Saturday, September 12, 2015

Florence “Flossie” Hartman, Scheming Double Black Widow – 1938, Pennsylvania


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Cleveland, Jan. 19. – Mrs. Flossie Hartman, 32, found her estranged husband five times killing him, said Detective Anthony Kosicki.

“Please get me out of here,” Kosicki quoted her as saying from the jail hospital ward where she held today, pending filing of charges in the slating of the husband, Joseph, 32.

“Will they kill me for this?”

Police said Mrs. Hartman told them she arrived from Dunkard, Pa., only a few hours before the killing, which occurred in an automobile parked across the street from Hartman’s residence.

“I don’t know how she missed the baby,” said Miss Mary King, 34, who was sitting in the car also occupied by another man, Neil McKay. Miss King said she once had “gone steady” with Hartman in Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Hartman, who said the couple’s two other children, Roy, 9, and Joseph, 3, are in a Waynesburg, Pa., orphanage, told police that she had come her to effect a reconciliation with her husband, from whom she had been separated six months.

[“Woman Faces Murder Charge – Held In Cleveland After Police Report She Shot Husband, Holding 11-Month-Old Son,” The Evening Independent (Massillon, Ohio), Jan. 19, 1937, 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Cleveland, March 20 – A 32-year-old mother of three children planned to leave this afternoon for her home in Waynesburg, Pa., freed of the charge she murdered her husband.

The woman, Mrs. Florence Hartman was accused of killing her estranged husband, Joseph, here last Jan. 10, by firing four shots into his head as he sat in an auto with a 34-year-old divorcee.

The jury, which returned its verdict yesterday, was criticized by Trial Judge Samuel H. Silbert.

Witnesses testified Mrs. Hartman was holding her year-old son in her arms when she shot her husband. [This account is contradicted in later articles on the case.]

Sympathy in the court room yesterday appeared to be entirely with the defendant, a frail woman. During testimony spectators to the room wept and tears were in the eyes of the jury.

Members of the jury, the foreman said, balloted only on a manslaughter verdict, although Mrs. Hartman was charged with first-degree murder.

Judge Silbert, in discussing the case said: “I believe a conviction should have should have been considered. This is a time when a jury is not a reasoning machine but acted as a human institution. The defendant certainly had been mistreated. She twice collapsed on the stand, although this was not done with the intention of influencing the jury – but it did.”

Mrs. Hartman testified her husband beat her frequently and “ran around” with other women. She said he left her in Waynesburg last September, telling her he was going to get a divorce.

She said she had to beg money to come to Cleveland where she intended to attempt a reconciliation.

When the verdict was returned, Mrs. Hartman kissed her attorney. Donald W. Hornbeck. Sympathetic court room spectators gave her $100 worth of clothing to return to her home.

“I am going to forget all about what happened. There’ll be no more marriage for me. I’ve learned my lesson. Getting freed was a pleasant surprise,” Mrs. Hartman said.

[“Woman Killer Freed By Jury – Cleveland Judge Criticizes Verdict for Waynesburg, Pa., Mother,” The Pittsburgh (Pa.), Mar. 20, 1937, p. 3]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): Waynesburg, Pa., Sept. 17 – For the second time in less than two years, the life of Mrs. Florence Hartman, 33, mother of three children, will be in the hands of a jury here this week.

A Cleveland panel freed Mrs. Hartman of the charge of murdering her husband Jan. 10, 1937.

A Greene County jury, probably beginning Tuesday, will decide the guilt of Mrs. Hartman on the charge of slaying her sweetheart, John Andrenok, 22, in her one-room Taylortown home last June 19.

Mrs. Hartman previously was accused of firing four shots into the head of her husband, Joseph, while he sat in an auto with a 34-year-old divorcee in a Cleveland park.

The Cleveland jury that freed Mrs. Hartman on March 19, 1937, was criticized by the trial judge, Samuel H. Silbert, for permitting the woman’s emotional outbursts at the trial to influence their verdict.

