Giovanni Vigliotto was tall, dark and, according to Sharon, irresistible. She married him last June. Four weeks later he disappeared with nearly everything she owned, leaving Sharon with $8 in cash, an old Jeep and a tankful of gas. Even more humiliating, she discovered that to be stung by Giovanni was to become a member of a not very exclusive club. Authorities say he may have been married from 15 to 100 times, presumably without benefit of divorce.
In Sharon, however, the Mr. Big of bigamy had picked the wrong mark. "My motto is, 'Do whatever you want to me, but the payback's a bitch,' " says Sharon, 41. Hurt and angry, she set out to track down her man. Three months, nine states and 11,000 miles later, she got him. "One detective told me my chances of catching him were one in a million because he was that good," she says. "Well, he wasn't that good." Today Vigliotto, a parole violator believed to be in his early 50s, is confined to the federal prison in Milan, Mich., where he is serving the remainder of a 10-year term for concealing a stolen motor vehicle. He could face at least 54 more years in prison on charges of fraud, theft and bigamy.
Vigliotto's saga—particularly his own account of it—is astonishing. He has described himself as a veteran of both the British and Greek armies. "Nobody knows where he was born," says Deputy U.S. Marshal William Harrison. "He sometimes claims he was brought to the U.S. by the CIA. We've heard he's had more than 120 aliases. We've confirmed 17." Vigliotto, a name some authorities believe is itself an alias, has boasted of having wives in eight countries. After he fleeced them, he often gloated. "He liked to write to them telling them what sort of pickin's they were," says Harrison. "It was a game to him."
Sharon knew nothing of this when Vigliotto tooled up in his white Caddy last spring, announced he had merchandise worth $50,000, and took a booth at the flea market she managed outside Angola. "He was dressed like a rich cowboy, with two big gold bracelets and a chain with gold toothpicks," she recalls. "I didn't like him. He was rude and demanding." Among other things, he insisted on attention. "You ignore me, but I'm interested in you," he told her. "I'm a lonely, unhappy man. You show me how to have fun." On her birthday he gave her eight dozen yellow roses taped to two cases of Miller Lite beer. "He claimed he was born in Sicily and that as a boy he had been captured by the Germans and made to watch the rape and murder of his mother and four sisters," she says. "He cried, and I began to see the softness in him."
Sharon refused Vigliotto's first proposal of marriage, but two months after meeting him agreed to accompany him to Texas. When he suggested opening a chain of antique shops there, she let him pile her wares in a van that they purchased together. In Tennessee he proposed again. She still had her doubts—Giovanni, after all, hadn't even told her his last name—but finally she surrendered to sentiment. They wed hippie-style—Sharon was barefoot—in the woods outside Jellico, Tenn. "I married him because I knew I would never be bored," she says. "He spoke seven languages. He said he'd been all over the world. Every time he talked he excited me."
But in some respects he was more than exciting. He slept only 20 minutes at a time, she says, kept a snub-nosed revolver on his pillow, and made mysterious, unexplained phone calls. "He was a kinky, weird lover," Sharon notes. "I didn't care for it. He asked me to rip off his clothes because they'd been given to him by other women. He said I was a witch who'd cast a spell on him—I'd made him weak. He called me naive and squeamish, and said it didn't bother him to hurt other people. But he spent lots of money on me, though it was probably all my own money."
Postponing their arrival in Texas, the couple headed to Florida, where Vigliotto talked Sharon's mother into moving to Texas too, and had her put her jewelry and belongings into the van. He persuaded a young flea marketer named John Boslett to go to work for him, and even convinced Sharon to sell half of a house she owned for a piddling $4,000, which she claims he kept. "He promised me all the houses I wanted in Texas," she explains. "He said, 'We're on our way now. We'll have someone take care of our shops and just travel—Sicily, Greece, anywhere we want.' "
But first they detoured to Ohio, where Vigliotto said he had business. In Dayton he gave Sharon $80, told her to take a Jeep they had acquired and meet him in Detroit, and took off in the van. In Detroit, Sharon found instructions to meet Vigliotto in a motel in Ontario. At the motel, she found no Vigliotto, no message—nothing. She had been bilked of $11,000 in cash and more than $44,000 in goods. "I couldn't get my mind to function," she remembers. "I realized then he was rotten." Soon afterward she decided to go after him.
Boslett, whom Vigliotto had cheated of cash and personal effects, hitchhiked from Florida to help. Together they scraped up $1,000, bought a secondhand van, and last October set out on their manhunt. Armed only with a road atlas on which Vigliotto had circled several flea-market towns, they scoured the countryside from Missouri to Louisiana, sleeping in their van and surviving on pinto-bean-and-onion sandwiches. "We were bums, but we were clean bums," says Sharon. "We had beer sometimes in place of food. It took the edge off." Finally, on Dec. 27, living on popcorn, with $3 between them, they drove into a shopping center in Panama City, Fla. "I said, 'My God, there's Giovanni,' " Sharon remembers. "I was gonna knock the hell out of him right there, but John thought he might have a gun." Choosing discretion, she phoned for the sheriff while Boslett slashed Vigliotto's tires so he couldn't get away. Thirty minutes later the flea-market Casanova was under arrest.
Since Vigliotto's capture, Sharon and Boslett, 23, have moved in together and have started an antique business in Michigan. But they have recovered none of Sharon's purloined antiques. "We don't know where all the money is," says U.S. marshal Harrison. "Vigliotto supposedly has a motor home somewhere that's a rolling Fort Knox, but no one has been able to find it." Nor have his victims been able to forget him. "I dream about him every night," says Sharon, "like he's gotten out and I'm on the road looking for him again. I think about him more now than when I was living with him." Still, she has little sympathy for the other women he victimized. "I figure 90 percent of them deserved it," she says. "I deserved it too, because I was so gullible, but I'm different from most women. Some of them should have gone out, dammit, and done something."
All her life, Sharon Clark Vigliotto has taken her lumps. Born in Milwaukee to parents who separated when she was an infant, she was raised by her grandparents in Angola, Ind. When she was 12, her mother took her to live in Detroit. "I ran away three times," she says. Marriage turned out even worse. At 15, she married an Air Force lieutenant. A year and a half later they split, and she began running an illegal dice game in a Chicago bar. At 18, she plighted her troth to an adman. In their 10 years together, she claims, he physically abused her repeatedly, beat her once with a shovel, and drunkenly broke up an antique shop she'd started. After a five-year third marriage to a racing car driver, she decided to take a chance on groom No. 4.