'Serial stowaway' arrested again in Chicago airport

Crime highlights flaw in airport security

CHICAGO – The woman known as the serial stowaway is at it again, this time managing to make it to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

This is just one of several times that 64-year-old Marilyn Hartman has managed to board a flight without a ticket. She was found in a restricted area of the airport without a ticket, Chicago police said on Tuesday.

Hartman, who had been observed loitering near a ticket counter in the airport's international terminal, was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and ordered to appear in court on May 29. 

Variety of booking photos of Marilyn Hartman
Variety of booking photos of Marilyn Hartman

Hartman, a retired legal secretary, has gained national attention for hanging around airports without tickets and attempting to board flights.

She has been arrested multiple times and sentenced to jail including last year in California after sneaking onto a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to Los Angeles.

News4Jax spoke to Ed Wuellner, executive director for the Northeast Florida Regional Airport, to find out how Hartman was been able to commit this crime, so many times. 

"Many locations along the perimeter of an airport are shielded from sight. There are plenty of places to hide and folks, if they're determined, can cut (their) way into a fence," Wuellner said. "The question is how quickly and sophisticated the airport is set up to monitor those kind of breaches and that's the challenge, how to implement the appropriate technology."

Wuellner said that there is new technology being explored to combat these type of security breaches. He said radar devices are now being used to help determine movement around airport perimeters which can help officials determine if there is a threat.

"When they do notice things, they can trigger things such as cameras that can track that activity or make emergency calls to police or other authorities to investigate what it is, (all of which) can be done in real time," Wuellner said.

Wuellner also said that all airports take these very seriously but in an airport like O'Hare, that has a perimeter tens of miles long, monitoring can be a challenge.

"Can you monitor the border of I-95 effectively, to make sure nothing crosses the path on the edge? That's probably not a realistic goal so using new technologies, the continuous diligence that airports supply in this country, that's the biggest first step to getting the problem solved," Wuellner said.

Hartman was arrested again Feb. 9 in Nassau County. She had apparently arrived at Jacksonville International Airport and accepted a ride from a shuttle driver who though she was an Omni guest and checked into a villa under that guest's name. When the real guest checked in, Hartman was found by Omni security staying in a room that was under renovation. She was arrested and booked into the Nassau County Jail on a charge of defrauding an innkeeper.

Her case was put on hold when her attorney filed a motion for a mental competency evaluation. A Nassau County judge ruled April 13 that she was not competent and dismissed the charges. She was released to a homeless shelter.

Here are some recent incidents in which Hartman has been involved:

  • February 2014 -- Hartman was sentenced to 18 months of probation after trying to board three separate flights from San Francisco to Hawaii.
  • March 2014 -- Hartman was arrested twice for hanging out in the San Francisco airport after she was banned from the premises.
  • August 2014 -- Hartman was arrested for getting through security and boarding a flight from Mineta San Jose International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. She was ordered to spend 117 days in jail for violating probation by returning to LAX, but she was released Aug. 16 because of overcrowding at the detention facility.
  • Later in August 2014, Hartman was arrested near baggage claim at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on suspicion of criminal trespassing. Police say she was loitering around a checkpoint and did not have an airline ticket.
  • February 2015, Hartman was arrested by the Nassau County Sheriff's Office after police said she arrived in Jacksonville on a flight without a ticket from Minnesota and checked into the Omni under another woman's name.