I Do, I Do: Portrait of a Bigamist
by Allison Seale
* This is a true story. All of the events detailed in this article happened. In order to protect the names of the innocent, all principal characters' names have been changed.
February 2008:In the few years that I have had this article posted on my Web site,—more than 15 years since I wrote this feature— I receive, on average, three calls a year from various women hoping I won’t confirm their worst fears that the man they are dating is the same mentioned in this article. With only one exception, each woman turned out to be dating the same man. Two have described "Richard Cole" as having physically assaulted them and Cole attempted to get one woman to put her home in his name using his "military" benefits for mortgages. Disturbed by what one woman told me, I called the police to report "Cole's" increasingly violent behavior and the fact that he is trying to pass himself off as a Ph.D., which, as you will read, he is not. Once again, the police were disinterested.
AS THE ORGAN MUSIC PLAYED ON MAY 18, 1991, Richard Alexander Cole stood fidgety in his gray tuxedo, tie, and cowboy boots at the front of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Bryan, TX. More than 100 pairs of eyes were fixed on the stranger they had heard so much about, who had come to town to wed a local girl. A smile spread big across his face when he saw Amanda walk down the aisle to take her place at his side.
As she held the arm of her groom, her white, short-sleeved beaded gown fell gracefully around her tiny waist. At 26, she was sure she had waited long enough. This was the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life, sharing her hopes, her dreams, her deepest secrets. Like many a May bride before her, Amanda was excited and anxious as she stepped down the aisle, exalted as she and Richard made the return walk together, their first journey as husband and wife. There were no ominous signs, no warning portents that sparkling day. It was a picture-perfect wedding with nothing to warn Amanda, or her family and friends who looked on, that those first steps she took with her new husband would eventually lead her down an Oz-gone-wrong road of deception, a tabliodesque odyssey of betrayal, bizarre lies and bigamy.
At the age of 31, Richard Cole presents a winsome picture as a tall, dark, self-described livestock inspector/soldier-for- hire. He currently is facing bigamy charges in Tarrant County. Within a three-year period, Cole was engaged four times, married three times, and divorced only once. None of the four women involved knew of his other brides. During that time, at least two of the women say they were paying all his bills and one of them alleges that he left her with nearly $10,000 in debts. Cole will likely walk away from the bigamy charges unscathed. Because it is a non-violent crime, bigamy cases, as a rule, are not prosecuted in Tarrant County. Broken hearts and lives, it would seem, have no recourse under the law.
For Amanda, it all began in the summer of 1989 when she and her sister went dancing in a popular club district in Fort Worth. A tall, well-dressed man asked her to dance. With his strong lead, they twirled around the dance floor, outlasting the first song and many others that followed. He was a good dancer, polite and charming, with gentlemanly ways and a muscular build; Amanda found it easy to believe him when he mentioned he was an Army Green Beret.
Perhaps he spotted her Aggie ring, or maybe she mentioned her recent graduation from Texas A & M, but conversation soon turned to their common alma mater. He explained he had graduated with a degree in animal science; she had just received her degree in health and kinesiology.
By the end of the evening, Richard Cole had secured a date with Amanda for the next day to go to the ranch where he was working. She agreed, and, for the next several months, he continued to charm her. Her friends remember how she beamed whenever she was coaxed into talking about her new boyfriend. By December they were engaged to be married.
Over the course of their 17-month engagement, Amanda was initiated into the life of a member of the special forces. Though he had a day job at a commercial steam-cleaning company, Richard often had to leave on short notice for weekend jaunts in South America; he told Amanda he was involved in secret combat missions for the government. At times, his stories seemed a bit fantastic, but the bullet wounds in his legs and the shrapnel she could feel in his arms and back were real enough. His uniform, military I.D., medals and other memorabilia also helped put her doubts to rest.
"When I first started going out with him," Amanda remembers, "he would only be gone once a month. He would leave on a Saturday and be back on a Sunday afternoon. He would be gone for about two days, and they would pay him, and he would come back."
Amanda spoke often to Richard about her concern for his dangerous part-time work and asked if there might be some way he could go inactive. As their 1991 wedding date approached, he began to give Amanda hope that his military days might be ending soon, or at least that he would be called for duty less often. His knee injuries, he explained, were hampering his military work; he said he might be able to go on inactive status due to disability. But those hopes never panned out.
"One time a month started being every other weekend," Amanda said. "And then, by the time we were married, it was every weekend and even during the week."