The trial in Andrenok’s death originally was scheduled to begin tomorrow, but was postponed a day because of the illness of Mrs. Hartman’s attorney, W. Robert Thompson.

Dist. Atty. Frank Throckmorton said today he would ask for a first-degree murder verdict. The prosecutor said hee would try to prove that Mrs. Hartman purchased the rifle that caused Andrenok’s death in Morgantown, W. Va., two weeks prior to the shooting.

When first questioned by police, Mrs. Hartman was reported saying that she and Andrenok had gone to sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed where her three children were sleeping. She said, according to police, that she was awakened by the rifle shot and found Andrenok lying wounded on the floor.

Later was said to have changed her story, claiming that the gun had accidentally discharged while she and Andrenok were scuffling for its possession.

Mrs. Hartman, frail and timid in appearance, has been in jail since her arrest. Her three children have been wards at the Greene County Home.

The trial judge will be Challen W. Waychoff.

[“Taylortown Woman Again Faces Trial for Slaying – Freed in Death of Husbands, She Faces Charge of Killing Her Sweetheart,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Sep. 18, 1938, Society Section, p. 12]

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FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): EXASPERATED and amazed, Judge Samuel H. Gilbert heard the jury foreman pronounce the “Not Guilty” verdict. White with anger he pounded the bench with his fist as he charged:

“In view of the direct nature of the evidence it is obvious that emotions, not facts, governed your deliberations!”

Florence Hartman, the exonerated defendant, hardly heard what the judge said; she had been promised a permanent by a publicity-conscious beauty parlor operator if she won her freedom on the charge of killing her husband, and so on that afternoon on March 19, 1937, she walked out of the Cleveland, Ohio, Criminal Court with a saucy flirt of the hips and a crooked smile on her pretty face. . .

Redheaded Florence Marshall had married Joseph Hartman in 1928 at Washington, Pennsylvania, and had borne him four children, the last yet an infant, Hartman proved to be a good provider even if his jobs did take him away from home for months at a time when mechanic’s jobs were scarce in his own state. But his wife, an incorrigible flirt and fiery-tempered, had no appreciation for the efforts of her plodding, conscientious mate; her viperish tongue and ill-concealed amorous associations with men drove Hartman away from home on at least three different occasions.

The last time, alter a particularly bitter quarrel in January, 1937, the harried husband left for Cleveland and Florence finally realized that she had alienated his love and patience. She placed three of her children in an institution and with her baby in her arms followed Hartman to Ohio.

Arriving at the boarding house where her husband was stopping Florence found him seated in a car with a young lady named Mary King; the couple were discussing the sale of Hartman’s automobile to Miss King. Florence, her infant in the crook of her arm, greeted the pair cordially and then, smiling, placed the baby in her husband’s lap.

She then asked for permission to climb in the back seat; this her husband sullenly granted. As soon as she was seated she began pleading: “Joe, won’t you take me back, please.”

“No!” her husband answered. “I took you back three times, it’s useless to try again. I’m going to divorce you and get custody of the children. That’s the only chance we will ever have for peace and happiness.”

Then he turned his attention to the baby and the prospective purchaser of his car. The wife didn’t argue. Matter-of-factly she unzippered her handbag and withdrew an ugly .38 calibre automatic; slowly she raised it to the back of her husband’s head and pulled the trigger. The explosion tore a scream from the King girl’s throat – she scrambled out of the car and Mrs. Hartman deliberately fired three more shots into the sagging head of the man she had sworn to love, honor and obey.

This was the killing which the jury judged no crime – a verdict that brought denunciation from the bench, and a few hours later permitted the elaborately coiffured widow to turn her pretty red head in the direction where she got her greatest satisfaction in the direction of the gullible male.

On June 19, 1938, Sheriff Henry Flowers, of Greene County, Pennsylvania, heard about the shooting of 21-year-old John Andrenock shortly after the youth succumbed at the Memorial Hospital at Waynesburg. Andrenock, Sheriff Flowers was told, had committed suicide at the bungalow of Mrs. Florence Hartman who had returned from Ohio in April, 1937.

