Elderly man charged in wife’s murder

An eld­erly man on the 6700 block of Castor Ave. told po­lice a man broke in­to his home through the back win­dow and killed his wife around 2:30 am. The man is in a hos­pit­al and po­lice are in­vest­ig­at­ing, Monday, May 6, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Po­lice have charged an eld­erly man with killing his wife of 53 years in­side their Castor Gar­dens apart­ment early Monday.

Hom­icide chief Capt. James Clark on Tues­day said Louis Hartde­gen, 75, first told po­lice a neigh­bor had broken in­to the couple’s second-floor apart­ment on the 6700 block of Castor Ave. Clark said the man called po­lice shortly be­fore 3 a.m. Monday to re­port a burg­lary and told ar­riv­ing of­ficers the in­truder had beaten and raped his 74-year-old wife, Ju­dith, then at­tacked him and fled. 

The eld­erly man did bear the marks of be­ing at­tacked — scratches and bruises, po­lice said.

But Hartde­gen’s story and the evid­ence didn’t add up, Clark said. He said Hartde­gen tried to make the couple’s apart­ment look like it had been broken in­to.

The cap­tain said Hartde­gen had in­ten­ded to kill his wife.

“He tried very hard to set up the crime scene to make it ap­pear that someone did this,” Clark said.

Clark said he didn’t know how much time had elapsed between Ju­dith Hartde­gen’s death and her hus­band’s 911 call.

“He tried to out­smart us,” the cap­tain said, but de­tect­ives wouldn’t be led. “Some very sharp hom­icide de­tect­ives found sev­er­al dis­crep­an­cies in his state­ment,” Clark said.

The way the crime scene was laid out, Clark said, didn’t match Hartde­gen’s story.

De­tect­ives con­fron­ted Hartde­gen with these in­con­sist­en­cies and he con­fessed, Clark said. The cap­tain said he had nev­er seen a case like this one.

Clark said it ap­pears the vic­tim was struck sev­er­al times and suf­foc­ated. She was not sexu­ally as­saul­ted, he said.

The wo­man was found in her bed and she was pro­nounced dead there.

The 26-year-old neigh­bor whom po­lice had taken in­to cus­tody after Hartde­gen fingered him im­me­di­ately pro­tested his in­no­cence, Clark said. He said hom­icide de­tect­ives ques­tioned the young man for sev­er­al hours be­fore re­leas­ing him.

“It’s very troub­ling that he did pick out the wrong per­son and try to cov­er up his own tracks,” Clark said of Hartde­gen.

The eld­erly man was ar­res­ted Monday night at Aria Health’s Tor­res­dale cam­pus, where he had been taken with scratches and bruises, Clark said. He said he didn’t know if the man’s in­jur­ies were self-in­flic­ted or not.

Clark would not char­ac­ter­ize the man’s motive for at­tack­ing his spouse any fur­ther than de­scrib­ing it as a do­mest­ic dis­pute.

Neigh­bor Al Wise said he was shocked that Hartde­gen con­fessed to killing his wife and the­or­ized he might not have done it alone.

He de­scribed Hartde­gen as frail and said the eld­erly man walked only with his wife’s as­sist­ance.

Louis Hartde­gen was es­pe­cially well-known on the block of ground-floor busi­nesses with second-floor apart­ments, Wise had said.

“We called him the may­or,” said the Rev. Robert Bey, who lives nearby on Knorr Street.

“Every­body likes him,” Mr. Wong, who called him­self the couple’s land­lord, said on Monday. He wouldn’t give his first name.

“Every­body knows every­body around here,” Bey said Monday morn­ing, adding the couple’s morn­ing walks to­geth­er were fa­mil­i­ar neigh­bor­hood sights.

“We are deeply saddened,” Bey said.

Neigh­bors con­duc­ted an in­form­al me­mori­al in the rear of the couple’s home on Monday night, Wise said. They left be­hind signed notes and candles.

On Tues­day morn­ing, Wise, who also lives nearby on  Knorr Street, said his wife had been very friendly with Ju­dith Hartde­gen and that the wo­man had con­fided dark secrets about her hus­band to her.

One such secret was a 1991 con­vic­tion for in­cest, he said.

Clark said he didn’t know if po­lice had ever been called to the couple’s long­time home, but ad­ded Louis Hartde­gen “was known to po­lice.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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