A federal judge
Monday ignored the plea of a tearful Debra Hartmann that "I did not
want my husband dead," and sentenced the former exotic dancer to 22
years in prison for conspiracy in the machine-gun slaying of her
branded the woman the "proverbial black widow."
In an unusual
move, Hartmann, 36, was allowed to address U.S. District Judge James
Moran in his chambers, away from the eyes of the media and courtroom
spectators, to present her side of the June 8, 1982, murder of Werner
Hartmann. Her plea was recorded for the court record.
"I did not want
my husband dead," she said. "It's true we had our moments when he hit
me, but I felt if we would have a separation, if we had gone for some
counseling, things would have worked themselves out."
your innocence and you come through as intelligent, but with a past
history as psychologically damaged and unable to appreciate the injury
you have inflicted," Moran told her in the courtroom.
sentenced her to 22 years in prison, he sentenced John Scott Korabik,
her former boyfriend, to 16 years in prison, and their co-conspirator,
Kenneth Kaenel, to 20 years in prison.
brought to an end one of the most bizarre and publicized murders in
Korabik, 34, and Kaenel, 62, were convicted in December of multiple
mail and wire fraud charges for conspiring to kill Werner Hartmann and
cheat life insurance companies out of $800,000 in insurance benefits.
No one has ever been charged with murder, a state offense.
sunset on June 8, 1982, Assistant U.S. Attys. John Farrell and Steve
Miller say, Korabik sneaked into the posh Hartmann home in Northbrook,
hid in a closet, and then shot his lover's 38-year-old husband 14
times with a machine pistol to prevent Hartmann from divorcing and
In asking for a
life sentence for her, Miller described her as a "narcissistic
parasite who lived for parties and money."
"She was the
proverbial black widow," Miller charged. "These men face considerable
incarceration because of the web this woman wove," pointing to Kaenel
Banks, her attorney, portrayed Debra Hartmann as a victim rather than
murder conspirator. "She lost a man she relied on who was the ticket
to a better life," Banks said.
Until she met
Hartmann in 1978, her life had been hard, Banks said.
"Her father beat
his wife and children, causing them to leave their home," Banks said.
He said Debra Hartmann had quit high school at 15 to become a dance
As he spoke, his
client lost her composure for the first time publicly, weeping softly,
dabbing tears with a tissue.
three-week trial, she watched stone-faced as witness after witness
tied her to the plot to kill her estranged husband.
married Hartmann, Banks continued, his client was hospitalized several
times from beatings inflicted by her husband.
"He (Werner) was
a man who preyed on a girl like Debra Hartmann. He beat her. He shot
at her," Banks continued.
Hartmann told Moran, she had hoped that their marriage might be
wouldn`t have married me-we wouldn't have stayed together all those
four years if there wasn`t something good going on," she told Moran.
"I did not want
my husband to die, judge, believe me."
left her husband in late 1981 to move in with Korabik at his parents'
home in Portage Park. There, prosecutors say, they hatched the plot to
kill Werner Hartmann, a German immigrant who had moved here when he
was 19 and earned a small fortune in the car stereo business.
At first she
contemplated divorce, but cast that idea aside after deciding that
Hartmann was worth more to her dead than alive, the prosecution
first forged Werner's signature on a $150,000 life insurance policy,
then began to plot his murder, the prosecutors said. She later forged
his signature on a $250,000 life insurance policy that she obtained
after bribing the couple's insurance agent, Harvey Loochtan, according
She and Korabik
then enlisted the aid of Kaenel, a Korabik family friend who sometimes
stayed at the Korabik home, prosecutors said. Kaenel helped Korabik
the night of the murder, Miller argued.
Kaenel either accompanied Korabik into the Hartmann home or waited
outside in the getaway car, Miller charged. "John Korabik's a
cold-blooded killer and a playboy who wanted the adornment of Debra
Hartmann on his arm," he said.
lawyer, Michael Saken, described his client as a "helpful and
sensitive young man whose life was untarnished except for this
not to speak, but Kaenel told Moran, "I did not kill anybody. I did
not collect any insurance money."
Michael Logan, argued that his client never participated in the murder
and should be given credit for giving police evidence that led to the
successful prosecution of the others.
collected $589,000 in a settlement with the insurance companies in
November 1984. In addition to the prison term, Judge Moran ordered
that Debra Hartmann pay whatever restitution was possible.
In an earlier
sentencing hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras
sentenced a weeping Loochtan to two years in prison for taking a
$3,000 bribe from Debra Hartmann in March 1982 to make her the
beneficiary on the $250,000 life insurance policy instead of her
husband`s two teenage daughters, Stephanie and Eva.
"I'll take it
for granted that Debbie was a beguiling charmer," Kocoras said. "But
if we're going to go around forgiving every human, human weakness . .
. punishment has no meaning."
tears, Loochtan, 52, whispered, "I'm just sorry I did it."
Ex-lover Denies That He Killed Hartmann
By John Gorman - ChicagoTribune.com
December 13, 1989
John Korabik, accused of
conspiracy in the death of Werner Hartmann, admitted Tuesday that he
was having an affair with Hartmann's wife, but denied committing the
murder so that he and the widow could reap more than $800,000 in life
"Did you kill Werner Hartmann?" asked Michael
Saken, Korabik's attorney.
"No, sir. I did not," responded Korabik.
