Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trophy Wife and the Tennis Pro

Justice

Al Capone
Al Capone

If Debra Hartmann took her plan to murder her husband from the pages of a movie script, then federal prosecutors took their plan to charge Debra and her fellow conspirators from the pages of history.

In the 1930s, Chicago crime kingpin Al Capone wasn't charged with murder, corruption, or trafficking in illegal booze; he was charged with, and convicted of, the much less sensational crime of income tax evasion.

The feds couldn't get Scarface Al for his most heinous crimes, but they could get him for his ancillary transgressions. And he went to prison for it.

Half a century later, the successors of those Prohibition-era federal prosecutors developed a similar plan for Werner Hartmann's killers.

In January 1989, a federal grand jury in Chicago charged Debra Hartmann, John Korabik, and Ken Kaenel with dozens of counts of mail and wire fraud in connection with their conspiracy to murder Werner Hartmann and divide the proceeds of his insurance policies. The three of them each faced up to 25 years in prison.

"Conspiracy to commit murder in this state is about 25 years," Delorto says, "and we were going to get at least that much time for the insurance fraud and the mail fraud."

John Korabik
John Korabik

Trooper Dave Hamm agreed with prosecution's plan.

"The net result would be they're convicted and go to the penitentiary," Hamm says.

One advantage prosecutors got from filing mail and wire fraud charges instead of a murder charge was that they wouldn't have to prove exactly who killed Werner, only that the three defendants used his murder to further their fraud scheme.

Prosecutors also had a star witness, Harvey Loochtan, who had agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and testify for the government.

On the first day of the trial, Debra strode into court all smiles, confident, wearing a long mink coat, a pink sweater, a short skirt, and high heels. She looked exactly like what she was an ex-stripper.

The trial lasted three weeks. The jury deliberated just three hours.

The verdict for all three was guilty.

Even after the jury read its verdict, though, Debra Hartmann continued to smile, evidently hopeful of a light sentence.

But the sentences were anything but light.

The judge handed Debra Hartmann 22 years in prison, Ken Kaenel got 20 years, and John Korabik was sentenced to 16 years.

ATF Agent Jim Delorto, who, along with Dave Hamm, worked so hard on the case for so long, was happy with the result.

"To do it the right way and make them pay for that crime, it was very rewarding," he says.

In Werner Hartmann's case, as in that 1944 movie, justice could be delayed but not denied.

"At the end of Double Indemnity, the lovers' perfect murder plot unravels, and they get their just desserts," Dominick Dunne says. "I guess Debbie Hartmann never saw the movie through to the end."

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