Former SF Weekly investigative journalist Joe Eskanazi was on the perplexing case of Marilyn Hartman for San Francisco Magazine in recent months, tracking her down first at the Florida jail where she landed this past winter after conning her way into a resort there, and then in Chicago where she was sent after a Florida judge dismissed the charges against her, and where she was arrested again last month. It's been clear since SFist started tracking Hartman's arrests last year that there was some form of mental illness at work, and we first learned about her weird conspiracy theory surrounding a lawyer and something to do with the FBI when we discovered a couple old blog posts she'd written. But Eskanazi tries to make better sense of Hartman's oddly articulate but essentially insane logic, and derides all the media coverage of her arrests as flippant, and "obscur[ing] a darker, sadder story."
Just what that story is, though, remains a mystery, though the SF Mag piece does manage to fill in a few holes, and track down a couple of estranged family members who may be Hartman's brothers, in the Chicago area. One brother says that Hartman changed her name (Eskanazi determines she was born Marilyn Stall and adopted the name Hartman for reasons unknown in 1985), and has been "out there on her own" for the better part of 40 years, having cut off contact with family sometime in the early 1970s, when she was in her mid-20s. Another brother sounds notably angry about Hartman's behavior, and simply says, "Let's close the book on this."
Though a psychiatry professor says she seems to present a "diagnostic puzzle," between her conspiracy talk and obsessional tendencies, it should be noted that the average age for the onset of schizophrenia in women is 25, and schizophrenia is one of the possibilities he mentions.
After Hartman cut off contact with Eskanazi, he was left with little else to investigate or discuss besides the treatment of mentally ill criminals in the justice system, and the frightening ease with which Hartman has been able to sneak onto so many planes.
Like many mentally ill people who are neither violent nor outwardly unstable, Hartman is treated with a sort of benign neglect. Even faced with a rap sheet that grows longer by the month, few municipalities see fit to throw the book at a harmless older white woman. But, without Hartman’s participation which she can withdraw in the time it takes to hop a cab to the airport there’s next to nothing that can be done to truly help her. Especially if she doesn’t want anybody’s help.
So, yes, she is not a joke. And yes, she will probably continue to make headlines because no one will commit her to a mental health facility, or incarcerate her for very long.