The testimony came in the federal court trial of
Korabik, Hartmann's wife Debra, and Kenneth Kaenal. Korabik, 33, Debra
Hartmann, 36, and Kaenel, 60, are accused of conspiring to obtain the
insurance money by killing Werner Hartmann.
Korabik said he began dating Debra Hartmann in late
1981, shortly after meeting her in Werner Hartmann's car stereo store
in Franklin Park.
"Did you begin a romantic relationship?" Saken
"We were in love," responded Korabik. "It was a
good relationship," but it ended in 1984 when she threw him out of her
Northbrook home, he said.
Korabik testified that on June 8, 1982, when the
government says he went to the Hartmann home and murdered Werner, he
was visiting James Pappas in Bensenville.
No one has ever been charged with murder, a state
offense. The defendants face multiple mail and wire fraud charges
brought following a 2 1/2 year investigation by Special Agent James
Delorto of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the
Illinois State Police.
The government contends that Debra Hartmann and
Korabik plotted the murder of Werner Hartmann, a 38-year-old German
immigrant who had met his wife when she was an exotic dancer.
Prosecutors John Farrell and Steven Miller, both assistant U.S.
attorneys, contend that shortly after sunset on June 8, 1982, Korabik
sneaked into the Hartmann home and shot his lover's husband 14 times
with a machine pistol so Debra would collect the insurance money
before Werner Hartmann could divorce and disinherit her.
"Did you ever cause Werner Hartmann to be killed?"
"No, sir, I did not," Korabik said.
Under cross-examination by Miller, Korabik was
asked if he lent Werner Hartmann nearly $20,000 in early 1982 to get
back $250,000 in Debra's jewels that Werner said were being held by
organized crime figures as collateral on a juice loan.
"No, sir, I thought they were holding Werner
hostage for juice money," Korabik responded. He added that he
considered Werner Hartmann a friend.
"You were sleeping with his wife?" Miller asked.
"Yes," Korabik said.
"Is that your idea of friendship, to humiliate him
in front of his employees?" Miller asked.
"Werner accepted the relationship," Korabik
"Is that when he threatened you?" Miller asked.
"He threatened to cut off my . . . and to break my
legs," Korabik said. "We were friends before and after that."
"When you started sleeping with his wife, he didn't
like you so much anymore, did he?" asked Miller.
"He was upset about it," Korabik replied. When that
response was greeted by laughter, U.S. District Court Judge James
Moran admonished the packed courtroom to remain quiet.
Korabik also denied that he had ever admitted
killing Werner Hartmann to Debra Hartmann's brother, Curtis Alex
Stover, in 1984.
"Was Alex Stover a friend?" Saken asked.
"No, sir, he was not," said Korabik.
In earlier testimony Tuesday, Pappas concurred that
Korabik was visiting him at about the time Werner Hartmann was killed.
Pappas testified that on the evening of June 8,
1982, Korabik arrived at the Pappas home about 8 p.m. The testimony
corroborated the version offered by Pappas' wife, Elizabeth, on
Pappas said he and Korabik talked until about 11
p.m, then went out to eat at a Wood Dale restaurant. Pappas employed
Korabik at Gun World, a Bensenville gun store Pappas owned.
Pappas also testified that he bought a Mac-10
machine gun from Korabik in November, 1981. The revelation came as
Saken apparently attempted to prove that Korabik had already sold the
type of weapon the government contends was used to kill Werner
Under cross-examination by Farrell, Pappas was
asked if he always registered the guns he sold.
"Yes," Pappas responded.
At this point, Moran adjourned for lunch. When
court reconvened, Farrell asked Pappas if he ever sold guns to an
undercover agent at O'Hare International Airport.
Pappas refused to answer, citing his 5th Amendment
right against self-incrimination.
Brother Takes Stand
By John Gorman - ChicagoTribune.com
December 6, 1989
Debra Hartmann's brother testified
Tuesday that his sister admitted she arranged her millionaire
husband's murder and that her ex-lover later described the killing in
Curtis Stover, a convicted burglar who was brought
from Cook County Jail to testify, told a federal jury that his sister
had told him in late 1982 how she had Werner Hartmann shot on June 8
of that year.
In March, 1982, Stover testified, Debra's
boyfriend, John Scott Korabik, told him that Werner Hartmann had
borrowed $20,000 from him, failed to repay it and that he would kill
Hartmann for the transgression.
Then in December, 1984, Stover continued, Korabik
said that he went to the Hartmann home in Northbrook and entered after
Korabik said that he shot Hartmann, who "spun like
a top," Stover testified.
Korabik claimed that after Hartmann fell to the
floor with four wounds to the face and head, Korabik stood over him
and "shot the Nazi" 10 more times, Stover recalled.
Debra Hartmann, 36, her onetime boyfriend, Korabik,
34, and a third defendant, Kenneth Kaenel, are all accused of
conspiring to kill Werner Hartmann and cheat the insurance company out
of more than $800,000. No one has ever been charged with murder, a
state charge. The defendants are charged with mail and wire fraud.
The government contends that Debra Hartmann and
Korabik plotted the murder of Werner Hartmann, a 38-year old German
immigrant who had met his wife when she was an exotic dancer.
Prosecutors Steven Miller and John Farrell contend that on the night
of June 8, 1982, Korabik sneaked into the Hartmann home and shot his
lover`s husband 14 times with a machine pistol so they could collect
$800,000 in insurance money before Werner Hartmann could divorce his
wife and disinherit her.
