Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Bigamists: Beware of Facebook
Facebook is not a good place to post wedding pictures if you never divorced your first wife. When Richard Barton Jr. of Grand Rapids, Michigan married recently, like many newlyweds today he posted his photos for friends to see. He thought since he defriended his first wife when he left her, she would not be able to view his site. He had not however, changed his privacy settings. When she saw the photos, she was rightly furious and reported him to police as a bigamist. Police arrested him and he faces up to four years in prison and up to a $5000 fine if found guilty.
As I read about Barton in Dick Eastman's newsletter at blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_ genealogy/ I became curious about how often bigamy occurs in the U.S. A Google search for "bigamy cases" returned 370,000 hits. Surely not all are unique cases, but who knows? I didn't have time to read them all!
The first article I viewed appeared in The Washington Post on July 2, 2005. Charles Edward "Ed" Hicks, 61, of Fairfax County, Virginia married seven times. In 2005, he had two wives, one in Fairfax and one in Utah. His current wife turned him in after learning his federal income tax refund went to back taxes on a return filed with a previous wife. Oh, yes, he was also attempting to meet women on the Internet.
A convicted bigamist in Fairfax County faces from two to ten years in prison but no one has received even the minimum since 1979, despite six arrests on bigamy charges since then. A Fairfax attorney said, "It's rather difficult to get the judiciary excited about them . . . sometimes you get judges who think the woman is better off, she has rid herself of the problem."
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported the case in Wisconsin of Alex Buehler, 38, who pled guilty to bigamy in County Circuit Court in April 2010. His second wife, who married him in Las Vegas in 2007, became suspicious of her husband because of his lies and discovered the first wife on Facebook. Buehler said he planned to divorce the first wife "but time just slipped away." If Buehler pays restitution of $3,100 for an annulment to his second wife and stays out of trouble, charges will be dismissed in two years.
In 2008 Maryland's The Frederick News-Post reported three bigamy cases. Leah Erlandson married Grant Nelson at Frederick County Courthouse in 2007 without divorcing her first husband. In Maryland, bigamy is a felony punishable by up to nine years in prison. In the second case, William Allen Moats of Hagerstown blamed his dual marriages on drugs. He was sent to jail for a year despite protesting to the judge that "being married to two women simultaneously was punishment enough."
In the third case, James A. Kyem, 52, of Frederick, confessed a fraud scheme to federal authorities that had him marrying nine immigrant women for money. He pled guilty to perjury, marriage and passport fraud. His marriages spanned 23 years in five U.S. states and his native country of Ghana. He was sentenced to one year following a plea agreement.
Elisa Baker of Augusta, Georgia, was charged with bigamy and murder in February, 2010 according to the Nationwide Examiner. Wed seven times over 20 years, some of the marriages overlapped. It all surfaced when she was charged with murdering and partially dismembering her stepdaughter. She will probably avoid charges for bigamy in deference to the more serious murder charge.
As genealogists, we occasionally find ancestors who commit bigamy, particularly after the Civil War. After the war ended a soldier just disappeared in the west instead of going home. Civil War pension files reveal many cases of two unsuspecting wives applying for the same man's pension.
The moral of this story: If you must indulge in bigamy, avoid Facebook!
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10 April 2011