People’s jaws hit the floor when 53-year-old Giovanni Vigliotto told a courtroom that he married 105 women, tricking them into selling their things and leaving the state with him, only to steal everything they owned and disappear without a trace. However, he thought he was a hopeless romantic.
Many of his victims reported him, but they never found any leads. However, his 105th victim decided to take matters into her own hands and she tracked Vigliotto down. When she eventually located him, his scheme was over once and for all. Vigliotto was the ultimate fraudster, and he got exactly what he deserved.
Her Life Changed When She Met Him
Giovanni Vigliotto’s story might not have been heard in court if it had not been for one very determined woman. Sharon Clark lived in Fremont, Indiana, and worked as the general manager of Indian Territory, an amusement park. She was a hardworking woman with a wild side.
On a fateful day in March 1981, Clark’s life changed forever when she met Vigliotto at a flea market in Apache Junction, Arizona. Vigliotto expressed an interest in the flea market where she worked and asked to rent out a section to sell his stuff. Clark helped him set up a booth, and he became her co-worker.
Shortly after Vigliotto started working in the flea market at Clark’s park, he turned into her confidant and worked hard to support her business. Vigliotto and Clark got close quickly because she fell for his charm and suave moves. They appeared to be great friends, but she had no idea what was coming.
Just four months after they met, Vigliotto persuaded Clark to quit her job and travel with him. She had always been the adventurous type, so she jumped on the opportunity. Along with Clark’s co-worker Phyllis, Clark and Vigliotto hit the road for a trip around the United States.
She Fell for Him
As they traveled across the country, Clark found herself falling in love with Vigliotto. He was charismatic and friendly and different from the other men she had dated. Clark was unlucky in her past relationships, having been married and divorced three times before. She thought Vigliotto was different.
Clark was overwhelmed with happiness as they enjoyed their time together on the road. Vigliotto and Clark transitioned from friends to partners, and they were happy. When he proposed to Clark, she recalled, “My heart told me to get married, and my mind told me not to get married.”
On June 13, 1981, Clark and Vigliotto tied the knot in Tennessee. She thought this would be the marriage that stuck, but, boy, was she wrong. After their wedding, he suggested they set up a shop in Texas, and Clark excitedly agreed. As the newlyweds drove to Texas, Vigliotto demanded they take a detour.
Vigliotto said he needed to settle a business matter in Ohio, so he told Clark to meet him in Detroit. However, he later called to change the meeting point to Canada. Unfortunately, when she crossed the border to wait for him, her new husband never showed up. Vigliotto was gone.
Hunting Him Down
Vigliotto got away with $51,000 in antiques and cash belonging to Clark. She was left penniless and distraught, but she wasn’t going to let him get away with it. Clark reported Vigliotto to the police, but they couldn’t do much. So, she started her own investigation.
Clark discovered a road atlas left behind by Vigliotto. He had circled locations of flea markets across the country, so Clark pursued him by going to each destination. She questioned visitors, and after months of frustration, she got some answers in Panama City, Florida.
He Finally Got Caught
After months of searching, Clark came face to face with Vigliotto and reported him to the police. Unfortunately, her story wasn’t taken seriously. They refused to arrest him, so she hunted down his car. In a wave of rage, she slashed his tires so he couldn’t get away again.
This grabbed the attention of law enforcement. When police arrived to arrest Clark, she again begged them to check their warrants for Vigliotto. They found her original police report, and he was arrested, charged with bigamy and fraud, and sent to the county jail.
She Wasn’t the Only One
Little did Clark know that she was the last of many victims he defrauded. Vigliotto evaded police for decades by using 120 aliases, and as prosecutors started their investigation, countless women reached out to share stories similar to Clark’s. She couldn’t believe that she wasn’t the only one.
The police found out that Vigliotto invented many elaborate backstories to trick women across the country. Every woman who called shared a different version of the same story, and they couldn’t believe how many women he managed to fool over the years.
He Had Countless Identities
Vigliotto told women he was a Sicilian Mafia member, a CIA contractor, and many other things. He would impress them. However, when women reported him to the police, the stories made them sound insane. Most of the time, their reports weren’t taken seriously.