Under questioning by Miller, Stover said that
Korabik said once he killed Hartmann, he picked up several shell
casings and then fled the home.
Once outside, he tripped over a tree stump and hurt
his knee, Korabik allegedly told Stover.
Cross-examined by Korabik`s attorney, Michael
Saken, Stover admitted that after he heard about the murder, he never
told the police about Korabik's threat on Hartmann`s life. It wasn`t
until after his arrest several years later on multiple burglary
charges that he began talking to authorities, he admitted.
Stover said he told Werner Hartmann about Korabik's
threat, but that his brother-in-law "didn`t think anything about it."
Stover said that Werner Hartmann did go over to a
strip joint called Smoker's Lounge, where he had first met his wife,
and got "three guys to go over to Korabik's house."
When questioned by Debra Hartmann's attorney, Sam
Banks, Stover said that he was "upset" when he found out in January,
1982, that his sister was dating Korabik and told her to stop.
"I told her she was going to ruin any plans for a
settlement," in a divorce, Stover continued.
The government contends that at about that same
time Debra Hartmann dropped plans to divorce her husband and started
plotting his death.
Slaying 'Confession' Is Told
By John Gorman - ChicagoTribune.com
December 1, 1989
Three hours after millionaire Werner Hartmann was gunned down in his
Northbrook home, a dazed Kenneth Kaenel arrived at the Elmwood Park
home of a friend and confessed the killing, the friend testified
"He came in like
in a trance," Donald Zorc related. "He said that he murdered Werner
Hartmann . . . and wanted us to be his alibi." Zorc said he had just
heard about the murder on the radio the morning of June 9, 1982, when
Kaenel arrived at his home.
Two days later, Zorc said, Kaenel returned to the
Elmwood Park home Zorc shared with his brother, Jeff, and their
parents Josephine and Charles.
"He showed us two gold necklaces that were part of
his payment given him by Debbie (Hartmann). He was bragging about how
he murdered the guy as he got out of the shower, shot him 14 times
with an automatic weapon, then the gun jammed," Zorc recalled.
Debra Hartmann, 36, her onetime boyfriend, John
Scott Korabik, 34, and Kenneth Kaenel, 60, are all accused of
conspiring to kill Werner Hartmann and cheat the insurance company out
of more than $800,000. No one has been charged with the murder, a
state charge. The defendants are charged with mail and wire fraud.
The government contends that Debra Hartmann and
Korabik plotted the murder of Werner Hartmann, a German immigrant who
had met his wife when she was an exotic dancer.
Zorc's testimony contrasted with the opening
statement given last week by Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven Miller, who
contended that on the night of June 8, 1982, Korabik sneaked into the
Hartmann home and killed his lover`s husband so they could collect
insurance money before Werner Hartmann could divorce his wife and
Four years after the murder, Zorc said, Kaenel
asked him to go with him to Debbie Hartmann`s house to collect some
money because "she was spending it very fast." But Zorc said he
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Atty. John
Farrell, Zorc, who was granted immunity, said he first began
cooperating with the government in 1986. Zorc said that in May, 1982,
he and his brother were approached by Kaenel about the murder of
Werner Hartmann. Zorc said that Kaenel wanted the brothers to steal
Debra Hartmann's Mercedes Benz automobile because that would be "the
down payment on the murder."
"He offered us $6,000 each (to help)," Zorc said.
Zorc said the money was to come from the $800,000
in life insurance.
"He said he was getting the guns from Scottie
(Korabik)," Zorc said, adding that someone who used the name Scottie
called the Zorc home frequently to talk to Kaenel in May, 1982.
On May 30 of that year, Zorc said, he went with his
brother to buy a set of walkie-talkies to use in the murder. His
brother died of natural causes five years ago.
Several days later, Zorc continued, he and his
brother accompanied Kaenel to Northbrook and drove by a home on a side
On June 6, Zorc said, Kaenel and Scottie got into
an argument on the phone.
Zorc testified that Kaenel hung up the phone and
said, "If we don't do it for all that insurance money, Scottie will do
"We told him we wanted nothing to do with it," Zorc
Miller declined comment on the apparent discrepancy
in the testimony over who shot Hartmann.
Questioned later by Debra Hartmann's attorney, Zorc
admitted he was a burglar and a thief, but denied he had ever killed
"I never hurt anyone in my life," Zorc said.
Later, Zorc's mother, Josephine, backed up her
son's account of how Kaenel had shown up at their house the day after
the murder. She said he described the murder in detail that day,
including how the victim was shot emerging from the shower and how the
gun had jammed. She added that Kaenel said the bullets used in the
killing "were from Scottie's home."
She testified that Kaenel said he had "gotten rid
of the gun. First, he said he threw it in the lake. Then, he said he
buried it. Then, he said he had given it to someone in Melrose Park."
In earlier testimony Thursday, Stephanie Hartmann
recalled how her father, Werner, had warned her in December, 1981,
that she should return to Florida before her stepmother, Debra, sent
her home "in a box."
"He was trying to protect me," Stephanie Hartmann
The warning was delivered just hours after
Stephanie Hartmann, now 24, had told her father that Debra Hartmann
was having an affair with Korabik. After that, Debra Hartmann had told
her to leave the Northbrook home and return to Florida or she "would
be disfigured permanently," Stephanie Hartmann testified.
