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 firstname.lastname@example.org