Marilyn Hartman is somewhat of a hero figure to many Chicagoans as her tenacity feels aspirational and her secret airplane-boarding-prowess remarkable. Hartman has clandestinely boarded dozens of airplanes that have sent her around the world. Her antics have earned her the nickname the “Serial Stowaway” as she has repeatedly taken to the skies over the last 20 years. The stowaway superstar is currently on solid ground and in a Cook County Jail since October after violating her probation by showing up at an airport.
The 68-year-old received the 18-month probation after a 2018 flight she took from Chicago’s O’Hare to London’s Heathrow Airport after creeping aboard a British Airways flight. Unfortunately, she was recently attacked in jail by a woman in the midst of a “mental health episode,” which is curious as authorities had ordered a mental fitness evaluation for Hartman last fall. Thankfully, Hartman suffered no injuries from the attack. She recently spoke to reporters for the very first time about her escapades.
The ‘Serial Stowaway’ Marilyn Hartman Revealed How She Repeatedly Slipped Past Airport Security.
You might think that getting past the TSA would be a tricky proposition, but the “Serial Stowaway” had a straightforward answer for how she did when asked by CBS2.
“I got by them, this is the thing that is so crazy, by following someone they would be carrying like a blue bag,” she explained. “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.”
Her explanation about the “blue bag” did not answer too many questions, but we will take her word for it. CBS2 looked into court documents and police reports to find that Hartman was repeatedly caught carrying a boarding pass from another traveler or arriving in another country without documentation to get processed through Customs.
Those documents only tell a partial story according to Hartman who says she secretly boarded planes for 12 years before she was ever apprehended.
Hartman was arrested in no less than 20 airport incidents between 2014 and 2019. Over that time TSA agents became well acquainted with her and would call for back-up as soon as they spotted her in the airport.
So notorious was the “Serial Stowaway” that in audio obtained by CBS2, a TSA agent can be heard saying, “There’s been a Marilyn sighting over here.”
Hartman had been taking flights well before her capture in 2014, she says, and no one even noticed. “The first time I was able to to get through I flew to Copenhagen,” she told CBS2. “The second time I flew into Paris.”
The initial times she was caught in airports without a boarding pass, she was interviewed by police and ultimately released. Her first arrest came on August 14, 2014, when she flew from San Jose, California, to Los Angeles without a ticket.
Following the incidents, Hartman was put on a “trespass list” by the TSA. That was the harshest punishment she had received following a judge’s decision to give her a warning to not do it again. She was free but not for long.
Seven months after a judge’s warning Hartman was caught flying into Jacksonville, Florida from Minnesota without a boarding pass. The court that processed her following the incident concluded that Hartman was not mentally fit to stand trial. The “Serial Stowaway” had a difference of opinion, however. “I know they keep emphasizing the mental illness. Law enforcement would like to have that in place. But um no, I’m pretty good,” Hartman told CBS2, they report she laughed as she replied.
“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,” Hartman told the outlet. “I purposely remained a mystery, because of the crazy factor. It was like something out of a movie.”
Over the four years following her arrest in Jacksonville, Hartman had seven brushes with law enforcement at Chicago’s two main airports O’Hare and Midway. She managed to slip past security in 2018, however, when she hopped on a British Airways flight to London. She did indeed make it all the way to Heathrow International but was discovered when authorities realized she did not have proper documentation. She was shuttled back to Chicago and charged with felony theft and misdemeanor trespassing.
Following that incident, she was released on 18 months probation and outfitted with an ankle monitor. She would likely be free today, had she not showed back up at the airport in 2019 when officers clocked her trying to get past a security checkpoint without a ticket. This time, she was charged with burglary, criminal trespassing, and probation violation. We expect to hear from her plea this spring.
“It was not my intention to make their jobs more difficult,” she said in apology to TSA and other law enforcement officials. She blamed her bipolar disorder for the urge to fly, saying that she would feel the itch to leave any time she fell into a depressive state.
“When I took the plane ride, I wasn’t happy,” she revealed. “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 told the outlet.
Asked why she is speaking out now after being so hush-hush with the media for years, the “Serial Stowaway” said that she had not been prepared to speak “until I was confident that I wouldn’t take an illegal flight again.”
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Prosecutors considered dropping the burglary charge and putting Hartman on probation yet again, but the judge would not hear it this time around. A third probation seemed like an insufficient punishment for someone who had broken the agreements in the past.
Until we hear her plea, Hartman’s future is in legal limbo. Although an annoyance to law enforcement and airport security teams, the “Serial Stowaway” has never harmed anyone. However, we feel like the TSA could look to Hartman as a training resource that illustrates how the most simple plots are often the most effective.
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