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Cops: Husband, 75, implicated neighbor, set up crime scene after killing wife

Philadelphia police say a 75-year-old man beat, suffocated and strangled his wife, then set up a crime scene and falsely accused a neighbor in an attempt to cover his tracks.

Philadelphia police Capt. James Clark said this morning that Lou Hartdegen has been charged in the slaying of his wife, 74-year-old Judith. The murder was initially thought to be a brutal home invasion at their apartment on the 6700 block of Castor Avenue in the Northeast.

Clark said today that "there were discrepancies" between Hartdegen's statements to police and the crime scene. The city prosecutor's office said this afternoon Hartdegen will be held without bail after his arraignment Tuesday evening.

Hartdegen also named one of his neighbors as a suspect to investigators. That 26-year-old man was questioned by police for several hours Monday, then released.

Hartdegen "did a lot of things trying to outsmart homicide detectives," said Clark, who leads the homicide unit. "It is very troubling that he did pick out the wrong person" to try to cover-up the crime, he said.

The slaying happened after some type of "domestic argument" between the couple, who had been married for 53 years, Clark said.

Lou Hartdegen suffered some bruises and scratches in the altercation, likely as a result of his wife trying to fight him off. Clark said Lou Hartdegen remained hospitalized this morning, and was charged at the medical facility.

Clark said he didn't know exactly what sparked the violent argument but said Lou Hartdegen "intended to kill" his wife.

"The detectives did a really good job of following the leads" after Hartdegen tried to conceal the crime and lied to investigators, he said. Hartdegen later admitted to the killing, police said.

Police were called the couple's apartment above a storefront in the Castor neighborhood shortly before 2:30 a.m. Monday, and Judith Hartdegen was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:53 a.m.

Investigators initially believed that someone broke in through a rear window of the second-floor apartment and attacked the couple. A crime-scene technician was seen examining the window Monday morning.

The killing rattled area residents. One woman called the couple "two beautiful people" and said she "couldn't ask for any better neighbors."

Court records show that Lou Hartdegen was sentenced to 11 to 23 months in prison after a 1991 incest conviction. He was found not guilty of rape, indecent exposure and indecent assault in that case. In 1971, he was convicted on burglary, larceny and receiving stolen property charges, according to court records.