A quarrel over missing money led a 75-year-old Castor Gardens man to strangle his wife on May 6, according to a homicide detective’s Municipal Court testimony on Tuesday.
During a preliminary hearing for defendant Louis C. Hartdegen, Det. James Burns told the court that Hartdegen admitted he had accused his wife, Judith, of stealing rents he had collected for their landlord and had hit his wife in the mouth when she denied it on May 5. Burns did not say how much money that Hartdegen suspected his wife of taking.
Burns further testified that Hartdegen admitted to detectives that he again asked his wife about the missing rents early on May 6. Judith Hartdegen again denied knowing anything about the money. The denial sparked the fatal attack, the detective said, quoting from Hartdegen’s printed and signed statement to police.
“I hit her in the mouth again. She freaked out,” Hartdegen told the interrogators, according to Burns.
Hartdegen made the statement on May 6 when police interviewed him at a room at Aria Health-Torresdale, where the defendant was being treated for minor injuries he suffered in the aftermath of the slaying.
In detailing the killing for homicide investigators, Hartdegen said his 74-year-old wife was on the bed in their second-floor apartment on the 6700 block of Castor Ave., when he put a pillow over her face and his hand over her mouth. The elderly man later told the interrogators that he choked his wife with his bare hands, the detective said.
Hartdegen, who appeared in court Tuesday in a wheelchair, called 911 to report the killing, but he initially blamed it on someone else. Hartdegen claimed a neighbor broke into the couple’s apartment, raped and beat his wife and attacked him before fleeing, Burns said.
Police took the neighbor into custody, but had their doubts about the elderly man’s story. The neighbor, 26, proclaimed his innocence while he was questioned for several hours before being released.
Hartdegen ultimately told police, “I don’t know why I blamed him,” according to his signed statement to detectives. Burns testified that Hartdegen said his neighbor had given him a hard time previously.
One day after the killing, Capt. James Clark of the homicide unit announced publicly that Hartdegen’s tale didn’t add up. Authorities then charged Hartdegen with killing his wife of more than 50 years.
Clark said at the time that Hartdegen tried to make it look like the apartment had been broken into. Also Hartdegen bore marks consistent with being attacked, including scrapes and bruises on his body. But in the end, Hartdegen told investigators he had injured himself by falling down stairs when police arrived at his apartment in response to the 911 call, the detective said.
Hartdegen also admitted to detectives that he tried to make the assault on his wife look like she had been raped, although she had not been raped, according to police. In court Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore read a medical examiner’s report that the woman was strangled and that her death was a homicide.
Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni held Hartdegen for trial on a general murder count and related charges. He remains in Philadelphia prison custody without bail. ••