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Brynn HARTMAN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Murder-suicide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 28, 1998
Date of birth: April 11, 1958
Victim profile: Actor and comedian Phil Hartman, 49 (her husband)
Method of murder: Shooting (.38 caliber revolver)
Location: Encino, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting herself the same day
 
 

 
 
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Brynn Hartman (born Vicki Jo Omdahl) (April 11, 1958 – May 28, 1998) was the wife and murderer of actor and comedian Phil Hartman.

Early life

Vicki Jo Omdahl was born in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, to Donald Gene Omdahl and Constance Faye Omdahl (née Arnold), and had a brother named Gregory Clark Omdahl and two sisters named Katherine Kelly Omdahl Wright and Debbie Omdahl Borreson. On May 20, 1977, she married Douglas Iver Torfin, but they later divorced.

On November 25, 1987, she married Phil Hartman. They had two children: Sean Edward Hartman (born 1987) and Birgen Hartman (born 1992). Both children are currently being raised by her sister Katherine and her husband Michael Wright in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Minor acting career

Hartman acted in small roles on television and film, playing a waitress in the Elijah Wood film North and a Venusian on 3rd Rock from the Sun. She met her husband, actor Phil Hartman, while working as a Catalina swimsuit model. She can also be seen during the early 1990s opening credit sequence of Saturday Night Live, having dinner with Hartman. At the time, Phil's career was near its highest point.

Murder of Phil Hartman and suicide

On May 28, 1998, she killed her husband in his sleep, shooting him three times with a revolver. Around 2am or 3am, she drove to her friend Ron Douglas' house, and confessed, but he did not believe her. At 6:20am, the two of them drove back to the Hartman home where Douglas discovered the body. Douglas subsequently called the police, who arrived on the scene to escort the two children out of the house. Before the police attended to her, Hartman went back into the bedroom and killed herself with a second revolver, shooting herself in the right eye.

Phil Hartman's divorce attorney, Steven Small, stated in a CNN article that Brynn's anger management problems may have contributed to the murder/suicide. In a 1998 People Online article, Small also stated that the couple argued over her alcoholism, her addiction to cocaine and the impending divorce. Each was unhappy and accused the other of not allowing a divorce. According to an article on the website FranksReelReviews.com, she combined cocaine, alcohol, and Zoloft at the Hollywood restaurant Buca di Beppo the night of the murder/suicide.

According to Phil Hartman's friend and colleague Jon Lovitz, Brynn Hartman had been sober for 10 years until five months before the murder, when comedian Andy Dick reintroduced her to cocaine.


Beneath the Surface

By Alex Tresniowski - People.com

June 15, 1998

The Murder of Comedian Phil Hartman by His Wife, Brynn—Who Then Took Her Own Life—Left a Legacy of Laughter, Two Children and a Terrible Question: Why?

The grisly details would emerge soon enough. For now, Phil Hartman's stunned friends wanted only laughter. And so, just hours after receiving word on May 28 that Hartman had been fatally shot in his sleep by his wife, Brynn, who then orphaned the couple's two young children by shooting herself in a bedroom of their $1.4 million Encino house, several of the comic's buddies met at the L.A. home of Jon Lovitz, Hartman's close pal and former Saturday Night Live castmate. "Everyone was telling stories about Phil," says Ron del Barrio, Hartman's golf instructor, of the gathering that included SNL alum Laraine Newman. "But when they'd start to laugh, they'd immediately lose it. They couldn't believe they were talking like he was gone." A distraught Lovitz cursed, shook his head and cried, "I don't understand how this could happen."

How the 10-year marriage of one of Hollywood's most amiable celebrities could end in a bloody murder-suicide was a question that vexed friends and fans alike in the days following Hartman's death. What could possibly have triggered the savage rage that prompted a loving mother to leave her children parentless? "This is just a tragedy beyond description," says Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks's wife and Hartman's costar in the 1996 film Jingle All the Way. "Now two children are left without the two most important people in their lives, and with a lifetime of confusion."

What made the tragedy more puzzling was that, on the surface at least, the Hartmans' marriage was as robust as his career. The Canadian-born Hartman, 49, was an enormously talented and popular performer—lauded for his stinging impressions of Bill Clinton and Frank Sinatra on Saturday Night Live, the goofy characters he voiced on The Simpsons and for his role as pompous anchor Bill McNeal on the NBC comedy NewsRadio, which had recently been renewed for a fourth season. He had also starred in such movies as 1994's Greedy (with Michael J. Fox) and 1996's Sgt. Bilko (opposite Steve Martin) and most recently lent his baritone to the children's action comedy Small Soldiers, due in July. And while Hartman worked, Brynn—a former model who jettisoned her own acting plans—raised their son Sean, 9, and daughter Birgen, 6. "They always seemed happy," says Todd Red, a bartender at Buca di Beppo, where the Hartmans celebrated her 40th birthday recently. "They always held hands and laughed and seemed like they were having a good time."

