69-year-old Marilyn Hartman has been arrested again after attempting to sneak onto a flight for which she hadn’t purchased a ticket. She has successfully stowed away on 22 commercial flights in the last two decades and was just arrested again for attempting to board a flight at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Tuesday, March 16.
Hartman managed to escape a residential facility where she was being electronically monitored, CNN reports. Staff immediately began attempting to contact Hartman via the phone built into the monitoring device. When they locked onto her location, she was heading in the direction of O’Hare’s Terminal 1. An alarm was set off on her ankle bracelet, and she was arrested soon after.
Since then, Hartman has been returned to Cook County Jail and is not allowed to post bond.
But the real mystery here is why Hartman has stowed away on all these planes and how, exactly, she’s done it. The answer to the former question, though, is a sad one.
Hartman suffers from an undiagnosed mental illness that frequently includes paranoia. In one instance, she attempted to sneak onto a flight to Hawaii because she believed she had cancer and had “wanted to go to a warm place and die,” The Guardian reported. She did not have cancer. That contradicts a previous instance, where she felt she “really wanted to get off the island” after spending time on Hawaii.
That article from The Guardian involved extensive interviews with Hartman herself, who claimed that she was the victim of a widespread conspiracy intended to harass her for the rest of her life.
“For 25 years, Barack Obama knew about my case and all that went wrong when the ruling came down against me, but chose not to do the right thing,” she claimed in one email. She said she experienced such severe fight-or-flight responses that she was essentially forced by those instincts to board a plane and attempt to get away from the vast network of people dedicated to silencing her.
In terms of how she’s been able to do this, things are more complicated. In many cases, she has gone through the same screenings for weapons that we all do via TSA, but she was able to do so without any identification or boarding pass. She kept her head down, hid behind other passengers, and projected the image of a slightly confused but wholly inoffensive older woman. She got in by “ducking under the velvet ropes, piggybacking her way into small groups, presenting other people’s boarding passes, or simply answering ‘yes’, when airport staff ask leading questions such as: ‘Are you Maria Sandgren?’” If she was caught by airport workers, she was generally just thrown out, not arrested. The Guardian calls her “persistent.”
Hartman’s story is wild, but it’s also incredibly sad. This is a homeless woman who obviously hasn’t received the kind of care that could transform her overall mindset.
Correction March 21 6:13 p.m. ET: A previous version of this story noted that Hartman’s cancer claims took place before she went to Hawaii; rather, she had been in Hawaii five years prior.