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Navy Lt. Lee Hartley was murdered by his wife Pamela Hartley: 48 Hours on ID: NCIS Investigates

Lee and Pamela Hartley on their wedding day
Lee and Pamela Hartley were not even married one year when Pamela decided to kill him with poison. Pic credit: CBS News

48 Hours on ID: NCIS is examing the case of Navy Lt. Lee Hartley, who mysteriously fell ill while serving aboard the USS Forrestal in the Mediterranean. An autopsy revealed he’d been poisoned.

A murder case was launched, which focused on 6000 possible suspects on the Forrestal; however, after a painstaking investigation, it was discovered that the culprit was much closer to home. It was his young wife, Pamela Hartley.

In 1982, Navy Lieutenant Lee Hartley was a career sailor who’d served 19 years and was now a discipline officer onboard an aircraft carrier when he began to complain of stomach pains and diarrhea about a month into his deployment.

He had also suffered dramatic weight loss, and his skin had turned grey. The ship’s medics began treating him for gastrointestinal problems, but they became baffled when his condition worsened.

After a couple of months, he was airlifted to a hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, and his newlywed wife, Pamela, was rushed to his bedside. He endured another three months of chronic bad health before he suffered massive organ failure and died.

Lee Hartley had 1000 the normal levels of poison in his system

When an autopsy was performed, medics finally got the answer as to why he became so ill. He’d been poisoned with arsenic. His body had 1000 times the normal level.

His wife, Pamela, was a suspect almost immediately. The bored housewife who had already expressed displeasure in her marriage had the motive and the means to poison her husband. However, after she passed a polygraph test, the investigators discounted her and focussed on Hartley’s fellow sailors.

Unfortunately, investigators were unable to crack the case at this time, and it went cold for 13 years. Then in 1995, NCIS reopened the case and began investigating Pamela again. They had a break when Pamela’s brother admitted to officers that she’d asked him to kill Hartley in exchange for insurance money.

When the investigators approached Pamela, they discovered that she had struggled to get by in the intervening years and was suffering from substance abuse. In an interview, they leaned hard on her and accused her of the murder, she relented and confessed to the crime.

She said she was miserable in the marriage but didn’t want to give up the status of being a Navy wife, so she resorted to murder. She began to feed her husband rat poison and had even sent him treats, which contained the poison while he was on deployment. She had even poisoned him when he was in the hospital in Florida.

In 1996, Pamela Hartley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison but only served 16. She is now out on parole.

More from 48 Hours on ID: NCIS

Follow the links to read about more murders profiled on 48 Hours on ID: NCIS.

Last week the show profiled the murders of two Navy dependents, 10-year-old Tammy Welch was raped and murdered by a neighbor while her father was deployed at sea.  And the son of a Navy man Ricky Wiltrout was out drinking with his so-called friends when they put a bullet in his head.

Naval Officer Corey Allen Voss was brutally gunned down at a gas station having been sent on an errand by his wife. It later transpired that Voss’s wife, Catherina, and her lover, Michael Draven, had orchestrated the killing in the hope of collecting on a life insurance policy.

48 Hours on ID: NCIS airs at 8/7c on Investigation Discovery. 


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