Yet Hartman, a master mimic, may have just been playing another role. His relationship with Brynn, his third wife, was far more troubled than their public appearances allowed. The Hartmans were emotional opposites: Brynn, say several of the couple's friends, was volatile and insecure about her husband's fame, while Phil, an outwardly genial man, was often sullen and withdrawn in private. Lawyer Steven Small, a friend of Hartman's, says the comic once told him, "'I go into my cave and she throws grenades to get me out.'" Adds Small: "Phil was always very open with the public, but at home he retreated inside."

That combustible mix was undoubtedly aggravated by another factor: Brynn's substance abuse problems. A recovering alcoholic and cocaine user, Brynn had recently resumed drinking after a decade of near-sobriety. "She admitted she'd had a couple of episodes when she'd fallen off the wagon," says a friend, songwriter Linda Thompson. "I remember her saying she didn't want to be an addict." In the last few months, Brynn had been in and out of rehab; earlier this year she checked into an Arizona clinic, where she stayed for only four or five days before leaving. Several days before the homicide, Brynn—who had been taking an antidepressant that can cause violent outbursts if mixed with alcohol or drugs—began drinking and using cocaine again, according to her close friends. Brynn's erratic behavior from drug use, says a TV producer who knew the Hartmans, led their housekeeper to quit 10 days before the shootings. And Jeannie Petersen, a childhood friend of Brynn's who stayed in touch with her, says Brynn wanted out of the marriage. "Sometimes she'd call me and she'd be real hurt," Petersen says. "He wouldn't give her a divorce. For two years she was trying to get it." Others say it was Hartman who wanted out. "This," says the TV producer, "was not a happy household."

The Hartman saga approached its deadly denouement the evening of May 27, which began with Brynn's visiting the Italian bistro Buca di Beppo with her friend Christine Zander, a supervising producer with the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. "She was in a good frame of mind," Zander told PEOPLE. "She seemed content." Brynn nursed two Cosmopolitans (vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice) over two hours and "didn't talk about any problems," says Zander. "We made plans to see each other the following weekend."

Later that night she returned to her Encino home and had a heated argument with Hartman. "He had made it very clear that if she started using drugs again, that would end the relationship," says Steven Small, who also notes that the couple's arguments followed a familiar pattern: "She had to get amped up to get his attention, and when she got amped up, he would simply go to sleep. He would withdraw. And in the morning he'd wake up, and everything would be fine."

But this time, Hartman's ostrich imitation had fatal consequences. Shortly before 3 a.m., Brynn shot Hartman three times as he slept, twice in the head and once in his right side. She used a .38-caliber handgun, one of several weapons Hartman kept in a safe in his home. According to a source close to the family, their son Sean, who had been in his bedroom upstairs, told police he had heard some sounds he described as "the slamming of a door."

Following the shooting, Brynn fled the scene and drove to the home of Ron Douglas, a longtime friend of hers. She confessed to Douglas what she had done, but he didn't believe her. She made a second call to another friend and again confessed to the crime. Brynn then returned to her Encino home with Douglas, and at 6:20 a.m. he called 911. Police arrived quickly and escorted a frantic Sean to safety. As they were taking a terrified Birgen out of the house, officers heard a gunshot inside. Storming the bedroom, they found the bloodied Hartman on the bed and Brynn, with a single gunshot to her head, next to him.

Devastated friends described Brynn as a wonderful mother who was devoted to her children. "She was always hanging out with them, always driving them around," says her close friend Andrea Diamond, a homemaker. "She wasn't feeling trapped in motherhood." Diamond rushed to the Los Angeles jail where Sean and Birgen were sheltered after the shootings, bringing them McDonald's french fries and holding them as they cried and fell into uncomprehending silence. The children are now staying with Hartman's brother John, a Los Angeles record-company executive, until, as stipulated by the Hartmans' wills, they are taken in by Brynn's married sister Katherine Kay Wright, 29, who lives in Eau Claire, Wis. Hartman's will, which estimates his worth at $1.2 million, also states his desire to be cremated and have his ashes scattered over Emerald Bay on California's Catalina Island. A separate memorial for Hartman, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, was planned for June 3.

