Serial Stowaway Found At Chicago O’Hare Twice Within Days

Filed Under: Security/TSA

I first wrote about Marilyn Hartman, also known as the “serial stowaway,” in 2014. At this point she has been found trespassing at airports dozens of times. Often she has successfully managed to get past security and even board flights without tickets, which says a lot about our (lack of) security.

Over the years details have emerged about her, and it’s a really sad story. She’s a homeless woman who doesn’t seem to have any family. She claims she goes to airports because she feels safest there, though at the same time she also seems to make a game of trying to get through security. Clearly she has some mental issues as well, and she has refused treatment for that. I don’t know what the solution is, but clearly the system is failing her.

A couple of weeks ago Hartman managed to board a Chicago to London flight on British Airways. She slipped past security and avoided a busy gate agent, and made it all the way to London before she was sent back, due to her lack of a passport. Apparently she had been roaming O’Hare Airport for a couple of days prior to that.

Hartman was put back in jail yesterday, just three days after she was issued a warning to stay away from O’Hare and Midway Airports. According to the Chicago Sun Times:

The 66-year-old Grayslake woman was spotted shortly after midnight in an area of the airport that services privately owned planes, Cook County prosecutors said. When she refused to leave, employees called police. She left before officers arrived.

Authorities found Hartman at 1:35 a.m. in the lower level of Terminal 3 and arrested her, prosecutors said. She was ordered held without bail for violating the terms of her bond.

“She is in great need of mental health services and support,” said Cara Smith, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s chief policy adviser.

I think the policy advisor to the Cook County Sheriff is spot on:

“She is in great need of mental health services and support,” said Cara Smith, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s chief policy adviser.

Staff from the sheriff’s, state’s attorney’s and public defender’s offices will be in touch Monday to brainstorm on producing a “holistic plan” to help Hartman, Smith said.

“Just having a revolving door at the jail and O’Hare and Midway seems ridiculous, so we have to find some way to interrupt that and get her on a good path… I don’t suggest it will be easy, but there has to be some solution here,” Smith said.

Smith summed up Hartman’s very candid assessment of how she’s been able to bamboozle her way through airports: “She said: ‘I’m an old white lady. Nobody stops me.’”

What an unfortunate situation…

  1. One might wonder whether her photo was previously posted at every TSA checkpoint and inside every office at O’Hare, and if it wasn’t then whether it will be now.

  2. Not saying she hasn’t a mental issue, but I get the impression that that’s only part of the explanation for such behaviour.

  3. I remember you writing about her back then and your generous offer to book her an award ticket to Hawaii. I’m guessing she never took you up on that offer.
    Either way, she clearly has mental issues and I hope she’ll be ok. Back then she had an apt in SFO but I guess she’s homeless now? 🙁

  4. Obviously she needs help and is most likely lonely. If anyone remembers the movie “Airport” from 1970 Helen Hayes played the role of an elderly lady who stowed away on flights all the time. She employed a list of different schemes to get on board. Of course this was pre metal detectors and security that we have today. She may have seen this movie years ago and it stuck with her.

  5. Can’t blame her for seeing the airport as a safe place to be. There are restrooms, it’s temperature controlled, and anyone with a bag can blend in. I’d have added “security” to that list, but that might sound contradictory, considering the story. SFO use to have issues with homeless at the airport. They often got into fights over the rental luggage carts. But that was back when you actually got a quarter back when returning them, vs the token they give now, if at all.

  6. @Donna

    Yes metal detectors were in use in the early 1970’s but not in 1970. Also this movie was most likely produced in 1969 and the bomber of the plane simply boarded.

  7. If I were homeless, I would consider airports. It’s generally safe and there aren’t many threatening people, unless bus stations and under bridges. It’s warm. Unlike libraries, some airports open 24 hours. SFO and LAX might be good choices. SEA can be a bit cold and the airport may not be big enough to be anonymous but you can earn 25 cents by returning abandoned Smarte Carts.

    I once had a long layover at IAH and must have earned about $4 by returning carts.

  8. if this were a man he would not be “serial” anything, he would be in prison. Its called the P*$$y Pass. Part of our male privilege is getting thrown in jail for breaking the law. But yes its unfortunate.

  9. From a CNN article….

    “Reporters who have followed her arrests said the success of her evasive maneuvers depends on her ability to blend into a crowd as a seemingly harmless, elderly white woman. She employs tactics like ducking under ropes, keeping her head down, piggybacking on small groups, and using other passengers’ discarded boarding passes, Joe Eskenazi wrote in The Guardian last week.”

  10. I don’t think TSA needs to specifically post a photo of her at every checkpoint. Almost everyone who lives in Chicagoland knows what she looks like since it’s been a story featured in all the local news outlets. Just thank goodness she doesn’t have malicious intent. It’s disgraceful how easy it is for her to slip past all the checks.

  11. A news organization needs to hire her then put a hidden camera on to show how useless the TSA really is. Why isn’t anyone asking how this lady continues to get by the idiot smurfs at security? Shouldn’t their repeated failures be the focus?

  12. All the security started after the Palestinian terrorists hijacked 3 or 4 planes and took them to somewhere in Jordan and demanded a lot of things in Sept. 1969 or 70. It was a rude awakening

  13. This just continues to prove that TSA needs to be disbanded. If a little old, mentally-unstable woman can get past TSA multiple times, and even onto a longhaul flight, true terrorists wouldn’t have an issue doing similar if they felt so motivated.

  14. Got to love that super strict airport security.

    I work in a small hotel 28 rooms and our security is more effective.

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