It took a while for the prosecution to finish building their case against Vigliotto because they had so much information to go through. His trial spanned many weeks as prosecutors tried to figure out who Vigliotto really was and if he could even remember the truth.
He Lived in a Fantasy World
When Vigliotto totaled up the women he had married, he said he had as many false names and occupations as there were marriages. Vigliotto claimed that he looked for a name that fit the role he was playing at the time.
For someone who had so many aliases, it wouldn’t be shocking if Vigliotto forgot his real identity. If he had made up over 100 stories, there might have been a point where he could no longer figure out what was real and what was part of “the role” he was playing.
Vigliotto’s impending trial drew a media frenzy because it was like the best soap opera had come to life. It was mocked by many attorneys and lawyers for its scandalous nature, but prosecutor Dave Stroller took the case seriously. He wasn’t going to let Vigliotto walk free.
Stoller had a history of prosecuting serious assault trials, and he was disturbed by Vigliotto’s exploitation of vulnerable women. Vigliotto would find women in their late 30s and 40s who had a substantial amount of cash flow or property. It was business for him.
The Women Were Humiliated
Letters from Vigliotto’s victims piled up in Stoller’s office, but only a few were willing to testify. Many of them were too humiliated to deal with the public exposure. Authorities found evidence that Vigliotto was married at least 82 times across Canada, England, Italy, and Hong Kong.
When Stoller spoke to one of Vigliotto’s victims on the phone, she begged him, “Make sure you convict this guy.” Stoller told her he would love nothing more and asked if she would be a witness. However, she declined because she never wanted to see him again.
The Frustration Builds
Prosecutors across the country were having a challenging time with this case because few women were willing to face Vigliotto in court. Besides Clark, only one woman agreed to fight Vigliotto directly in court. When authorities arrested him in Florida, they sent him to Arizona.
Patricia Ann Gardiner lived in Mesa, Arizona, in 1981 and accused Vigliotto of marrying her while he was still married to Clark. Since Clark was not a resident of Arizona, the trial only included her as a witness and not a victim. Joan Bacarella from New Jersey also testified at the trial.
“A Whirlwind Romance”
Patricia Gardiner’s testimony gave everyone further insight into Vigliotto’s method. She was a 43-year-old real estate agent when she met him, and, like Clark, Gardiner fell for his charm. She described their relationship as a “whirlwind romance” that moved quickly.
He won Gardiner over with the promise of a family, saying he could create the loving home she desired. Vigliotto claimed he had a property in Hawaii where they could start their new life together. However, she soon realized that everything he told her was a complete lie.
Gone Like the Wind
As you might have guessed, Vigliotto and Gardiner married shortly after they met, as he did with all the other women. Sadly, just two weeks after their wedding, she was abandoned in a San Diego motel. He took off with $36,500 of her money.
Vigliotto swindled Gardiner out of her valuable personal items and took proceeds from the sale of her home. She was left with little money and no place to live because they were supposed to move to Hawaii together. Gardiner was devastated, but she eventually got justice.
Who Was This Man?
Vigliotto told Gardiner that he was born in Sicily in 1929 to a Russian family, and the Nazis murdered his father, mother, and sister. He claimed that he was an orphan who traveled the world on his wits and charm. He stuck to this story at his trial.
He told the court that his birth name was Nikolai Peruskov. However, Stoller contended that Vigliotto’s real name was Fred Jipp, born April 3, 1936, in New York City. Prosecutors accused him of being a Brooklyn high school dropout. Vigliotto hated this and caused a scene.
He Didn’t Marry One Victim
Although he typically married all his victims and disappeared without divorcing them, one of his victims was different. Joan Bacarella from New Jersey was the third woman willing to testify against Vigliotto. When she met him, she was going through a divorce.
The two couldn’t get married because Bacarella was still legally married. However, Vigliotto still managed to trick her into following him to Florida. Shortly after they got there, he took off with $40,000 worth of inventory for her boutique. Bacarella was happy that she wasn’t his wife.