Before this incident made Phil Hartman a household name, he was as humble and unassuming as a Hollywood star could be. The fourth of eight children, Hartman was born in Brantford, Ont., to Rupert Hartmann (Phil later dropped the second n), a building materials salesman—who died, at 83, just weeks before his son—and his wife, Doris, 79, a homemaker. Hartman told PEOPLE in 1993 that as a youngster he "didn't make any waves." Even as an adult, he said, "I have a passive, people-pleasing, middle-child mentality."

Hartman also had an artistic streak that led him to California State University, Northridge, where he majored in graphic design. After graduating he designed art covers for such rock groups as Poco and Crosby Stills and Nash before joining an L.A. improv group, the Groundlings, in 1975. "He was always gentlemanly and kind, which is rare in comedy," says fellow Groundling Patrick Bristow. "Phil was everybody's big brother." His improv work landed Hartman a performing gig on Saturday Night Live in 1986, and when he left eight years later his participation in 153 episodes had set a record. "His nickname was 'the Glue,'" says SNL creator Lorne Michaels. "He kind of held the show together. He gave to everybody and demanded very little. He was very low-maintenance."

But that same low-key demeanor served him less successfully in his personal life. Hartman's first brief marriage was to Gretchen Lewis in 1970; his second, to real-estate agent Lisa Strain in 1982, ended less than three years later. "He would disappear emotionally," says Strain. "Phil's body would be there, but he'd be in his own world. That passivity made you crazy. And when I'd protest, he'd say, 'You're getting in the way of my career, and this is who I am and what it's going to be like.'"

Hartman's reclusiveness would again become an issue in his third marriage, to Brynn, the former Vicki Omdahl of Thief River Falls, Minn. The daughter of Donny, 59, a former engineer who is now a partner in the Lantern, a popular Thief River Falls restaurant, and Connie, 58, who runs a retail shop, Omdahl was "just another student, an ordinary young lady," says her Lincoln High School principal Terry Soine. Determined to change that, Omdahl dropped out of high school, married and divorced Doug Torfin, a telephone operator, and did some modeling in Minneapolis before heading to California and acting lessons. "She was always looking to find herself," says a friend who has known Brynn since she was 18 and who notes that she changed her name several times. "When I met her, she was Vicki; then she became Vicki Jo, then Brindon and then Brynn. I'd laugh and say, 'Who are you this week?'"

In fact, Brynn was plagued by a powerful insecurity that was not assuaged by her 1987 marriage to Hartman. She was working as a Catalina swimsuit model when she met him on a blind date in 1986. "He had never had a 'babe' before, and she was it for him," says a friend who knew the couple in their early days. "He married his dream girl." But Brynn's friend Suzan Stadner says that Brynn soon "felt intimidated by Phil. He was this confident guy on the way up." When Hartman was tapped by Saturday Night Live, they moved to a tiny apartment in Manhattan, where Brynn took acting lessons and looked after their young children. "She would tell me she felt secluded and totally cut off," says Stadner. In the opening credits to Saturday Night Live, Hartman could be seen sitting in a booth next to Brynn, whose face was never shown. "'I kept trying to get my face on-camera, but the damn director kept telling me to turn away,'" Brynn complained to Stadner. "'I was so frustrated.'"

Frustration would prove a major theme in the Hartman marriage. "Brynn didn't have her own identity," says an L.A. friend, Shelley Curtis. "She was a little confused and lost in the Phil Hartman game." Low self-esteem led Brynn to undergo several cosmetic surgeries. "I understood her need to spruce up her exterior because she didn't think she had an interior," says Stadner. A plastic surgeon who operated on Brynn says she was "very insecure. She wanted to be this perfect wife of a Hollywood actor." Metza Giezing, the Hartmans' former New York City nanny, says some of the surgery was Phil's idea. "He thought her face was too round and wanted her chin to be more square," says Giezing.

Tensions in the marriage mounted as steadily as accolades for Hartman's talent. "He told me she'd create scenes and throw fits," says his second wife, Strain, who sent Hartman a letter congratulating him on the birth of his son in 1988. "Brynn wrote me back four pages of the most hideous vitriol you could imagine," says Strain. "I called Phil and said, 'Do you have any idea who you are married to?' And he said, 'You should've seen the letter she wanted to send.'" Strain says Hartman "wanted to do whatever he could to make this marriage work." And yet he couldn't stop his habit of drifting away from the woman who needed him most. "It was a pleasure to see how Phil interacted with people," says his pal Small. "And yet I have a feeling that Brynn got none of that."