Like many grooms, a month before the wedding Richard became nervous. He expressed doubts about his ability to support Amanda with his job at the cleaning company. She calmly encouraged him, reassuring that, together, they would make it work. Besides, the deposits had already been made for the church and the photographer.
"At the time," Amanda says, "I thought it was just cold feet. Now I think it was probably more."
The frequent military maraudings continued after they were married. Amanda confided in a few family and friends, expressing her fears, and in truth, her growing doubts. Most expressed skepticism about her husband's claims, but with Richard returning from his weekend forays sporting knife and bullet wounds, Amanda clung to her faith in her new husband's honor.
"The first year we were together, he told me he would be out (of the military) the next year," she said. "And then when we were married it was supposed to be the next year, and it never came about."
For Richer, For Poorer
The couple had lived in Fort Worth for about seven months when Richard came home with news that he had been offered a job in Kentucky. He explained that his company was opening a new franchise and would make him a manager. Concerned that Amanda would not want to leave her family in Texas, he asked her if she wanted to go with him or if she preferred to stay. She elected to go, quit her job, and they packed their belongings and caravanned together to Kentucky.
They had barely been in Kentucky long enough to unpack when Richard gave Amanda some devastating news. Early in their relationship, he had told her about joining the military as soon as he had graduated from high school. He often had told her stories of things he had seen, terrible scenes of war. But he had never really explained his involvement. Now, with peace coming in some portions of South America, he said he was in trouble for war crimes he had committed. He said there would be a long process of trials, and he might have to go to jail. Since he no longer would be able to support her, he suggested she move back to Texas. He would keep in touch and tell her how things were going.
Less than three weeks after she had arrived in Kentucky, Amanda packed a few things in their candy-red Jeep Cherokee Chief and, without any other place to go, returned to her parents' home in Bryan to anxiously await the outcome of Richard's trials.
"We talked about once a week at first," she remembers. "Then every other week, and then once a month.
"He came to visit me two or three times; I think it was a total of three times from January to August of 1992. He said the hearings were still going on, but they told him that if he would go to Europe for two years, they would drop all of the charges. That's what he told me he was going to do the last time I saw him, which was in August of 1992."
Months passed; as the time between Richard's phone calls grew, so, too, grew the terrible suspicions harbored by Amanda and her family. All she had to show for her marriage was a car payment booklet and more than $5,000 of her husband's credit card debt. Richard had told her the army wouldn't be able to pay him for the two years he was in Europe.
"He told me that to help pay off the debt, we could sell the Jeep, and he knew a buyer," Amanda remembers. "So I let him take the Jeep and he said he would sell it." But Richard didn't sell the Jeep, and Amanda never got any money from him. "The last time I talked to him was in October of 1992. He told me he was calling from Europe, that he loved me, and he was okay. He said he might be able to come back into the states in December of 1992. That was the last time I heard from him."
To Have and To Hold
Amanda's suspicions about Richard mounted between August and October of 1992. After the alleged phone call from Europe, Amanda decided to investigate her husband. Money was tight; she would have to look for the truth on her own. She would file for divorce by publication that December.
Backtracking her husband's life was slow going at first and Amanda was more than a little afraid of what she would find. With no idea where Richard might be if his stories of Europe weren't true, she decided to start where she had left him and contacted his former employers in Kentucky. Ironically, the response to her inquiry was dated May 18, 1993, the date of their second wedding anniversary. The following is an excerpt from the letter Richard's employers wrote to Amanda:
"Richard left Louisville on March 12, 1992. His reason was that his financial problems from Texas were catching up with him. He told us you left because you were unhappy in Kentucky...When Richard left, he arranged with one of the guys to move your belongings from the apartment and store them in our warehouse. Sometime in September or early October, Richard sent two guys and a U-Haul to pick everything up. One guy said he was Richard's brother. The last contact we had with Richard was last fall. He was living at Jan's address. I hope the enclosed will answer some questions for you."
To her chagrin, "the enclosed" was some tax information, Amanda and Richard's apartment lease in Kentucky, several letters from two women and the name and phone number of a third woman. There also was a divorce decree dated December 21, 1989, from a Deborah Louise James. Amanda realized that was the same month that Richard had proposed to her; he had neglected to tell her about his first marriage.
There was more. As Amanda continued to read the envelope's contents, her stomach churned and her heart turned to stone. Astonishment. Revulsion. Anger. Fury. Disgust. Confusion. She felt them all within a matter of minutes.
