Giovanni Vigliotto – Polygamist and Con Man

1 Conversation

Patricia Ann Gardiner was at a swap meet in Arizona, 1981, when she met the man of her dreams. Giovanni was not exactly a prince—he was chubby and short, had a big nose and puffy lips, was in his early 50s, and wearing faded jeans—but he was charming. She was impressed by the honest way he gazed deep into her eyes, and her mothering instincts were turned on by his soulful, hangdog attitude. He told her about his millions of dollars in savings and the ocean liner he owned. She married him only eight days later. Because he lived in California, she liquidated her assets, packing it into his car. Then she got into her own with her pet poodle, he got into his, and they headed to a honeymoon hotel in San Diego.

Only Patricia and her pooch arrived at the hotel. Vigliotto and her $36,000-worth of possessions had vanished on the highway.

The Victims

Patricia was not the first woman jilted by the glib-tongued flea-market denizen. In fact, she was the 105th. Under various aliases, this man had wooed and fleeced 104 other lonely women in 18 states and 9 foreign countries.

Sharon Clark, of Angola, Indiana, left $49,000 of her money and possessions in his care, only to find herself barefoot and quite alone in an Ontario motel barely three weeks later, June 1981, five months before Gardiner tied the knot with the same man. She tracked him down, following his trail down to a Florida shopping center, where he was selling Patricia’s furniture.

Only four months before Sharon’s wedding, Joan Bacarella of Englishtown, NJ, found herself pacing a motel waiting for the return of the man so concerned for her welfare that he’d convinced her to divorce her separated husband and marry him instead. He had $1,600 in cash and $40,000-worth of inventory from her shop.

The Technique

This man had told women that he was a wealthy businessman, a retired mafia don, or anything rich and impressive sounding. Born Fred Jiff, he changed his name and occupation for almost every courtship; Giovanni Vigliotto had exotic and appealing ring to his bored, middle-aged and provincial targets. He was always touchingly concerned about their welfare, a perfect gentleman to the point of being courtly, and endearingly self-pitying. Women, particularly bored and aging ones, found the combination irresistible.

The Trial

He went on trial 28 March, 1983 in Phoenix, Arizona. Every day, an audience showed up to hear the next installment in the daily soap opera of testimony. He became a media celebrity, with jokes about wives and polygamy flying freely at his expense. Jiff seemed to feel a bit put upon, and was more than a little convinced that things were being blown out of proportion. "It was always the women who popped the question," he complained.

"They say I mesmerize people," he said. "That's just not true. They charge me with adopting a courtly manner to manipulate these women…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 to pass through? Is it wrong to buy them flowers? 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.

Jiff compared himself to Walter Mitty, saying that his adventures with women took him out of his rather pathetic existence and into a loving world of happiness. And although he ditched each woman shortly after marrying her, he still managed to write all 105 names on a board during lunch break in court1. That was only one part of his impassioned performance of injured innocence that kept the audience in stitches, and the judge and attorneys pulling their hair out.

The jury (eight men and four women) was out for only 24 minutes before returning to announce him guilty on all 34 counts of bigamy and fraud. For this, he received a 28-years for fraud, six for bigamy, and a $338,000 fine. His initial imprisonment was exciting. He had book offerings, TV show offerings, women demanding a retrial, an endorsement offer for a potency drug. Eight years into his imprisonment in Florence, Arizona, he died at the age of 61. His pre-gigolo past is still shrouded in mystery.

1It bears mentioning that there were not 105 women who testified against him. That number comes from his own admission.

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