Even so, neither partner had given up on the marriage entirely. Hartman, who made around $50,000 per episode on NewsRadio, had been talking about retiring to Catalina Island. "He had a three-year plan," says Debbie Avellana, a friend and waitress at Armstrong's on the island, where Hartman often vacationed. "His attitude was that his wife should hang on for a couple more years and then they would get to be together all the time." The week before he died, says Small, "I asked him how things were with him and Brynn, and he said, 'It's as good as it's ever been.'

Brynn, too, was looking to the future. Only two days before the shootings, she booked an appointment for her and Phil to enjoy an "Endless Courtship" treatment at the Skin Spa near their home. "I know they were both really looking forward to the summer," says her friend Andrea Diamond. "They were just trying to get through the month of May."

Even that fateful night, Brynn gave no hint that anything was amiss as she relaxed in Buca di Beppo. "The only thing unusual was she was there without Phil," recalls bartender Todd Red, an aspiring actor whose career Hartman would always ask about. Brynn and her friend Christine Zander "seemed to be having fun," Red adds. "They were smiling and laughing." Around 9:45 p.m. they got up to leave. "Goodbye, it was good seeing you," Red called to them. Brynn, smiling, responded, "'I'll be back real soon, and I'll be sure to bring Phil next time.'"


Brynn Omdahl Hartman

Birth:

Apr. 11, 1958
Thief River Falls
Pennington County
Minnesota, USA

Death:

May 28, 1998
Encino
Los Angeles County
California, USA

Model, Actress, and wife of television actor and comedian Phil Hartman. She died by killing herself with a gun after shooting her husband as he slept.

Born Vicki Jo Omdahl, the daughter of an engineer and owner of a retail shop, she was an average student growing up in an average family in a small town in Minnesota. While seeking to know her place in life, she decided to drop out of high school, and married Douglas Torfin, a telephone operator in her home town of Thief River Falls.

Wanting more for herself in life, she soon divorced Torfin, and to support herself, she did some modeling in nearby Minneapolis. Still wanting to become successful, a year later she decided to try acting, and moved to Hollywood, California, changing her name to Brindon and later to Brynn.

In 1986, she was working as a swimsuit model when she met aspiring actor Philip Edward Hartman on a blind date. He was a confident comedian and actor on his way up the Hollywood ladder. When Phil was hired for the television program "Saturday Night Live" in 1986, they would live in a small apartment in Manhattan.

In November 1987, the two were married; it was the third marriage for Phil and her second marriage. Brynn would stay in their Manhattan apartment, where she took care of their two children, Sean Edward (born 1989) and Birgen Anika (born 1992).

Brynn desired more, and wanted to become an actress, so she took acting lessons and had some cosmetic surgery done to improve her appearance. Despite her efforts, she obtained only small bit parts and cameo roles on such television shows as "Third Rock from the Sun" (1998) and "North" (1994), mostly due to her relationship to her husband. As Phil star rose in the competitive acting field of Hollywood, so did Brynn's jealousy of her husband's success and her perceived failure to achieve any significant notice.

In 1994, they moved to Encino, California, purchasing a modest home, when Phil left "Saturday Night Live" to work on the television sitcom "News Radio." In the meantime, her husband's career began to take off, and tensions mounted between the two. Brynn had a temper which led to bitter arguments with her husband, as she became more jealous of his success, even as her identity as a person became more suppressed, heightening her sense of failure as an actress. Brynn would turn to alcohol and drugs, including cocaine, for relief. Brynn would have several trips to rehabilitation centers to get her off of drugs. Due to her fears of privacy invasion by celebrity fans and crazy stalkers, Brynn would purchase several handguns, and hide them around the house.

On the evening of May 27, 1998, she visited with producer Christine Zander, but upon returning home, she had a heated argument with her husband. As the Police reconstructed the crime, Phil threatened to leave her if she ever started using drugs again (which she had that evening), and then went to bed. Brynn started drinking to rethink the evening's events. About 3:00 am, Brynn entered their bedroom while Phil was sleeping, and shot him twice in the head and once in the side.

Still intoxicated, she drove to the home of her friend, Ronald Douglas, and confessed to him that she had killed her husband. Initially he did not believe her, but after she showed him the gun, Douglas took it away from her and went with her back to the Hartman house. Upon seeing Phil's body in the bedroom, Douglas called 911 at 6:20 am to report the shooting.