All of the letters were dated during the three weeks Amanda was in Kentucky with Richard. There were eight letters from a 21-year-old woman in Fort Worth named Kelly Her first letter, dated January 11, mentions how everyone in her family is excited about Kelly and Richard's impending marriage, especially her father. She asks about her Jeep and tells of her excitement about soon moving to Kentucky. Like many brides-to-be, she expresses her anticipation of the day when they will begin their lives together. The other letters from Kelly also mention marriage and give details of their intimate lives together before Richard moved to Kentucky. Another letter shows her flight information for a weekend trip she took to visit Richard on January 31, 1992.
The "Kelly letters" are only half the bomb that has dropped on Amanda. Another series of letters are to and from a woman named Jan Interestingly, the letter is addressed to "Dr. Richard Cole" in Louisville, Kentucky. From her letter, it is apparent that Jan is enrolled in a police academy and that she, too, is planning a wedding. "Mom is going crazy with the wedding. I thought I would be the one that would want to get the 'show on the road' ... Everything about the wedding is, she says, 'Richard would like that' or 'That isn't really Richard's style.' It's hilarious she loves you so much. I'm glad that you and my family get along so well. ... You have really taught me to be thankful for the love and gifts that having a family brings." There also are letters Richard had written to Jan, including a Saint Patrick's Day card that makes mention of how he must have been caught in an indiscretion. He writes to Jan, "I will never be more sorry and hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me (it will never happen again)..." He signed the letter, "yours forever, love Richard."
Armed with these letters, Amanda now knew that Richard might possibly be married to at least one, if not two, other people. She also knew that instead of Europe, he might be living in the Fort Worth area. Reeling with these revelations, Amanda began to absorb all the repercussions that might exist if that were true.
By the fall of 1993, Amanda had decided to attend school in the Dallas area. While there, she mustered the strength to go to the county records office to search for what she hoped she would not find: a certificate of marriage bearing Richard's name. Her own marriage certificate had never been filed. Richard had told Amanda that not filing the marriage certificate was something the government had done for her own security. If that was true and he was still in the military, she wouldn't find another. Yet a clerk handed her a marriage certificate bearing Richard's and Jan's names dated May 16, 1992 -- two days before Amanda's and Richard's first wedding anniversary.
"My heart just sank when I found the other marriage license," Amanda says. "It's hard to describe; I had suspicions because of the cards and letters. But I had to see if he actually went through with it. And he did. I was shaking as I went up the stairs and to my car. I just sat there for a few minutes and cried."
Throughout the whole ordeal, Amanda says she went through periods when her predicament almost enveloped her. "Once a month I would just sit and cry because I was so upset. I probably cried about two days when I was sent those letters."
Knowing that her now ex-husband had been a bigamist for more than a year -- a year she spent paying his bills -- Amanda decided to file bigamy charges. That, she says, was a saga in and of itself. Bigamy, it seems, is not your run-of-the-mill charge. It took two police departments and several phone calls before she found the correct department in which to lodge her complaint. Even then, she was put on a list for a police officer to return her call to tell her story. At 2 a.m. an officer called her and she recounted her odyssey. She was told her report would be put in a stack and a detective would call her when he got to it. Approximately two months later she heard from a detective who told her the case was going to be dropped, regardless of the proof she had that her husband was a bigamist, because "all bigamy cases are dropped in Tarrant County because they don't have the manpower or money and it wasn't that bad of a crime."
Bigamy is listed in the State of Texas statutes as a third degree felony. Because Richard Cole already had one felony conviction in 1989 for cattle rustling -- for which Amanda paid $2,000 in cash to bail him out -- and because he was still on probation for that crime, Cole would have received a second degree felony charge for the bigamy offense.
To Honor and Obey
Kelly met Richard while eating lunch with some co-workers in June of 1991, about a month after his marriage to Amanda. She was flattered when he placed a piece of paper with his phone number on her table as he left the restaurant. At the time, she didn't know he was married. She would have never imagined, she said, because once they started dating, he was her constant companion, spending a lot of days -- and nights -- with her and her family. He told her he had graduated from Texas A&M and was a veterinarian. He said he had also attended Colorado State University where he had received a Ph.D. Along with his work with animals, he explained that, from time to time, he did secret work for the government. She, too, saw photos, a uniform and wounds from past missions.
"I didn't really have any reason not to believe him," Kelly remembers. "But if it was so secretive, why was he telling me about it when he had just met me?" she wondered.