The Case Of
Widow, 2 Men Accused Of Plot To Get Insurance Money
By John Gorman - ChicagoTribune.com
November 23, 1989
Just before sunset on June 8, 1982, Werner Hartmann emerged from the
shower in his plush Northbrook home and was riddled with 14 bullets
from a machine gun fired by his wife's lover, a federal prosecutor
charged Wednesday. The first bullets caught Hartmann, 38, in the back.
The force spun him around to face the gunman as his life slipped away.
Then the killer stood over him and fired 10 more times.
"He was shot
here, and here and here," assistant U.S. Atty. Steven Miller told a
federal court jury, pointing to his face and down his body.
she comes into the Northbrook Police Department and says her husband
At this point,
Miller whirled and pointed to Debra Hartmann, Werner's widow and the
woman who, Miller said, plotted her husband's death to garner more
than $800,000 in life insurance benefits.
36, and two men, Kenneth Kaenel, 60, and John Scott Korabik, 34, are
all accused of conspiring to cheat the insurance company out of more
than $800,000. None has ever been charged with murder, a state charge.
The defendants are charged with mail and wire fraud.
statement was the first public account given by a law enforcement
official of a slaying that has baffled authorities for years. The case
is one of several brought in recent months in federal court arising
out of killings that resulted in no state murder charges. In one case,
suburban attorney Alan Masters and two law enforcement officials were
convicted of conspiring to kill Masters` wife, Dianne.
promises to provide days of testimony revealing inside details of the
seamy lives of a couple who partied hard, spent freely and engaged in
Miller wasn't the only one pointing fingers before U.S. District Judge
James Moran and the jury.
attorney, Michael Saken, said his client was visiting a friend in
Bensenville the night of the killing.
"And where was
Kenneth Kaenel?" Saken asked, pointing to Kaenel. "He was in
Northbrook killing Werner Hartmann. Why do I say this? There was a
bullet found in Kaenel's house (matching the death weapon). And he
admits killing Werner Hartmann to two, maybe three people."
"The murder of
Hartmann was a professional job-no fingerprints, no witnesses. . . .
and that excludes John Korabik," Saken said.
attorney, Michael Logan, returned the salvo.
government) don't say that my client was in the house or anywhere near
the house," Logan maintained. "The evidence will show that one person
and one person alone shot Werner Hartmann. John Korabik."
Sam Banks, Debra
Hartmann's attorney, argued that nobody knows who killed Werner
Hartmann. "We do know one thing-it wasn't Debra Hartmann."
Miller told the
jury that minutes before the shooting occurred, Debra Hartmann was at
home waiting for Werner to arrive. After he came home, they chatted
briefly. She left when he got into the shower, Miller continued.
"That`s her cue to leave. Then John Korabik comes
in and hides in a closet and soon hears the shower turn off," Miller
related. "Hartmann comes out and sees a man holding a little machine
gun. He turns but is shot four times in the back. Then, the gunman
stood over him and fired again into Hartmann`s face and head."
Korabik then started picking up the spent
cartridges, Miller charged.
"But then he panicked and thought someone had heard
him, so instead of picking up the shells, he runs from the house and,
looking behind him, he runs into a tree, spraining his ankle," Miller
Meanwhile, Debra Hartmann went to a restaurant
where Werner's ex-wife and daughters were waiting. "They don`t know
their father has just been killed," he said.
The scheme was doomed to failure because the
conspirators "couldn't keep their mouths shut," Miller said.
The plot had been hatched, Miller said, the
previous winter when Werner, a millionaire German immigrant, began
talking about divorce after four years of marriage.
His wife "had an extramarital affair going with
Korabik and had moved in with him," Miller said, pointing to Hartmann,
who was dressed in a tight pink dress and matching cashmere sweater.
Debra Hartmann had filed for divorce in early
January, 1982. Northbrook officer Walter Ostrenga testified that she
had complained to police in December, 1981, that she had had a fight
with Werner and he had taken away some of her belongings, including a
diamond ring, a diamond necklace, and two fur coats, as well as other
clothing, worth more than $127,000.
She quickly abandoned the divorce proceeding after
she decided her husband was worth more to her dead than alive, Miller
"She forged his signature to become the beneficiary
of a $150,000 double-indemnity insurance policy. That means she would
get $300,000 if Werner died of other than natural causes," said
Miller, who is prosecuting the case with John Farrell.
In May, she borrowed $3,000 from Korabik to bribe
her husband`s insurance agent, Harvey Loochtan, to change the
beneficiary on another of Werner`s life insurance policies, which
originally had listed his daughters, Eva and Stephanie, as the
beneficiaries, Miller charged.
Loochtan has pleaded guilty and is expected to
testify for the prosecution. The government contends that Debra
Hartmann eventually received $589,000 in insurance settlements.
Kaenel, a friend of Korabik, joined him and Debra
Hartmann to help find someone to kill Werner Hartmann for a $50,000
share of the insurance money, Miller continued. Kaenel is now serving
a prison term on an unrelated gun charge.
Eventually, Werner Hartmann discovered the change
in his policy and confronted Loochtan, who informed Debra Hartmann of
her husband's discovery, Miller said.
Werner Hartmann began eavesdropping on his wife's
phone conversations and overheard her discussing with Korabik how they
will dispose of his body in a "vat of acid," Miller said.