When police arrived at the Hartman house, they escorted Douglas and the two children from the house, as Brynn ran to the bedroom and locked the door, and then shot herself through the mouth, killing herself instantly. An autopsy showed that she had consumed alcohol, cocaine and the antidepressant, Zoloft, that evening. The coroner's official determination of Brynn's death was suicide.

After the tragedy their two children were turned over to Brynn's sister, Katharine Omdahl, and her husband, Mike Wright, to raise. There is some dispute as to the disposition of the remains of both Brynn and her husband; some reports have their ashes scattered off of Catalina Island, while other reports have their ashes buried at Forest Lawn.

Findagrave.com


Phil Hartman
September 24, 1948 - May 28, 1998

Phil Hartman, was an Canadian-American actor and screenwriter, who was noted for his comedy performances on Saturday Night Live, and starred in many movies and comedies including Coneheads, Jingle All the Way, Loaded Weapon 1, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Hartman also had another talent that of a graphic artist. He was quite talented in this area and used his skills on many projects including the redesigning of The Groundling's logo and design of their merchandise.

Phil started his comedy career in 1975 by joining and taking comedy classes at The Groundlings, which is an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe and school based in Los Angeles, California. There he helped other comedians such as Paul Reuben develop their comedy talents.

In the mid 1980's, Hartman starred in movies such as Jumpin' Jack Flash and the Three Amigos!, and in the same year successful auditioned and join the cast of Saturday Night Live, where he appeared in 155 episodes, two times as the host, in addition to participating as a writer of the show.

In the 1990's, in addition to appearing on Saturday Night Live, Hartman acted in movies such as Coneheads, Loaded Weapon 1, CB4, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Houseguest, Sgt. Bilko, and Jingle All the Way. Hartman starred alongside many great actors such as Dan Aykroyd, Whoppi Goldberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Steve Martin, James Belushi, Mike Myers, Samuel L. Jackson, Chevy Chase, Paul Reuben, and Martin Short.

Phil starred in 52 episodes on the on the animated television sitcom, The Simpsons, as the voices of the ambulance-chasing lawyer, Lionel Hutz and washed-up actor, Troy McClure.

On the morning of May 28, 1998, Phil Hartman's third wife, Brynn, arrived back at their house at 5054 Encino Avenue, in the Encino section of Los Angeles, California, from a previous night of dinner and partying. She arrived back at their house around 2:00 AM and proceed upstairs where Phil was asleep in their bedroom. She had taken a .38 caliber handgun she kept at home and shot Phil three times as he slept, twice in the head and once in the right side. Brynn then retreated to a friend's house where she confessed of her crime. The friend, Ron Douglas, at first, didn't believe her, and then accompanied Brynn back to the Hartman's house where he discovered Phil's body. Douglas called 9-1-1 to report the shooting. At 6:20 AM, police responded to the residence and found the Hartman's children Sean and Birgen unharmed. Brynn Hartman was barricaded in the master bedroom. Police tried to persuade Brynn to surrender and even tried diversionary tactics, such as breaking a window, to divert her attention; however, they were unsuccessful. The police heard a single gunshot from within the bedroom and when they stormed the bedroom, they found the couple bloodied on the bed. Brynn was laying next to Phil with a gunshot wound to the head. Brynn had produced a second .38 caliber handgun which she used to commit suicide.

The events that led up to the shooting were thought to be related to Brynn's alcohol and drug use. Several days before the shooting, Brynn began using alcohol and cocaine again. She was also being treated for depression with the antidepressant, Zoloft.

The evening before the shooting, Brynn had gone out to a local restaurant, Buca di Beppo, with her friend Christine Zander, a supervising producer with the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. Brynn had a couple of Cosmopolitans over a few hours and was said to be in good spirits. She returned to the her house and had an argument with Phil about her drug use. It is believed that Phil Hartman was upset with his wife's return to drug use and was going to leave her.

According to the executor of Hartman's estate, Zoloft's manufacturer, Pfizer Inc. and Brynn Hartman's psychiatrist, Arthur Sorosky, are at fault for Hartman's death. The executor, Gregory Omdahl, Brynn Hartman's brother, had filed a wrongful death suit against Pfizer and Sorosky. The suit alleges that Sorosky did not properly warn Mrs. Hartman of the potential for violent and suicidal side effects of Zoloft and that Pfizer has not properly reported such side effects to the public. The makers of Zoloft eventually settled the case out of court and the Hartman children were awarded a monetary settlement.

The bodies were cremated at Forest Lawn Glendale and the ashes scattered off Catalina Island, per Phil's request in his will.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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