Kelly said friends of hers who were in the military told her that Richard's stories didn't fit with their experience of the way the military worked. "It sounded like something he was just saying to try to buy time for something," her friends warned. Only now does it all seem clear to her. "He was really just genuinely nice," she remembers of the man to whom she eventually became engaged. "He was nice looking but, overall, I guess I wouldn't say he was really attractive. We liked doing the same things."
Kelly says that in December of 1991, about six months after she met Richard, they were walking through a mall and passed a jewelry store. Kelly recalls the way he casually proposed: "He said, 'I guess I'm going to have to get you one of those rings so we can get hitched.'"
Though he didn't buy her a ring, the episode initiated plans for a wedding which they decided would be in October of the following year. In the meantime, however, Richard told Kelly that he had been offered a job at a horse ranch in Kentucky and they would have to be apart for awhile. But, Kelly says, she visited him one weekend in January and plans were made for her to move to Kentucky to be with her fiancé.
"I guess it must have been the end of February when he said how much he missed me and wanted me to quit my job," Kelly remembers. She says she gave two or three week's notice to train the new paralegal who would replace her at the firm where she worked. She moved to Kentucky to begin her life with Richard the second week of March, about a week after Amanda had left. But her dreams of being his "one and only" were quashed the very first day she arrived.
"The first night that I was there, there was a call that the answering machine picked up and a female said, 'Hey babe'," Kelly recalls. Richard rushed to the phone and took the call. Before he hung up, she remembers he said, "I love you, too."
That was Kelly's signal to call it quits. "That was it for me," she says. "I left for Texas the next morning, and he followed me back." Kelly says Richard tried to calm her down by explaining that a friend of his needed an abortion and she needed his emotional support. Unwilling to forgive him, Kelly refused to accept Richard's phone calls over the next several weeks and months. In June of 1992, she says Richard had her paged at a rodeo where he knew she was attending. When she refused to answer his page, he sought her out in an arena club; Richard was visibly angered when he found Kelly dancing with another man. Kelly told Richard she had written to him in Kentucky, but that her letter was forwarded to a woman in Bryan who claimed to be Richard's wife and that the woman had written back explaining to her in no uncertain terms that she was Richard's wife and for Kelly not to write again.
Richard didn't skip a beat, Kelly says. Without flinching, he explained the letter was from his ex-wife, saying, "She does this sort of thing all of the time."
"The next morning," Kelly says, "he was passed out in his truck out in our front driveway. The only way I finally got him totally out of my life was when he called last November. My mother told him I was dating another guy, and he hasn't bothered me since."
For Better, For Worse
Kelly was lucky. Jan, Richard's third wife and the marriage for which the bigamy charges were filed, didn't find out about her husband's marriage to Amanda until she was called for an interview. Given the news that bigamy charges had been filed against her husband, she explained she had been separated from Richard for six weeks because of his infidelity and incompatibility. She did not want to be included in this article because she has a 14-month-old daughter from the marriage (Richard told Kelly and Amanda he was sterile; something he, too, admits). She is also in the process of reapplying to the police force and felt that such disclosure would imply poor judgment.
Wishing to honor her request to remain anonymous, but recognizing that hers is the marriage which caused the bigamy charge, in addition to changing her name, many of the specific details about Jan's relationship with Richard have not been included.
Jan said she met Richard Cole at a nightclub in March of 1991, a night when he obviously was not accompanied by his fiancée, Amanda. She dated Richard nine months before he proposed to her in December -- the same month he proposed marriage to Kelly. Jan's brother said that Jan, too, went to visit Richard in Kentucky before Richard decided to return to Texas where he took up residence with Jan, who had become pregnant. Like Kelly, Richard told Jan he had graduated from A&M and had a Ph.D. from Colorado State. With a school ring from Colorado and identification that declared him to be "Dr. Richard Cole," Jan, too, found no reason not to believe her fiancé's stories.
But as time went on and Richard's stories became more and more exotic, Jan's parents became suspicious, as did her two brothers, who are both police officers. One, who is a detective, started investigating Richard.
Through his checks, he first discovered the felony conviction, which Richard had failed to mention to Jan and her family. He also found that Richard had never graduated from Texas A&M, nor did he hold any degrees from Colorado State. Another interesting clue to Richard's past kept popping up—a woman's name—Amanda.