"Werner Hartmann goes to the first two cops he can
find and asks to hire them as bodyguards," Miller continued. "But the
police won't do it. And Werner Hartmann has 10 days left."
The clock was ticking, Miller said, because the
plotters believed they had to commit the killing before Werner could
change back the beneficiary.
So Korabik killed "for his lover" while Kaenel
helped "for the love of money," Miller said. "They were in it
The Trophy Wife and the Tennis Pro
By Chuck Hustmyre - Trutv.com
CHICAGO June 9, 1982
Eva Hartmann, the 14-year-old
daughter of the man everyone called "the stereo king of Chicago,"
found her father's bullet-riddled body lying on the floor of his
upstairs bedroom. With Eva was her stepmother, Debra Hartmann, who
that very night had been scheduled to negotiate the final details of
her divorce from Eva's millionaire father, Werner Hartmann.
But instead of meeting with
her estranged husband, Debra had surprised Eva and her mother,
Werner's first wife, with a night on the town. The three of them had
dined and then danced until the wee hours of the morning at a string
of Chicagoland restaurants and discos.
Debra had not gotten Eva home
until 4:30 that morning. When they pulled up to the house in the
affluent suburb of Northbrook, Eva first noticed that her father's
prized Rolls Royce was parked in the driveway, not in the garage where
he normally kept it. Eva knew she was going to be in big trouble with
her dad for coming home so late.
"We walked into the house, and
I was trying to be quiet," Eva said. Classical music was playing from
the stereo system, but there was no sign of her father. "You just got
an eerie feeling when you walked into the house, and you knew
something wasn't right."
Eva and her stepmother climbed
the stairs. Debra saw Werner first. She then grabbed Eva and pulled
her into the master bedroom and showed the 14-year-old her father's
Eva was horrified. She
screamed and asked Debra to call for help. Eva wanted to stay with her
father, but Debra insisted they leave. Debra didn't want to pick up
the phone and await help. She wanted instead to drive to the police
station. So she piled her stepdaughter into her car and drove to the
Northbrook Police Department a mile away.
At the police station, Debra
reported that her husband had committed suicide. The police ordered
Debra and Eva to remain at the station while they dispatched officers
to the house.
"This was a murder"
At 4:50 a.m., Northbrook
Police Sergeant James Wilson arrived at the Hartmann residence, an old
farmhouse Werner Hartmann had converted into a luxury home. A pair of
concrete lions stood guard on the front lawn, two of four such lions
Werner had given his wife as a birthday gift in honor of her
astrological sign, Leo.
Sergeant Wilson entered
through the kitchen door. Creeping through the dark house, a feeling
of foreboding settled over the veteran police officer. "It was just
very eerie," he recalls.
Upstairs in the master
bedroom, Wilson found the body of Werner Hartmann, the stereo king of
Chicago, lying face up and naked on the floor. He had been shot
several times in the face and chest. Ten bullet casings lay scattered
around Werner's body.
"The first thing that went
through my mind was this was definitely not a suicide," Wilson said.
"You could see from the number of gunshot wounds that this was a
Werner Hartmann had five
bullet wounds to his face alone: his left cheek, right eye, the edge
of his mouth, the right side of his jaw, and one through his forehead.
He had also been shot several times in the chest.
"You could see where someone
stood over him and shot him while he was on the ground," Wilson
describes. "There were wounds through the body and into the floor."
Crime scene investigators
later pieced together what happened.
"The evidence at the murder
scene showed that Werner Hartmann was shot fourteen times," said John
Farrell, an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago. "There was
one bullet wound right between Werner's eyes."
Aside from the bullets in the
floor and the shell casings scattered around Werner's body, there was
little else in the way of evidence in the house, nothing but a stack
of unpaid bills. To investigators, the pile of delinquent account
notices and the estranged wife suggested that Chicago's stereo king
had been having financial and marital difficulties a sometimes lethal
Detectives separated Debra and
Eva and questioned them about where they had been that day, what they
had done, and whom they had seen. The interviews lasted late into the
During a break in the
questioning, Debra Hartmann curled up on the floor of the detective
office and went to sleep. To detectives, Mrs. Hartmann's behavior
seemed strange, improbable for someone who'd just discovered her
spouse, even an estranged spouse, shot dead in the family home.
"Within hours of finding her
husband murdered, Debbie Hartmann was able to curl up and take a nap."
Dominick Dunne said. "The police had never seen anything like it, and
sleeping beauty quickly became their prime suspect."
The Stereo King
Werner Hartmann came to the
United States from his native Germany in the early 1960s as a
19-year-old. He had little money but lots of ambition. He took
whatever work he could find.
In 1964, while selling
magazines door-to-door, Werner met a beautiful, raven-haired young
waitress named Vasiliki. They dated, fell in love, and married the
next year. The couple scraped by, even selling odds and ends, like
cigarette lighters, at local flea markets to earn a living. Along the
way Werner and Vasiliki had two daughters, Stephanie and Eva.
With a family to support,
Werner realized he needed more money than he was earning selling
magazines and trinkets. He also realized he had a gift for
In the 1970s, Werner started
the Chicago Music Corporation, or CMC, a car audio store. Werner
worked hard. The first few years he labored outdoors, installing
stereos in customers' cars even in the midst of the freezing Chicago
winters, because his first store didn't have a work bay. But the hard
struggle paid off, and by 1977 the penniless German immigrant was an
American success story, and a millionaire.