Outbursts in the Courtroom
Prosecutors hit a sore spot with Vigliotto when they questioned him about his background. His outbursts caused two recesses while he was asked about the story he told Gardiner. Vigliotto rushed from the courtroom in tears after denying he made up his family’s death by the Nazis.
He also yelled at Stoller, who asked Vigliotto if he’d told his wives that Nazis sexually assaulted his mother and sister before killing them. Vigliotto raised his voice, saying, “I don’t want to talk about my family’s death in front of an audience, the press, or anybody.”
There Was a Large Audience
Each day of his trial, the courtroom was packed, with mostly women, many of whom arrived three hours before the trial. They would spend the lunch break waiting in line so they wouldn’t lose their seats. When Vigliotto referred to it as an audience, he wasn’t wrong.
With all those people watching the drama unfold, Vigliotto told Stoller, “You’re asking me for the sake of this audience and the press. You can slander me, you can tell lies, you can do anything, but don’t talk about my family’s death.”
Problems With His Attorney
During one of Vigliotto’s outbursts, his lawyer, Richard Steiner, asked for a recess. He told Vigliotto that if he didn’t answer Stoller’s questions about his childhood and background stories, the court would punish him. Vigliotto wasn’t happy with Steiner, and they had many issues.
At one point, Vigliotto dismissed and rehired Steiner. There were many dramatic moments from both sides of the courtroom, and Steiner was held in contempt for calling the prosecutor a vulgar name during a heated argument. It gave the judge a headache.
A Shocking Announcement
There were many surprising revelations throughout the trial, but one of the most shocking things came from Vigliotto’s mouth. Everyone’s jaws dropped when he told the courtroom that he had married 105 women. Prosecutors found many of the women, but they didn’t know there were that many.
It definitely didn’t help him win over the jury, and the women in the courtroom looked at Vigliotto with even more disgust than before. It didn’t take long for him to realize he would have to make a deal to lessen the charges against him.
Asking for a Plea Deal
Early in his trial, Vigliotto offered to plead guilty to the bigamy charge if the fraud charges were dropped. He prepared a list of the 105 women, along with their addresses and dates of marriage. He also wrote a second chart of his 50 aliases.
While he admitted to marrying women despite already being married, Vigliotto denied that he committed fraud. He testified that he met many of his wives at flea markets, using the names Frederick Jipp, John Mendoza, and John Briccione. He tried to explain his actions.
Three Days of Testimony
It took three long days for Vigliotto to finish testifying. He told the court many lies by saying he and Gardiner never left Arizona, and she knew he was leaving because their relationship wasn’t working. He also denied taking any of her things.
He claimed that Gardiner knew he was married before they wed. Vigliotto said she asked if he was married, and he said he had four or five wives. He repeated that he was married but thought she took it as a joke. Vigliotto also denied Clark’s claims.
He Prepared for His Trial
While he awaited his trial in jail, Vigliotto compiled a box of records for his defense. He never let those papers out of his sight. He was visited in jail by a journalist, whom he told he didn’t remember “half a dozen times when I asked anyone to marry me.”
He told the journalist that the women always “popped the question.” Vigliotto spent his time researching the history of bigamy. He said it was hypocritical that people judged him for having many wives when people were being shown sex on TV.
Blaming His Victims
Despite everything he had done, Vigliotto had the audacity to blame his victims. He told a journalist, “I find it incredible that some of these women are now saying such terrible things about me. If they really feel that way, why did they marry me?”
He thought he was being charged for being a gentleman to women. Vigliotto shared, “I never realized there was any other way to treat a woman than the way I do. Is it wrong for a man to hold the door for a woman? Is it wrong to buy them flowers?”
A Failed Argument
Vigliotto continued to deny that he was a fraudster. Despite admitting to marrying many women, he claimed he never took any money or valuables from them. He declared himself a romantic who was “attracted to women like bees were attracted to flowers.”
