The law catches 40 or more bigamists each year but nobody knows how many hundred more it misses. Here, the best of them tell how—and why—they collect wives

JOY CARROLL August 11 1962


The law catches 40 or more bigamists each year but nobody knows how many hundred more it misses. Here, the best of them tell how—and why—they collect wives

JOY CARROLL August 11 1962


The law catches 40 or more bigamists each year but nobody knows how many hundred more it misses. Here, the best of them tell how—and why—they collect wives


NEARIY FOUR OUT OF EVERY FIVE Canadians marry and remain more or less happily married ever after. About one in five marry and then separate or get divorced. These incomplete statistics leave room for a small minority who never marry at all—and for an even smaller minority of restless people who seemingly can't get enough of marriage.

So they commit bigamy, a crime which newspaper reporters and readers tend to regard as a rather humorous aberration, but which the lawmakers of the English-speaking world classify as no less heinous than murder or treason, although the penalty is somewhat less severe. (Under British law. on which Canadian and even U. S. statutes are based, only bigamy, homicide and treason are crimes for which a citizen can be tried at home no matter where on earth he commits them. Other crimes can be prosecuted only in the sovereign state in which they are committed.)

In recent annals of Canadian bigamy, two men stand out as cochampions, each with a score of six marriages. They are Joseph LaVear of Winnipeg, and Seward Garwood of Sudbury. This year both were serving threeyear terms. (The maximum sentence for bigamy in Canada is five years, but actual punishments range all the way down to suspended sentence. Bigamy, however, has the highest ratio of convictions to arrests of any crime. Once discovered, it is an easy crime to prove.)


UaVear started his marriage career in England as a handsome young trooper in a Canadian Scottish regiment during World War 11. He married a Surrey girl, separated from her in 1947, joined the U. S. army and married a girl in Birmingham, Alabama, l.ater he was deported and married in turn girls in Winnipeg. Vancouver and Toronto. Back in the U. S. he married for the sixth time and w;as again deported for other reasons.

In March I960, he was walking down Portage Ave. in Winnipeg when he was spotted by the wife he had married in 1953. She accosted him. He denied his identity — but graciously invited her to his hotel for a drink. On the pretext of writing an IOU to her employer for a loan, the Winnipeg girl wrote: “This is my husband. We are going to the Oxford Hotel. Call police." LaVear’s long career of marriage had come to an end.

Garwood, a slight, balding man in his forties, spread his marriage activities around Sudbury and Port Arthur in northwestern Ontario, with one sortie into the U. S. and another into British Columbia. Unlike most bigamists who play no favorites among their wives. Garwood told the court that when CONTINUED ON PAGE 45



continued front page 13

What Santa got for Christmas: a car crash and a bigamy charge

he had served his sentence he planned to marry his second wife. “And that will he the last one,” he promised.

LaVear and Garwood were two of she forty Canadian men (and ten women) who are arrested in an average year for bigamy. Just how many people actually commit bigamy is something the police can only guess at. “Thousands,” said one veteran Toronto morality squad officer. A lawyer who handles many bigamy cases estimates that perhaps one bigamist in ten is found out. This is because bigamy is one of the few crimes that almost never comes to light unless police are lipped off — usually by a victimized spouse, an outraged in-law or a vengeful "friend.”

Sometimes the informant does not realize the serious consequences of a bigamy charge. The parents of a sixteen-year-old Toronto girl who married a forty-year-old man discovered that he had previously been married and reported him to police. When he was arrested the in-laws protested bitterly to the officers. “He’s the only one in the family with a job," pointed out the mother-in-law. “We don't want him put in jail. We only wanted you to throw a scare into him so he'd behave himself and not leave our daughter as he left his other wife."

Occasionally bigamy is revealed literally by accident, as in the case at Christmastime two years ago when Santa C'laus was caught. William Fenetv. impersonating Santa in a Hamilton. Ont., department store, was involved in a car accident one night on his way home. When his wife

searched through his papers for an insurance policy she found evidence that Fenety had been married before. Her Christmas present to her husband was a charge of bigamy.

The paradox behind the difficulty of detecting bigamists by usual police methods is that the Canadian bigamist is probably the most predictable of criminals. An analysis of the “who and where" of bigamy reveals that a Quebec or Saskatchewan housewife with a college degree and aged over thirty-five is almost certain not to commit bigamy: whereas Toronto men under thirty-five who never got past public school and are employed in one of the “mobile" occupations — traveling salesmen, construction workers and transportation employees — are prime suspects. At any rate, men who fit that description commit bigamy more often than all other Canadians combined. Their counterparts in Vancouver are a not-too-close second: other Canadians are also-rans in the national bigamy statistics. (Technically, bigamy describes one marriage in addition to a first legal marriage; additional marriages become polygamy. But bigamy is the term popularly applied to any number of extra marriages.)

Bigamy is a crime of the big cities. Every year bigamists arrested in urban areas outnumber rural cases by as many as ten to one. This is because it is easier to lose oneself in a crowded city than in the country, where everybody knows everybody's business and “marriage lines” go back two and three generations. Occasionally a rural Lothario tries a sort of “town-andcountrv" marriage, as in the case of Thomas Simmons, who had one wife in Toronto and another running his Uxbridge. Ont., chicken farm. Simmons was tripped up by a farm neighbor who met the Toronto Mrs. Simmons and pointed out to her that there w'as also a rural Mrs. Simmons.