The King and the Floozy
Financial success didn't
translate into domestic success for Werner Hartmann, though.
In 1977, Werner and Vasiliki
The following year, Werner was
frequenting the seedy part of Chicago's west side. What he was looking
for is anyone's guess. What he found was trouble, but years would pass
before he realized just how much it was going to cost him.
"There was a whole strip of
nightclubs with exotic dancers and thinly veiled whorehouses out on
the western side of Chicago," recalls former Chicago Tribune
reporter John Gorman.
One of the clubs was called
The Smoker's Lounge. Werner, on the prowl, stepped into the club one
night and met a stripper named Debra, a 24-year-old knockout who
claimed to be a former model. Werner plunked down $75 and took Debra
to the VIP room. Whatever happened there was obviously something that
the 35-year-old stereo king wanted to continue.
Werner and Debra started
dating. Soon they were married and Werner moved the new Mrs. Hartmann
into the big house in Northbrook. Werner was in love and gave his new
bride everything she asked for, including a Rolls Royce.
"He was in love with Debra,
madly in love with her, and did everything he possibly could to try to
please her," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Farrell. Not everyone
in Werner's life was convinced that his feelings for his new wife were
The Material Girl
For Debra Hartmann, her
marriage license must have seemed like a winning lottery ticket.
Almost overnight she went from spending her evenings in a sleazy strip
club to spending them in a luxury home in upscale suburbia.
Was she grateful? Not likely.
"Debra told everyone from the
beginning, including Werner, it was for his money, his money only,"
Farrell said. "It was a marriage of convenience, and it would end when
she decided it would end."
The stereo king did everything
he could to buy his wife's love.
"Werner started spending a lot
of money on her for fur coats, necklaces, diamonds, expensive cars,
but he was paying for her favors much in the same way he did when he
first met her," reporter John Gorman said.
Except now it was costing
Werner Hartmann a lot more than $75 for a trip to the VIP room.
"She was probably the perfect
material girl," said ATF Special Agent Jim Delorto. "She was a user, a
Even Werner's daughters could
see through Debra.
Miss Showcase is what
Eva Hartmann called her new stepmother. "Money was very important to
Debbie," Eva said. "The way she acted, I knew she was never in love
with my dad."
Werner Hartmann's stereos may
have pumped out beautiful music, but, not long after it began, his
marriage to Debra had already hit a sour note.
Just two years into the
marriage, Werner called his ex-wife, Vasiliki, and confided to her
that his replacement wife was spending all of his money, staying out
all night supposedly with her girlfriends and using drugs.
Early one morning, after yet
another night of partying, Debra came home wearing nothing but a long
mink coat and high heels. Werner had had enough. They fought. He
grabbed a gun, and she ran for the Rolls Royce. Werner fired shots at
the car as Debra tore out of the driveway.
On another late-night outing,
police spotted Debra's Rolls Royce barreling through downtown Chicago.
She was hurling champagne glasses out the window. When the cops
stopped Debra, they found a notorious Chicago drug dealer beside her
and a gun under the seat.
In October 1981, the Hartmann
marriage, already on life support, suffered its death-blow when Debra
started dating a local tennis pro and part-time gun store clerk named
"Debbie was dating Korabik
pretty openly," Gorman said. "He'd come into the store and they'd
For the hard-working Werner
Hartmann, who stood a diminutive 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed just
130 pounds, seeing his wife carrying on right in front of his face
with the young, 6-foot 3-inch Adonis was too much.
"My father was planning on
divorcing Debra," Stephanie Hartmann recalled. "Debra knew it. I know
that for sure. He told me."
Debra may have known the
marriage was over, but she didn't let that affect her behavior in the
least. She certainly hadn't been acting like a married woman.
Besides, she had a better plan
Christmas 1981 must have been
a rough time for Werner Hartmann. His marriage was over, and his
business was going badly. He still had his two daughters, though, and
a chance to recover. He called someone he could trust, his ex-wife,
Vasiliki, and asked for her help. Would she come back to work at the
store and help him put his business the business they had built
together back in order?
She said yes.
When Vasiliki came back to the
office and examined the books, she was shocked. Werner and the
business were nearly bankrupt.
"He wasn't the millionaire
they portrayed him to be," she said. "He didn't own the Rolls Royce.
He had no money."
In January 1982, Debra moved
out of Werner's Northbrook house and in with her tennis pro boyfriend,
into the house John Korabik shared with his father.
The new couple the ex-stripper
and the tennis pro tried to paint Chicago red.
"They were carrying on and
having a great time together," John Gorman said. "They would go out
drinking, hit night spots. They were living the high life."
But how long could that last?
Without her husband, Debra had no money, and Korabik didn't even have
a real job.
Meanwhile, Werner Hartmann was
trying to get his affairs in order. He had two life insurance
policies, one for $150,000 with the Prudential Insurance Company, and
a $100,000 policy with another company. Both listed Debra as
Werner called both of his
insurance agents and asked them to make his daughters the
beneficiaries of his two policies. He also purchased an additional
policy from his Prudential agent, one with a $250,000 death benefit,
also in his daughters' names.
A form soon came in the mail
from Werner's other insurance company and he changed the beneficiary
on that policy from Debra to Stephanie and Eva. But something got
mixed up with the Prudential policies. The change-of-beneficiary form
never arrived, and when the new policy came in the mail, it also
listed Debra as the beneficiary.