Dr. Robert Gans, who phoned the sheriff, stated that he had been called by one of Mrs. Hartman’s neighbors at 3 a. m. that morning, and when he reached the modest home he found Mrs. Hartman sitting on the floor, with the patient’s head in her lap, sobbing, “Why did you do it, Johnnie dear? Oh, why did you do it?” The youth was in a critical condition so the doctor got him to the hospital where he worked over him without success. Mrs. Hartman had accompanied the wounded boy and was with him when he died there some three hours later.

Sheriff Flowers first drove to the bungalow, which was deserted; there he found a blood-stained mattress and a reddened pillow in the middle of the living room floor, a brand new .22 rifle lying significantly alongside. The sheriff picked up the rifle gingerly it was a most uncertain and awkward weapon for suicide. After he stowed the rifle in his car he went through the little house carefully but could find nothing that would warrant the supposition of foul play.

He drove to Waynesburg only to learn there that the woman had left. However, a hint as to her whereabouts had been indicated when she confided to a nurse that her hair looked a mess.

Indeed, Flowers found her in a beauty shop and escorted her to his office for formal investigation and questioning.

The widow showed great distress over Johnnie’s death. She and Johnnie, who was a miner, were to be married in the Fall. Why he should take his life that way, she said, might only be explained by his financial circumstances which would not. permit their immediate marriage.

They had been keeping company for almost a year, and, in spite of scandal-mongers, the gap of ten years in their ages made no difference in their full determination to wed.

Her lover, she continued, called at her home Sunday night and seemed depressed; so when he informed her he was going for a short walk before retiring she made no protest; and while he was gone she made a bed for him on the floor there it would be coolest.

“I went to bed and fell asleep right away so I didn’t hear him come back. How long I slept I don’t know but I was awakened by a shot that frightened me terribly. I managed to get out of bod and into the living room. When I saw the gun I realized what had happened so I dashed to my nearest neighbor and asked him to call a doctor . . . The rifle? I have no idea where it came from. Maybe poor Johnnie borrowed it from somebody while he was out walking.”

The sheriff watched the tears welling in his visitor’s great blue eyes. Then for the first time he recalled that this appealing, pretty woman before him had once calmly killed a man. Immune to her blandishments he decided to lock her up as a material witness until he was satisfied beyond the shadow of a doubt that young John Andrenock had died by his own hand.

Flowers had been unable to find a suicide note at the Hartman bungalow, but there was a possibility that the young miner and recovered the fatal slug. In probing for its course they discovered that it ran straight in, indicating that the gun had been held at a perfect right angle with the left side of the head.

He found no suicide note, but a pants pocket contained something else that puzzled the officer. The pocket held four .22 long rifle shells and, inexplicably, one .33 calibre pistol shell.

If the widow’s story were true, the rifle shells could be accounted for. But why the pistol shell? Did the dead youth own a pistol? If he did why would ho use a small calibre, hard to handle rifle to end his life when a revolver or automatic would have been so much more convenient and certain? Had the .22s been planted?

To account for the extra shell Flowers drove to the little town of Moffitt-Sterling where young Andrenock had lived with his parents. From this grief-stricken couple the sheriff learned that their boy owned .38 which they showed him and permitted the officer to take with him. They told the officer they knew John had been visiting the. widow but they were certain that marriage had been furthest from his intentions.

While all this heightened the sheriff’s suspicions it did not constitute incriminating evidence on which he could logically or legally base a charge against Mrs. Hartman.

Flowers knew he would have to work fast now because it would be a simple matter for an able attorney to secure his prisoner’s release. To establish the ownership of the death weapon seemed to be the next logical step.

Flowers examined the .22 cartridges and recognized them as a type sold only in the Montgomery Ward stores. This narrowed the search considerably because there was only one of these stores in the district, just across the state line in Morganstown, West Virginia.

