Maggie Gallagher


When the building on East 62nd Street in Manhattan exploded in flames, fears of terrorism quickly swept the neighborhood. According to the New York Post, talk show host Larry King, who was in a nearby hotel when the explosion hit, said it sounded like a bomb and felt like an earthquake.

But New Yorkers were quickly reassured: No, it was the work not of an enemy of the United States, but of one of our most common domestic products: divorce.

Nicholas Bartha, 66, was by all accounts a good and caring doctor, a cardiologist affiliated with both Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side and Mount Vernon hospital in Westchester County. He was also, by friends' and neighbors' accounts, sinking deeper into his own private hell.

Even before the divorce, he was impossible to live with. The court that granted his wife, Cordula Hahn, a divorce on the grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment made that clear. "Defendant intentionally traumatized his wife, a woman of Jewish origin born in Nazi-occupied Holland, with swastika-adorned articles and notes affixed around their home, and became enraged when she removed them." Nicholas ignored Cordula as she underwent surgery for cancer, cut off her access to marital funds, and eventually quit speaking to her entirely.

He soon became impossible for anyone just living nearby, posting angry notes to his stoop, bothering his own tenants. "Very mean, very obnoxious," said a neighbor. After the divorce, Cordula fought for her share of the marital assets; when a court ordered the townhouse sold and the proceeds divided, Nicholas Bartha hatched his demented plot.

He sent a long, rambling e-mail that made his mental illness, and his rage, perfectly clear. It was all HIS money, not hers. "There should be no economic incentives in the (divorce) process. ... If I had a prenuptial agreement, Cordula would have never divorced. ... I am not continuing what I am doing to give you more money. Cordula, my further staying alive does not make any sense."

He warned his ex-wife: "Your life will change forever. You deserve it. You will be transformed from gold digger to ash and rubbish digger. ... I always told you 'I will leave the house only if I am dead.'"

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.