Both Prudential policies had
double indemnity coverage, meaning if Werner died from an accident or
worse, the policy payout doubled. So if Werner died from other than
natural causes, the beneficiary would get $800,000 tax free.
What Werner Hartmann didn't
know was that the Prudential mix-up was no accident. He was being
fattened up for the slaughter.
When Werner discovered the
mistake with his Prudential insurance coverage, he called his agent
and again asked him to change the beneficiary on the policies. Agent
Harvey Loochtan said he would take care of it. He promised to get the
amended forms in the mail to Werner right away, but he never did.
Loochtan was playing his own
game, and it involved Debra Hartmann.
Debra had started spending
more time with Werner and her stepdaughters. She and Werner were even
having civil discussions about the terms of their divorce, or so
Werner thought. Then, during the first week of June 1982, Werner
overheard part of a sinister telephone conversation between Debra and
"He told me that he overheard
his wife and her boyfriend plotting to kill him," recalls Richard
Colombik, Werner's tax attorney.
Werner told several friends
that he suspected his wife was plotting to kill him. He even tried to
hire a bodyguard, but he refused to report the threat to the police.
He said he wanted to handle things himself.
On June 8, Werner left work
shortly after 7:00 p.m. He told Vasiliki that he was meeting Debra at
home to iron out the final details of their divorce. Debra got to the
Northbrook house shortly after Werner, and they talked while he took a
shower. Then she left.
At about the same time,
Vasiliki was finishing for the day at the store, and she decided to
take her daughter Eva out for dinner. They were surprised to find
Debra waiting for them at Pinocchio's Pizza Pub. They asked her why
she wasn't meeting Werner to finalize their divorce. Nonchalantly,
Debra said she had just left Werner at home. He had been in the
shower, and they had agreed to meet later that night.
After dinner, Debra suggested
they all got out together for drinks and dancing. Vasiliki was
"She did not like me,"
Vasiliki said. "That we were together that night was very strange."
Strange or not, Vasiliki and
Eva accompanied Debra out to several clubs for a night of drinking and
dancing. The three of them stayed out until two or three o'clock in
the morning. Vasiliki then returned to the store, where she'd been
staying since coming back to work for Werner. Debra drove Eva home to
When they arrived at 4:30,
they found Werner Hartmann's body.
The First Investigation
Police found no sign of a
break-in at the Hartmann home. Other than the spent .45-caliber shell
casings and Werner Hartmann's body, shot through with more than a
dozen bullets, there was no sign of an intruder. So the investigators
focused on Werner's family.
Uncovering motive unravels the
mystery surrounding most killings. A murder happens for a reason, and
if investigators can figure out why a person was killed, they can
usually figure out who did the killing.
In the Hartmann case,
detectives didn't have to look far. The person with the biggest motive
for killing Werner Hartmann was lying on the floor of their office,
"When this thing first broke
it made a huge splash," recalls former Chicago Tribune reporter
John Gorman. "It was a front-page story. It was in a north suburb that
doesn't have any murders; there was a millionaire involved; it was a
big house: it had all the elements."
Investigators found out fairly
quickly about Debra and her boyfriend, John Korabik. The insurance
policies were also no secret. Debra started filing her claims almost
as soon as her husband was in the ground, but insurance policies
aren't proof of murder.
Weeks passed; nothing
happened. The investigation stalled. Korabik moved into the big house
Werner's daughters were
frustrated. They had no doubts about who had been behind the murder of
"It was so clear me, and to
family, and to friends of my father," Stephanie Hartmann said. "It was
just so clear to everybody that she was behind this. What was taking
But "knowing" who did it and
proving who did it were two different things, and in the case of
Werner Hartmann's murder they were far apart.
"The Northbrook Police
Department simply could not put a case together as to who pulled the
trigger," said prosecutor John Farrell.
Money, Money, Money
Although Debra had been quick
to file insurance claims after her husband's murder, the two companies
that had insured Werner Hartmann's life weren't paying, at least not
until Debra Hartmann, the beneficiary of the three policies, which
totaled $1 million because of the double-indemnity clauses, was
cleared of any involvement.
Debra filed suit against both
In the meantime, there was
another shooting at the house where Werner had been murdered.
On Sept. 23, 1983, police
again responded to the Hartmann residence. This time they found John
Korabik shot in both thighs, but alive. Korabik told the cops that
he'd shot himself by accident. Debra was home at the time of the
shooting, but claimed she'd been in another part of the house when the
shots were fired. The story seemed thin to the investigating officers,
especially given that Korabik had worked in a gun store and was
considered a firearms expert.
Soon after the shooting, Debra
and Korabik broke up.
In January 1984, a year and a
half after Werner's murder, Debra settled her suit with the insurance
companies for at least $450,000, although some sources reported the
settlement sum to be as high as $700,000. In any event, Debra now had
a big chunk of cash, but she had been piling up debts and was forced
to sell the Northbrook house. She moved into a much more modest
single-story home, but soon hired a carpenter to add a second level, a
cathedral ceiling, a skylight, and a grand spiral staircase. After
completing much of the work, the carpenter walked off the job because
Debra wouldn't pay him.
She also bought a
Mercedes-Benz, complete with a personalized Illinois license plate
that read Debra 2.
