By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
And he damned sure wasn't about to do that.
Robert Bruce Hartle moved to Phoenix with his family in 1953, when he was 2 years old. He grew up in the yellow double-wide near South Mountain where he lives today. He went to South Mountain High School, dabbled with Rio Salado Community College and worked at AlliedSignal like his daddy did. He married and divorced--twice to the same woman--and, after the second divorce, in 1984, he decided to escape his life and the Phoenix heat and run off to Alaska. There he met his current wife, Joann, and the two of them moved to Iowa and settled in.
Scott Clinton Gilbert came to Phoenix in 1989, and eventually moved into a dilapidated trailer next door to Hartle's mom.
Gilbert is dark-haired and mustachioed with a black rose and a marijuana leaf tattooed on his shoulders. And though he is a truckdriver and diesel mechanic by trade, his resume reads like the lyrics of a Merle Haggard tune.
According to court documents, he'd been busted for robbery and disturbing the peace as a teenager in California. In 1988, he was convicted of grand theft and insurance fraud in Florida for buying trucks, taking them out of state, selling them, and then reporting them stolen to get the insurance company to pay off the notes on them. He was sentenced to probation, but he jumped supervision right away to move to Phoenix.
He was not able to stay out of trouble; his rap sheet shows a 1990 arrest for drug possession in California. Gilbert had approached a pair of police officers and told them that someone had bugged his truck and his hotel room. He was wired and virtually crawling out of his eyeballs, and the cops found that he was carrying methamphetamine--and a California driver's license that identified him as Scott Jason Pauley.
But he was calling himself Carl Lee Lunden when he moved into the South Phoenix trailer park and befriended Hartle's mother. Patricia Hartle had been widowed for years, a lonely woman in poor health. "Carl" would let her ride along on cross-country truck runs. She thought he loved her and she let him move into her life.
And she let him take her son's name.
"He told my mother he'd been in a messy divorce in Florida and he beat up his ex-wife's lawyer and there was a warrant out for his arrest," says Hartle. "He told her he needed a new identity to get a job at a good trucking company."
What would it matter? Bob had disappeared into Alaska with no intentions of ever coming back. Patricia Hartle agreed to the little deception, and when they married in September 1991, they applied for the marriage license using her maiden name and her son's name.
Gilbert had already written to the social security office in Glendale, claiming he'd lost his social security card and asking for a duplicate; he wrote to Washington, D.C., as well to apply for a second social security number in Hartle's name, just in case. And he sent off to South Bend, Indiana, for a copy of Hartle's birth certificate.
With those documents in hand, he drove to Nevada and applied for driver's and truckdriver's licenses and, using them as photo ID, was able to obtain Arizona driver's licenses.
Patricia Hartle always called him "Carl," but for all intents and purposes, he had become Robert Bruce Hartle, and bounced through a string of truckdriver jobs.
"He's lived as me for so long, he really believes he's me," says the real Hartle.
And he was living large.
Because he liked Las Vegas, the impostor Hartle told his new wife, he bought a double-wide in Henderson, Nevada. When he tired of it, he sold it to an elderly couple, apparently pocketed the down payment, and let them assume the payments. The house remained in Hartle's name.
He talked Patricia into taking out a $20,000 mortgage on her Phoenix double-wide; it had been paid for by the time her first husband passed away. He got onto all of Patricia's credit-card and bank accounts, tore through her credit, and then, when she had to declare bankruptcy, he told creditors that he was her son, in order to keep her debts off his credit report--or rather off Hartle's credit report. He had other plans for that, and was well on his way to bankrupting Bob Hartle when he got caught.
Meanwhile, Patricia's health was failing. Gilbert took out three life insurance policies on her.
"He knew she was a bad diabetic," says Bill Hartle. "He would buy her apple pies and sweets and stuff. You don't give that stuff to a diabetic."
After she'd had her leg amputated, he'd taken her out of the hospital, and when he left for work in the morning, he would sit her in a chair with a cell phone and her pain medication, and leave her there. Patricia's sons later found that all the windows had been screwed permanently shut from the outside, and all the light fixtures had 200-watt bulbs in them, and they theorized that Gilbert was hoping the place would catch fire.