Serial Stowaway Released from Cook County Jail, Says Her Stowaway Days ‘Are Over’

Marilyn Hartman, the so-called "serial stowaway" who has tested the patience of airport security personnel across the United States, walked out of Chicago's Cook County Jail late Thursday, after spending nearly two months behind bars.

"I feel free as a bird," Hartman said, clutching her personal belongings, and perhaps ominously, CTA timetables for transportation to O'Hare and Midway Airports.

She insisted those were a joke from someone inside the jail.

The 63-year-old made five attempts to get past security at O'Hare and Midway Airports in late April and early May. She was arrested twice at O'Hare, and a third time at Midway May 3. As she left the jail, she insisted her stowaway days are over.

"If I have a ticket I can go. If I have a ticket to ride. Sounds like a song," she said. "But if I have that I can go!"

During hearings Wednesday and Thursday, two different Cook County judges accepted Hartman's guilty pleas on separate charges, sentencing her to the time she had already served. In court Thursday morning, Hartman told Judge Daniel Gallagher her ordeal at Cook County Jail had been "the worst experience in at least five years."

"Horrible," she said. "It was a lot of screaming and yelling. The TV was blaring!"

Hartman suggested at times she had feared for her safety.

"Threats of physical violence," she said. "And they wouldn't take heed of them."

In the Thursday hearing, Hartman pled guilty to a single count of trespassing.

"Are you pleading of your own free will?" the judge asked. "Yes, I am," Hartman declared.

"The judge sentenced her to 120 days, which is to run concurrent to her other two matters which she pled to yesterday," said Cook County prosecutor Jennifer Coleman. "And she served most of that, if not all of it."

Hartman was a 1969 graduate of Chicago Vocational School, and a onetime resident at Sandburg Village on Chicago's north side

But after a long-ago move to San Francisco, in recent years her life had descended into a series of arrests in airports across the United States, as she made repeated attempts to slip past security and at least three successful flights where it's believed she stowed away.

Security video from Minneapolis showed one attempt last winter. In that video, Hartman sidled up to a family and attempted to blend in as one family member presented boarding passes and ID's to a TSA agent for inspection. In that instance, she was found out, and slipped away. But authorities believe the technique has worked on numerous other occasions, in Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Jacksonville, Fla.

Thursday evening as she left jail, she declined a reporter's question about how she had done what she had repeatedly done.

"Actually, I wouldn't want to encourage that behavior," she said. "Because I'm as concerned about that behavior as anyone else."

Hartman does have family in the Chicago area. A cousin and brother came to watch her appearance in a West Side courtroom on Wednesday. But neither was in court with her Thursday, and both indicated they had no plans to take her in when she was released.

Nearly everyone agrees Hartman suffers from significant mental health issues, but none of those were deemed serious enough to keep her in custody.

"She was found fit to stand trial," said Coleman, the Cook County prosecutor. "And also sane at the time of her offense."

Leaving jail, Hartman seemed in an ebullient mood.

She boarded a southbound bus on California, but it left it at Archer Avenue, where she began walking eastbound.  

Responding to a reporter's question, she insisted she was heading to a public library.

"No more stowing away," she said, raising her hand, as if taking a pledge.

Contact Us