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GreeneScene of the Past

ur quest for this story began simply—with a photograph. Provided by GreeneSaver reader, J. Robert (Bob) Rice, the old black and white picture has turned slightly sepia-toned from age. It shows the jury box of a courtroom, railings reflected in the gleaming, polished floor, with 15 stern-faced, suited gentlemen facing the camera. On the back was pasted a single column of a newspaper story, “continued from page one,” no more than 6 inches long, with a headline reading, “First Degree Murder Asked in Trial of Mrs. Hartman.” Beneath the headline are listed the names of the men in the photograph—jurors for the trial—and a handwritten date, “Sept 20 1938.” One of the jurors, John L. Rice, is Bob’s father. Below the names is a tantalizing portion of the news story: “The first witness was Coroner Raymond Adamson, who told of going to the Hartman home on the morning of June 19. He found a blanket soaked with blood. The state then introduced a skirt, slip and red blouse given to Coroner Adamson by Mrs. Hartman’s mother, Mrs. Rosa Marshall, on Sunday morning, the 19th. They were the articles of clothing worn by Mrs.” …and that’s where the newspaper column ends. The desire to learn more, however, had just begun, and when the research was over and the facts revealed, what was left could easily compete with an old Raymond Chandler detective novel. It was a story of intrigue and murder, full of twists that would hardly be believed without proof from newspapers of the day, and it all began and ended in Dunkard, Greene County. The lead player in the drama was Mrs. Florence “Flossie” Hartman. On January 18th of 1937, Flossie was not, as we might say today, “in a happy place.”

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Estranged from her husband, Joseph, for the past six months, the 32-year old mother of three young children—Roy, age 9; Joseph Jr., 3; and 1-year old Wayne— was on a circuitous route through Cleveland, Ohio, her youngest child in her arms. Joseph Sr. had been living with a nephew in Cleveland since their separation, and had other family there, as well. Flossie had taken a bus into the city from her home in Dunkard. Through a series of phone calls and visits to Jospeh’s brothers, she eventually tracked him down, sitting in a parked car in front of a house on East 65th Street in Cleveland with Mary King, a self-described “friend of the family” who had once dated Joseph’s brother. Another man, Neil McKay, was also in the car; Mary later stated that the three had been out completing details on the sale of a car she’d purchased, the one in which she was sitting with Joseph, in fact. McKay and Mary King exited the scene quickly, going inside the McKay house, where Mary later reported hearing Flossie and Joseph having heated conversation. According to an article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Flossie was heard telling Joseph that, “He had done nothing to contribute to the support of her and the children. ‘You didn’t even send them a stick of candy for Christmas,’ Miss King said Mrs. Hartman told him.” In spite of this, Flossie was apparently pleading for Joseph to return home with her, but, “He told her she had left him on several occasions, and he would not agree to reconciliation.” The report of Flossie leaving Joseph repeatedly appears to be true; the young Hartman family had moved from Dunkard to Twinsburg, Ohio, the preceding July, where Joseph worked for a farmer to provide a living. It was later learned, however, that, “Every few weeks, Mrs. Hartman would get homesick and return to Pennsylvania,” according to the newspaper. Joseph sat in the driver’s seat of the car; Flossie stood in the January night, holding their baby. According to Mary King, “Hartman then asked his wife to get him some insurance papers and other papers out of the trunk. Mrs. Hartman handed the infant, Wayne, to her husband, and went to the car of Harry Hartman,” Joseph’s brother,

who had driven Flossie and Wayne to their destination. Whether or not Flossie retrieved the papers is unknown; what she definitely brought back was a gun. “She returned to the car in which her husband was sitting, and got into the back seat. A few moments later, five shots were fired. Hartman fell dead at the wheel,” says the Plain Dealer’s story. Mary King was quoted as saying, “I don’t know how she missed the baby.” When Cleveland Police Detective Frank Kosicki arrived on the scene, he found Flossie sitting in Harry Hartman’s car, admitting immediately, “I shot him.” The detective asked for the gun, which Flossie handed to him, saying, “Here it is. Please get me out of here. Will they kill me for this?” Flossie was arrested and charged with first degree murder, staying in the hospital ward of the Cleveland city jail so that she could continue to care for the baby, Wayne, until he could be returned to Flossie’s parents for care. Roy and Joseph Jr. were kept at the Greene County Home pending trial, which came near the end of March. It is open to debate whether what happened next was a just and appropriate work of jurisprudence, but the headline in the Plain Dealer from March 20th reads as sharp as the head of a pin: “HUSBAND SLAYER IS FREED BY JURY” “Mrs. Flossie Hartman, 32, frail mother of three children, was acquitted of the murder of her estranged husband, Joseph, last night by a jury of seven men and five women,” the article goes on to say. The verdict was returned after only two hours of deliberation, and Common Pleas Judge Samuel H. Silbert was said to have disagreed with their findings. The judge having ruled out a defense of temporary insanity, Flossie’s attorneys, Donald Hornbeck and Ellis Diehm, contended that she shot in self-defense, saying that, “Hartman had threatened to kill her if she did not leave the automobile.” On the witness stand, Flossie had claimed having no memory of the incident, saying that she “arrived penniless in Cleveland on the day of the shooting, seeking a reconciliation with the husband she had not seen or heard from since September,” adding that Joseph threatened to obtain a divorce, and take custody of their children. The newspaper article notes that, when court bailiff, John Sweeney read the verdict, Flossie hugged and kissed Attorney Hornbeck, and soon returned home to Dunkard to reclaim her children. If this were the conclusion to the entire tale, it would be enough to raise some eyebrows and cause many to say, “Wow, I can’t believe all of that happened to someone from around here…” But it’s only half the story. On June 20th, 1938, exactly one year and three months after her acquittal, another headline blazed across the page: “FLOSSIE HARTMAN COMPANION SLAIN— Miner Shot in Home of Acquitted Husband Killer.” The story begins, “Shot while in the one-room home GreeneSaver •

JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2015

Jan-Feb Greenesaver 2015  

Let's start this year off right! Check out local hunters in the annual Brag Mag. Incredible stories, hidden talent and much, much more! Don'...

Jan-Feb Greenesaver 2015  

Let's start this year off right! Check out local hunters in the annual Brag Mag. Incredible stories, hidden talent and much, much more! Don'...

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