World’s biggest bigamist: The sordid scammer who married 105 women

By Sanj Atwal
Published
couple getting married at altar

Giovanni Vigliotto married 104 or 105 women between 1949 and 1981 without ever getting divorced, earning himself the record title for the most bigamous marriages.

None of his wives knew about each other – in fact, they barely even knew Vigliotto.

He married women across 27 different US states and 14 other countries, using a different fake identity each time. Giovanni Vigliotto wasn’t even his real name; it simply happened to be the one he was using when he married his final wife.

Vigliotto met many of his prospective wives at flea markets, and he usually proposed to them on their very first date.

The wedding would then be promptly arranged, and after each one, Vigliotto would vanish along with his new wife’s money and possessions.

He told the women that he lived far away and would ask them to pack up all their belongings to join him. Once they packed, Vigliotto drove away with their possessions in a moving truck, never to be seen again.

He sold the stolen items at flea markets, where he simultaneously scouted potential new victims.

Despite multiple reports to the authorities, Vigliotto managed to keep getting away with it.

However, his penultimate victim, Sharon Clark, a flea market manager from Indiana, decided to take matters into her own hands by finding Vigliotto herself. She finally tracked him down to Florida, where authorities arrested him on 28 December 1981.

Vigliotto was charged with bigamy and fraud in his marriage to Arizona resident Patrician Ann Gardiner, whom he had married on 16 November 1981 while still wed to Sharon Clark, whom he married five months earlier in June.

Chatting with Giovanni Vigliotto

Vigliotto was returned to Phoenix, Arizona, where he was held for a year before being put on trial.

A month before his first court appearance, he was visited and interviewed by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Fitzpatrick in county jail.

"I've been researching the history of bigamy," Vigliotto said to Fitzpatrick. "I've researched all the way back in time to the point where the penalty was death.

"Don't you think it's hypocritical in an era when people are practically being shown all there is about sex on daytime-television soap operas for the state to spend a small fortune to convict me?

"The police have this thing all wrong. I don't recall half a dozen times when I had to ask anyone to marry me. It was always the women who popped the question.

“They charge me with adopting a courtly manner to manipulate these women,” Vigliotto continued, detailing the gentlemanly behaviour he displayed towards his wives-to-be.

"If the rest of the men in the United States don't treat women that way, then I'm sorry for the women in this country. No wonder so many of them were anxious to marry me,” he said, proceeding to wax poetical about his love for women, maintaining his position as an innocent, incurable romantic.

The trial of Giovanni Vigliotto

Giovanni Vigliotto’s trial began in January 1983.

He was 53 years old, supposedly. He claimed to have been born in Siracusa, Sicily, on 3 April 1929, and said his real name was Nikolai Peruskov.

The prosecutor, on the other hand, contended that Vigliotto’s true identity was Fred Jipp, born 3 April 1936 in New York City.

“The trial was a wonderful piece of theatre,” wrote Fitzpatrick. “Giovanni, ever the eccentric, performed in a unique manner each day, much to the annoyance of Judge Coulter.”

Each day the courtroom was “packed,” according to a New York Times report, “mostly by women.”

Many of them reportedly arrived at the courthouse at 7 a.m. each morning - three hours before the trial started – in order to get a good seat.

During the trial, Vigliotto drew up a chart listing 50 of his other aliases. He claimed to have used the names Frederick Jipp, John Mendoza and John Briccione while working as a contract agent for the CIA in 1953 and 1954.

However, he denied committing fraud, reportedly offering to plead guilty to bigamy if the fraud charge was dropped.

To complement his chart of aliases, he drew up another chart – using his memory alone – listing the names of 105 wives, their addresses, and the dates he married them. He admitted to meeting many of them at flea markets.

Patricia Ann Gardiner, Vigliotto’s last victim, testified to being swindled out of $25,000 in possessions and $11,000 from the sale of her house, which she sold for below market value after being pressured by Vigliotto. He had convinced her that he was wealthy, and told her they would move to his house in Hawaii.

Gardiner said she married Vigliotto following an eight-day courtship, however, two weeks after the wedding, he abandoned her in San Diego, California.

Gardiner revealed that she considered suicide when she learned she had been duped. She was later compensated $14,000 (£6,930) through insurance.

Sharon Clark, the wife who tracked Vigliotto down, also testified at the trial. She married him on 13 June 1981, but was abandoned three weeks later, left stranded in Canada. Vigliotto made off with $49,000 (£24,250) worth of antiques and other merchandise.

Joan Bacarella, 45, from New Jersey, spoke of the hypnotic quality of Vigliotto’s gaze, and said she planned to marry him as soon as her divorce was official. However, in this instance, Vigliotto didn’t even wait for the wedding; he stole items totalling $40,000 (£19,800) in value from her store and quickly moved on.

Among the names on Vigliotto’s list of wives was a Phoenix resident named Colleen Davis, whom he said he had married in 1958. The court looked through its records and discovered a marriage license from March 1958 for a Colleen Davis and a Fred William Jipp, age 24. The address given for Fred Jipp proved to be completely made up.

Other highlights of the trial included Vigliotto “raging” at the prosecutor and “breaking into tears” before leaving the witness stand – twice in one week. His defence attorney, whom he fired at one point then rehired, was held in contempt of court for directing a “vulgar” term at the prosecutor during a fiery exchange of words.

The trial of Giovanni Vigliotto concluded on 28 March 1983. The jury deliberated for just 24 minutes before deciding he was guilty of all 34 counts of bigamy and fraud he was charged with.

Vigliotto was sentenced to a total of 34 years in prison; 28 for fraud and six for bigamy. He was also fined $336,000 (£221,050).

He reportedly “scolded the judge for ‘hang ‘em high justice.’”

Vigliotto spent the remaining eight years of his life in Arizona State Prison, passing away in 1991, aged 61, due to a brain haemorrhage.

Up until his death, he maintained that his only crime was being a hopeless romantic with a weakness for women.

Header image credit: Josh Applegate/Unsplash

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