Steiner said Vigliotto was “in love with life, is in love with women, and in love with marriage.” Unfortunately, this argument failed to draw sympathy from jurors. His “hopeless romantic” act wasn’t fooling anyone in the courtroom. He would never admit that he had done something wrong.
He Thought He Was the Best
Vigliotto felt sorry for women if “the rest of the men in the United States don’t treat women” like he did. He wasn’t surprised that so many women were anxious to marry him. Vigliotto claimed that the women made him forget he wasn’t the best-looking man.
He believed the women gave him a chance to live a fantasy where everyone was in love. Vigliotto wondered why that made him the worst human being. He never figured out that it was wrong to use different identities and spin tales to attract women.
He Had a Criminal Record
As Vigliotto finished his testimony, the prosecutor asked him to identify a woman in the courtroom. The woman stood and asked, “You remember me, don’t you, Mr. Jipp?” She was later identified as Ann Gibbons, formerly assistant police infirmary nurse at a Missouri prison.
Gibbons was there to reveal that Vigliotto had a previous criminal record. He served sentences in three prisons, including the one in Missouri. However, it wasn’t revealed why he served time. It was a bold way for Stoller to introduce evidence into the trial.
He Got What He Deserved
After just 24 minutes of deliberations, the jury found Vigliotto guilty of bigamy and fraud. The judge sentenced him to 34 years in prison for fraud and an additional six years for bigamy. Vigliotto was also fined $336,000. The women he hurt got some justice.
Vigliotto played the part of the injured innocent when he received his sentence. He infuriated the judge and jury throughout his trial, which might have been why his sentence was so harsh. No one was surprised by the verdict.
Fighting His Conviction
From the confines of the Arizona State Prison, Vigliotto tried to appeal his conviction because he thought the media frenzy denied him a fair trial. He didn’t believe he had done anything wrong before the trial, and that didn’t change once he was sent to jail.
Rumors swirled in the press that Vigliotto was writing his life story for a TV special. The press made him into a celebrity, and his ego grew. People were fascinated by his story, and during his time in prison, his escapades made their way into the daily newspapers.
Trying to Make a Profit
It was rumored that Vigliotto was writing a book about his life that would become a TV special. He also signed up with a chemical company that wanted to pay him $1 million to lend his name to a potency drug. Despite what he did, people were lining up to work with him.
A group of women banded together to declare his innocence and attempted to get him a new trial. Ultimately, nothing ever developed from any of these things. He still felt proud of what he had accomplished.
He Died in Prison
In 1991, Vigliotto died of a brain hemorrhage at 61 years old. He had diabetes and suffered a debilitating stroke in 1988. He had been hospitalized for a week at the medical center. He served eight years of his prison sentence before passing away.
Vigliotto said after his trial that he was joking when he testified about having 105 wives. However, authorities confirmed at least 82, so people believed he told the truth at his trial. It’s also possible that he falsified his claim to achieve record status.
Saving Other Victims
After Vigliotto died, Stoller reflected on the way other prosecutors and defense attorneys treated the case. Everyone thought it was a joke, but Stoller said they should have read the letters that came into his office from the women he victimized.
Stoller also believed that there were a lot of people who weren’t his victims because he went to prison. Vigliotto was good at what he did, and he was only stopped because one woman wasn’t willing to let him get away with his scheme.
Was It Worth It?
Some believe it’s possible that Vigliotto made up his fantastic tale to be the world’s biggest bigamist. However, was it worth spending his final years in prison just to be memorialized in the Guinness Book of Records? While he wasn’t innocent, some of his stories might have been false.
Each time he met a woman, he asked for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately for him, the women always said yes. He had this look of pain that probably made so many women want to marry him and care for him.
A Despicable Act
To use marriage and the values of the family to manipulate women is despicable. Prosecutors and the public agreed that he was a terrible person. He took advantage of women who were vulnerable and wanted love. Vigliotto probably scared a lot of them into staying away from love.
Although the victims who came forward have lived private lives since Vigliotto went to jail, we can only hope that they found some peace and happiness. While they couldn’t change what happened to them, the women were able to move on once they got justice.