EVERYONE knows someone who has been cheated on. People are complex and fidelity can be demanding; it requires self-discipline and unwavering commitment which exhausts and defeats many. The good news is, whilst many of us have been two-timed, most of us bounce back. We shrug and accept that straying happens in some relationships. Some turn a blind eye and wait for the fling to fizzle out. Some give the culprit hell and then patch things up. Others kick the betrayer out of their home and their lives. But in the vast majority of cases, the third party is not a threat… they can be minimised, dismissed as “a bit on the side”. Not the real deal.
But what if your cheating spouse actually married the other woman… or man? Suddenly your sacrosanct position as spouse is null and void. Bigamy is the ultimate betrayal a spouse can commit.
Whilst researching my latest book about a woman who is secretly married to two men, I corresponded with a number of bigamists and their victims – and made some surprising discoveries.
I needed to climb inside the minds of bigamists to understand who would have the audacity to break not only hearts but laws too?
Believe me, inside the mind of a bigamist is a daunting, difficult and devious place to be.
I looked for patterns. Is there a particular socio-economic group, or type of education that might make a person more likely to become a bigamist?
In fact, as I discovered, it takes all sorts.
Statistics reveal men are three times more likely to be prosecuted for bigamy in the UK, but it’s not an exclusively male domain.
Some bigamists I encountered had patchy employment records, others were regularly employed, but their careers were diverse: a bus driver, a police officer, a scuba-diving instructor, a soldier, a physiotherapist and even an eminent scientist with a doctorate in biochemistry.
It turned out the only thing they really had in common was a certainty in their own indomitability, and difficulty accepting what they had done. They all created chaos.
Monika Szoka’s romance with former soldier Simon Crudgington started blissfully but ended in shock and heartache.
Crudgington falsified evidence to say his first marriage was invalid so he could marry Monika in 2014.
When finally caught out on his deception, he claimed he’d done so “because he loved [Monika] too much”.
Relationship counsellor Amanda Major, of Relate, says: “Emotionally, bigamy is fairly devastating and I think it’s actually abuse.
“You have entered into a lie… and coming back from a lie is always very difficult.
“What you have done is deny your second partner the choice, because probably they wouldn’t have chosen to enter into a marriage with someone if they knew they already had another spouse.”
Betrayed victims are profoundly devastated when they discover their spouses are not exclusively their spouses.
It is usually more humiliating and damaging than an affair. In the UK, some 70 people on average are charged with bigamy every year.
In 2021, the number of people charged with bigamy dropped to just over a dozen cases. Lockdown, no doubt, proved especially problematic for anyone with two spouses and two families.
Because of the rarity of occurrence (or at least of detection, exposure and prosecution) victims feel isolated.
They’re left with deep feelings of shame and self-loathing. Victims think of themselves as “stupid” for “not knowing better”.
Like most women on their wedding days, Monika, 43, described herself as “the happiest woman alive”.
She and Crudgington had known one another for just over a year, but she thought he was down to earth and honest.
He told her he was in the process of getting a divorce. He moved into her North London flat just three weeks after their first kiss.
“I told him I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, but that he really needed to get divorced,” Monika explained.
When, just two weeks later, Simon declared he was now single, she thought her dreams had come true: they could get on with their lives together.
But Crudgington was lying.
He was still married. He wove a web of deceit, which involved faking paperwork claiming his first marriage was null and void.
“I really thought Simon was the man of my dreams, but it turns out he was just a liar,” said Monika, who on the eve of the wedding received a Facebook message from her fiancé’s ex-wife, Elizabeth.
The bombshell message warned their marriage would be illegal as Elizabeth and Crudgington were not yet divorced.
Monika refused to believe it, assuming the ex was being bitter and disruptive. Pushing the unpleasantness to the back of her mind, she went ahead with the wedding. It was only after two years of marriage and repeated contact from Elizabeth that Monika finally – and painfully – accepted her “husband” was lying.
“It was the moment when I had to face the terrible truth – my marriage was a sham. I couldn’t believe he had lied to me for so long,” Monika admitted.
“I know I sound stupid for not checking out Elizabeth’s allegations before, but Simon was the love of my life and I’d had no reason not to believe him.”
Crudgington was eventually jailed for six months at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court in Staffordshire, but being left feeling very “stupid” is the victim’s problem.
Marketing manager Vicki Smith, 45, never imagined a man like her husband – an eminent research scientist with a professional reputation to uphold – could be a bigamist.
She thought that sort of tawdry fraud and betrayal happened “only on the Jeremy Kyle show”.
She married Dr Robert Marchmont in a lavish ceremony at Gretna Green in front of friends and family, yet he was never her husband at all.
He was a bigamist and their marriage was a charade because he had not divorced his first wife, Clare, the mother of his children.
And when his marriage to Vicki was exposed as fraudulent and finally annulled – but before he was officially divorced from Clare – he bigamously married again.
Marchmont had started his relationship with a third woman called Lesley Kenneally while still ostensibly “married” to Vicki and legally married to Clare.
Vicki, from Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, reflected: “I was absolutely stunned when I realised the scale of Bob’s deceit. I felt so stupid that I’d been taken in by him.
“I’m supposed to be intelligent. I felt embarrassed. Bob was the first man I’d really loved. For a year I felt total despair.”
She has theories on her ex’s mind set. “I think he craved excitement. He thrived on secrecy, on conspiracy.
“He’s a fantasist. Outwardly he’s the image of respectability, but there’s a very twisted side to him.”
Some might think these women were relatively lucky because neither had children with their husbands.
But Mary Turner Thomson, 55, from Edinburgh, discovered her “husband” of six years, and father to two of her children, actually had three wives and 13 children.
Will Jordan, an American, was also a sex offender.
His deceit was all-encompassing and included telling her that their children were in danger because of his job as a CIA agent (untrue).
She sold her flat to raise £200,000 for (totally imaginary) kidnappers, money he probably used to support his other families. She was left a homeless single mum and he was jailed.
Last year she published an eye-opening book about her experiences, The Psychopath.
Sadly, I’m afraid victims of bigamy are often treated with derision; seen as naive and gullible at best, stupid at worst. There’s little support, simply shock and scandal.
It leads to incredible hurt and humiliation, as well as financial, legal and emotional complexities that can tear families apart, leaving spouses and children fiscally and psychologically ruined.
However tempting it is to be dismissive, bigamy is not a joking matter.
Both Of You by Adele Parks (HQ, £8.99) is out now. For free UK P&P on orders over £20, call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832 or visit expressbookshop.com