Bigamy is a crime of the undereducated. Every year, among bigamists. those with no more than an elementary school education outnumber high school graduates by about two to one. No more than one or tw'o people with college educations are arrested each year for bigamy, w-hich may only prove that smart people don't get caught. On the other hand there are hundreds of well-to-do Canadians w-ho are at least technically bigamists. They are the people who have remarried after getting divorces in Mexico or the U. S. on grounds not recognized in Canada.

Almost never are such bigamists charged, but on more than one occasion Canadian lawyers have expressed the opinion that there could be trouble in store for many an upper-bracket marriage that followed a Mexican or Reno divorce. "The reason why these bigamous marriages don’t come out into the open is that bigamy charges are almost always the result of someone laying a complaint. In these cases who is going to complain? The divorced wife? She was probably in on the deal in the first place, and has remarried or is getting good alimony."

Bigamy is a young man's game Almost every year Canadian men between the ages of twenty and thirtyfive outnumber older bigamists by a considerable margin, even though they are outnumbered in the total adult

male population by two to one. Unaccountably, though, in an occasional year the oldsters have their fling. For example, 1949 was a big year for middle-aged bigamists. So was 1959. Much the same sporadic outburst applies to women bigamists. Although over the past ten years male bigamists have outnumbered women by more than four to one, in 1957 an outbreak of female bigamy cut this ratio down to a mere two to one.

Why do men take the initiative in bigamy so much more often than women? According to one psychiatrist who has studied the whole problem, it is partly because women have a greater respect for the sanctity of marriage and the home. Then he added, a little ungallantly, “Of course, a woman who has been married is likely to have a child or two around, and a prospective husband will want to know how come. Men are free to roam without the prima facie evidence of a former marriage in the shape of children.”

Why do people commit bigamy, anyway? The question has long fascinated psychiatrists because it represents a conscious decision to take a crucial step in the face of alternatives that apparently would have less painful penalties if discovered. Why not common-law marriage as a solution to the need for illicit togetherness? The answer is most often the situation pointed up in an old College Humor cartoon, in which the man said to the girl, “Let's get married or something.” The girl answers, “Let’s get married— or nothing.”

Or, as Dr. Angus Hood, director of the Toronto Mental Health Clinic, puts it: “The bigamist may feel more secure in marriage, even bigamous marriage. His fear of losing the loved one may be so great that he feels she is bound to him by the marriage, even though he knows it isn’t a legal one. Perhaps he is afraid to tell her that he isn’t free to marry, thus risking losing her. In the beginning he may have lied about his marital status and then he becomes so caught up in the web of lies that he is afraid to try to extricate himself.”

But the answers to “why bigamy?” given by the perpetrators themselves when the law caught up with them are more varied and less logical. When Dorothy Scanlon bigamously married sixty-cight-year-old Edward Hcwson in Toronto, she explained: “I was grateful to him. He wanted a wife and

a home and I wanted to give them to him.”

Joseph LaVear, Winnipeg's six-time loser, had two explanations: sometimes a war injury caused him to forget previous marriages; sometimes when he got drunk an irrepressible urge to marry seized him. Seward Garwood, LaVear's cochampion bigamist, told Magistrate Anthony Falzetta at his most recent trial in Sudbury that mother-in-law trouble dogged his footsteps from marriage to marriage and caused his decision to move on. Commented the magistrate drily: “1 would have thought that would be a deterrent to further marriages.” "1 did it for the sake of the women,” Garwood answered earnestly.

Another form of mother-in-law pressure caused one man to commit bigamy. He had left a wife and three children in England when he came to Canada. He continued to support them and planned to bring them out. Meanwhile he dated another girl who became pregnant. Arrested, he pleaded in court: “I told her that I was already married, but her mother insisted that I marry her daughter anyway. She said an illegitimate father was better than an illegitimate child.” But probably Thomas Simmons, the Uxbridge chicken farmer, spoke for most bigamists when he told the court, in reference to his second wife: “I don't know how I come to marry the girl.”

Bigamists in Canada (at least those who have been caught) never seem to reach the heights of scheming and ingenuity at which the British in particular seem adept. Canadian bigamy is almost always a matter of a man or woman marrying and living with one partner at a time without the formality of legally parting with previous spouses. This is not the stuff of which high-comedy movies like Captain’s Paradise are made. (In Captain's Paradise Alec Guinness plays a sea captain who maintains a snug home at each end of his ship's regular run.)

Perhaps the most ingenious of all bigamists, outdoing any movie plot, was William Leigh, an English truck driver. He maintained two homes, two wives and two sets of children only five miles apart in the English countryside. At Chorlton cum Hardy lived Emily, his wife of thirty-three years with their four children. At Ancoats (where he went by the name of Spencer) lived Elsie, with four children. William managed this blissful arrangement for sixteen long years.

He even gave his two sets of four children identical names, so that if he had a lapse of memory he would not arouse suspicion by calling one of his children by an unfamiliar name. Unfortunately, a fifth child was born to the Chorlton cum Hardy family, and that necessitated a fifth name which was not duplicated at the other household. Sure enough, one day he called a child in his Ancoats family by the name of the fifth child in the Chorlton cum Hardy family. His wife Elsie became suspicious and followed him to wife Emily. They presented each other with marriage certificates and the long honeymoon was over for William.

He was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. As he looked at his two wives seated in the courtroom he remarked, somewhat philosophically, “I hope you're satisfied now." ★