The sheriff made the trip immediately and questioned John Ashburn, the clerk who handled the sporting goods. Ashburn recalled selling three model 15 Springfield rifles the previous week, one of which he thought was to a woman; but unfortunately he was not required to take names when selling either ammunition or weapons. The clerk readily agreed to make the trip to Waynesburg to see if he could identify Mrs. Hartman as the woman purchaser.

The sheriff took Ashburn to the widow’s cell in the County Jail and was disappointed when the clerk looked in at the prisoner through the barred door and began to shake his head in non-recognition.

Just at that very moment, however, Florence Hartman rose from her iron bedstead and stepped to the door with a gay: “Hello, there! You’re the boy I bought the rifle from last Friday. I knew you’d remember me.”

Sheriff Flowers was dumfounded. Evidently the woman had not seen Ashburn’s head shaking, and in an attempt to outsmart the officer had stupidly trapped herself.

“I thought you said Andrenock borrowed the rifle!” snapped the officer.

“I was too shaken to think straight, sheriff,” she replied gesturing pathetically. “I hope you won’t hold me to all I said when I was so broken up over poor Johnnie.”

The officer’s steely grey eyes stared right through her histrionics as he growled: “I am and I’m placing you under arrest for the murder of your young lover, John Andrenock!”

“But why, sheriff? Why would I kill the man I loved?” she cried. “Why?” repeated the officer sourly. “Because he wouldn’t marry you!”

Later that day Flowers watched while two physicians performed the autopsy on the young miner and recovered the fatal slug. In probing for its course they discovered that it ran straight in, indicating that the gun had been held at a perfect right angle with the left side of the head.

But this was a most improbable position for a right-handed man which the victim was, according to his friends. Further, the flesh showed no powder burns which most certainly would have been there if the muzzle had been held close to the head.

Though all this was still highly, circumstantial, Flowers took his evidence to District Attorney Frank Throckmorton who considered it strong enough to bring the widow to trial on a first degree murder charge.

The trial was scheduled for September 28th, before County Judge Challen W. Waychoff. J. Ernest Isherwood was retained as special prosecutor by the United Mine Workers Union to which the dead youth belonged. On the other hand Mrs. Hartman was defended by two famous and brilliant attorneys, W. Robert Thompson and former Judge A. H. Sayers.

The prosecution had worked diligently up to the time of trial roundup forty-four witnesses to testify for the Commonwealth that Johnnie had stated publicly and privately that the widow was trying to rope him into marriage and that he was doing his utmost to get shut of her. They had no inkling of the defense strategy the woman would offer, because after she inadvertently admitted buying the weapon she would say absolutely nothing more to the police.

But early in the trial the defense showed its hand. Chief Defense Counsel Thompson stated that he would show the jury, without shadow of a doubt that young John Andrenock had been, killed by a bullet “fired accidentally find during a struggle.”

When the widow entered the courtroom she appeared demure in a simple green frock that accentuated the beauty of her hair, and her large melting eyes played up to the “twelve good men and true” as only a woman who had known many men could artfully contrive.

But when District Attorney Throckmorton informed the jury that he would demand the death penalty, the coy defendant was so visibly shocked into realizing her dangerous position that she completely forgot to act.

For two days she sat in sheer terror while the Jury was being selected. On the third day she heard medical testimony to the effect that the weapon could not have been fired by the victim himself and had most likely been fired from some distance. The evidence was graphic, with photographs and diagrams at which Mrs. Hartman stared nervously and with visibly increasing fear and terror.

When the widow left the courtroom for noon recess she gave vent to tears and for the first time appeared on the verge of a breakdown. Everyone expected a dramatic development that afternoon, but none was quite prepared for what actually occurred.

[Terry McShane, “The Strange Case of the Self-Made Widow,” The Gaffney Ledger (S.C.), Dec. 21, 1943, p. 7

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For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.

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