state of mind.’  

‘I’m bipolar. And this is something I’ve rejected for years,’ she added.

She vowed in the interviews never to do it again — but days later, in March 2021, she slipped away from a halfway house and was arrested once more at O’Hare.  

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