A Break in the Case
In 1985, ATF agents were
investigating a suspected illegal gunrunner named Ken Kaenel. A
small-time hood with a felony conviction on his record, Kaenel was
trying to sell undercover ATF agents illegal guns and a stolen car.
The agents were certainly interested in the guns, but not so much in
the car. Stolen cars were outside of the agents' normal jurisdiction,
but they had a buddy in the Illinois State Police who worked stolen
cars, Trooper Dave Hamm.
During one of the undercover
meetings, Kaenel bragged to two ATF agents that while he'd been firing
a fully-automatic MAC-10 in his basement, the gun had become a
"runaway," meaning even when Kaenel released the trigger the gun
wouldn't stop firing.
"He lost control of a MAC-10,
and it rose up on him and put a few slugs up in the ceiling," ATF
Special Agent Jim Delorto said.
When Trooper Dave Hamm heard
the recorded conversation with Kaenel, he remembered something about
an unsolved Chicagoland murder that involved a MAC-10.
"It was an unusual gun," Hamm
says. "You don't see too many of those out there."
Hamm also found out that Ken
Kaenel lived with John Korabik, still a suspect in the Hartmann
At the conclusion of the
undercover operation, Agent Jim Delorto and Trooper Dave Hamm arrested
Kaenel. On the drive to jail, Kaenel offered to rat on everyone he
knew. He said he could get the lawmen stolen guns and hot cars if they
would help get him out of his current criminal charges.
Hamm looked at Kaenel. "Kenny,
that's not exactly what I had in mind."
"What do you want," Kaenel
"Tell me how Werner Hartmann
The small-time hood's mouth
fell open. "How'd you put me with that?"
Kaenel's question answered
The ATF agents and the state
trooper got a search warrant for the house Kaenel shared with John
Korabik. In the basement ceiling they found .45-caliber slugs that
matched the gun used to kill Werner Hartman nearly four years earlier.
Kaenel initially agreed to
cooperate. He wore a wire and met with Debra at her new house, but the
investigators sensed a double-cross and parked closer to Debra's house
than Kaenel expected. Through a window, they saw Kaenel gesturing to
Debra that he was wearing a wire and signaling for her not to say
When pressed, Kaenel refused
to wear a wire and meet with Korabik.
The new lead appeared to be
just another dead end, but Delorto and Hamm weren't willing to give
"Once you get your juices
flowing toward successfully solving a murder case, you want to stay
with it," Hamm says. "It turned out to be our job to finish it up, and
that's what we did."
Back to the Beginning
"Solving this puzzle would
take some good old-fashioned detective work," Dominick Dunne says, "so
investigators went back to the beginning and followed the only thing
Debbie ever cared about the money."
ATF Special Agent Jim Delorto
went to the Northfield Police Department to review the original murder
"You have to establish what
the motive of the murder was," Delorto says.
In reviewing the case file,
which comprised three boxes of reports, documents, photographs, and
evidence, the ATF agent noticed something no one else had: Werner's
signature on the most recent insurance policy was a fake. That led
Delorto to a question no one else had asked: How had Werner Hartman
paid for his second Prudential life insurance policy?
"I wanted to see what check he
wrote, and when it was dated," Delorto says, "and there was none."
Delorto and Hamm checked John
Korabik's financial records and discovered he had used his own credit
card to make Werner Hartmann's $450 insurance premium payment.
Why, investigators drily
wondered, would the cheating wife's boyfriend pay for the husband's
life insurance policy? The ad hoc team looking into the four-year-old
murder of the stereo king of Chicago thought they already knew the
answer to that question.
"A picture started to emerge
that this was basically an insurance fraud," Delorto says. An
insurance fraud hinging on a murder.
The investigators next turned
their attention to Werner's Prudential insurance agent, Harvey
Loochtan, whom they suspected might have been involved in the plot.
Sure enough, telephone records
showed a phone circle: Debra to Loochtan, Debra to Korabik, and Debra
to Kaenel; then Kaenel to Korabik, and Korabik to Loochtan.
Investigators uncovered an entire series of calls before and after
The investigators decided to
interview Harvey Loochtan. "We chose Harvey because he was the weakest
personality in the group," Delorto explained. "He was a ball of mush.
When it hit the fan, he gave it up."
According to Loochtan, Debra
had learned that Werner intended to cut her out of his existing
insurance policies and replace her with his daughters. He had also
ordered a new $250,000 double-indemnity policy and was planning to
name Eva and Stephanie as beneficiaries on that policy as well.
Not long after Debra learned
about the policy changes, she showed up at Loochtan's office with
$3,000 in cash and a determination to enlist the insurance agent's
"She, with some money along
with some sexual favors, convinced him to change the beneficiary of
the policy to her," John Farrell said.
Then Debra and her boyfriend,
John Korabik, hatched the plot to kill her husband. They brought Ken
Kaenel, who was living with them at Korabik's father's house, into the
plan because he was a career criminal. According to Kaenel, they
offered him $50,000 to kill Werner. Kaenel later claimed he refused
the contract because the gun Korabik gave him to do the job with
malfunctioned when Kaenel test-fired it in the basement of their
"In Billy Wilder's film
Double Indemnity, a plotting wife takes up with a handsome
insurance agent," Dominick Dunne explains. "Together, they cook up a
scheme to kill her husband for a big payout. It seemed like Debbie
Hartmann had taken a page right out of Raymond Chandler's script."
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
"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
Trooper Dave Hamm agreed with
"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
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."