Confession: Man killed wife, 74, over rent money

Louis Hardegen.
Louis Hardegen.
Posted: August 08, 2013

Neighbors were shocked when 75-year-old Louis Hartdegen was arrested in May in the slaying of his wife of 52 years.

They called the Northeast Philadelphia man the "mayor of Castor Avenue" and described him and his wife, Judith, 74, as devoted to each other.

On Tuesday, a Philadelphia judge heard about a different Louis Hartdegen: a man who accused his wife of taking rent money, hit her in the mouth when she denied it, strangled her, and tried to pin the crime on a neighbor.

That description allegedly came from Hartdegen himself, in a confession police said he gave them.

Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni ordered Hartdegen held for trial on charges of murder, aggravated indecent assault, possessing an instrument of crime, abuse of corpse, and two false-reports counts of allegedly trying to frame his neighbor.

Hartdegen called 911 shortly before 3 a.m. May 6 to report that a burglar had broken into their apartment in the 6700 block of Castor Avenue, raped and strangled his wife, and assaulted him.

But within hours, testified Homicide Detective James Burns, Hartdegen's story was unraveling. A window screen had been cut with a nearby razor blade, but there was no sign of how the burglar got to the second-story window.

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, Burns said he and another detective returned the afternoon of May 6 to reinterview Hartdegen at his hospital bed at Aria Health-Torresdale Campus.

This time, Hartdegen admitted lying in his first statement and told detectives, "I may have suffocated her with a pillow."

In the statement, Hartdegen said that earlier in the day, he had accused his wife of taking rent money. When she denied it, he said, he hit her in the mouth.

They avoided each other the rest of the day, Hartdegen's statement reads, but at bedtime, he again raised the issue.

"I hit her in the mouth again, and she freaked out," Hartdegen told detectives. He said that his wife was on the bed and that he put a pillow over her face and his hand over her mouth until she was still. Then he strangled her.

Afterward, the statement continues, he undressed his wife's body and arranged it to look as if she had been raped.

Hartdegen said he even tied a towel around his own neck to "try to make it more authentic," Burns testified.

Hartdegen, a gaunt man with a shock of wispy white hair, listened intently from a wheelchair in court, squinting through thick glasses and leaning in to ask questions of lawyers Catherine Berryman and Thurgood Matthews.

Court records show that Hartdegen served 11 to 23 months in prison for a 1991 incest conviction and has 1971 convictions for burglary, larceny, and receiving stolen property.

Questioning Burns, Matthews tried to show that Hartdegen was too frail to kill his wife.

Burns, however, said Hartdegen could walk at the time of the killing and has since lost weight.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joeslobo.

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