Finally, Jan's brothers confronted Richard with their findings. Calmly, he explained that Amanda was a woman who had dated a friend of his and with whom an application was made for a marriage license as part of his cover for the military. No marriage, he claimed, had ever taken place and that license, he explained, had never been filed for that reason. He admitted to lying about the felony conviction, his college graduation and being a veterinarian.
And Forsaking All Others
"People, I guess, make it easy for you to lie," Richard Cole says in his own defense. "When you say 'army,' it wasn't necessarily the army, but that's what I was doing. It was the easiest way to explain it. People identify quickly. Like, 'Oh, you work on livestock. You're a veterinarian.'
"You try to explain it, but after awhile, regardless of what you say, that's what they hear, and they interpret it the way they want to."
It seems that many people misinterpreted Richard Cole. Kelly, he says, misunderstood entirely about their relationship. He characterized it more as a friendship than anything else. He says no wedding was ever discussed. Her letters which were found opened in his desk would seem to indicate otherwise, but it is just her word, and that of her parents, against his.
Amanda and Jan, too, apparently misunderstood when they each exchanged wedding vows with Richard.
"I'm not the only man who runs around," Richard says. "I heard on a talk show the other day that 53 percent of married women cheat on their husbands. What I did wrong was leave Amanda and marry Jan before I divorced Amanda."
He maintains that he thought that by not filing his marriage certificate to Amanda, there would be no binding legal contract of the marriage with Amanda.
Feeling a bit like the victim of circumstances beyond his control, Richard says he never meant to hurt Amanda by what he did.
"I didn't want to hurt Jan either," he says. "On top of all else, like Amanda, she's totally innocent. And, I guess I am, too. What I've done wasn't done with malicious intent. I just got caught up in things. I felt like I was doing the right thing (marrying Jan because she was pregnant).
"You have to understand me and what I had to go through growing up to appreciate what I've done," Richard says in a quiet voice. "Terrible childhood. No roots. No nothing. I guess I've just been a mean person. I've seen ugly things."
Later he says it was his desire to try to establish some stability. Obviously, having three families simultaneously didn't simplify his life. A mistake, he says, he regrets.
"I kind of entangled myself in a web in which there was no exit. I painted myself into a corner trying not to hurt Amanda any more than what she was already hurt. I felt like she could go home and have a better life than, at the time, I could give her.
"What I did was wrong," he adds, "marrying Amanda. Leaving Amanda. Marrying Jan. It was wrong. And I know it may not sound like it, but I'm not a nut. I just wanted more. I was searching for happiness and didn't find it on either account. Both Jan and Amanda are good women, and I'm real sorry for what I've done."
From This Day Forward
The final chapter has yet to be written. Many of the details of this labyrinth of deception may never be known. Amanda's case continues to sit in a ever-growing stack in a Fort Worth police department. According to Amanda, the detective in charge of her case said he would like to see the district attorney proceed with the prosecution because it is so clear cut. But he says knows that won't happen and that Richard Cole will probably never be convicted of bigamy.
"We, unfortunately, in our society and across the country, have more crime than we can handle," Steve Chaney, senior staff attorney in the Tarrant County District Attorney's office says, explaining his office's stance. He says prison overcrowding and court backlogs have forced his county and many others to begin "down filing" many felonies.
"Bigamy is a low priority crime and in a triage situation such as we are in, it will not be filed upon." He says he would rather see the interested parties take the matter before a civil court.
"Why should we take our very limited resources to prosecute a fairly minor crime that affects very few when there are other violent crimes we need to prosecute?" asks Chaney. "I don't know whether people realize the dilemma we are in. We have serious violent crimes that are two to three years old that need to be tried. And if you take in this bigamy case, we'll never try it with a jury because it would never rank higher in importance than a rape or a murder. We're going to try roughly 350 jury trials this year, and there is not going to be a minor felony in any of them."
After paying her husband's credit card debts, and after more than a year of investigating at her own expense to try to find Richard, Amanda says hiring a lawyer to seek retribution through the civil courts is not a very real possibility. She has managed to return a sense of order and normalcy to her life and is enrolled in school. Her life, as that of Kelly and Jan, must go on.
And Richard? He says he's staying with friends these days and will start counseling soon. Kelly says her sister saw him a couple of weeks ago driving down the road with a woman and two children. Maybe he, too, will go on with his life. Perhaps he will, in his words, find a fresh start, a fresh friend. Someone to whom he doesn't have to justify everything or lie ... Well, maybe just a little lie. -- The End.
Oh, what a tangled web he's woven. Confused? We've provided this handy-dandy reference guide:
Richard and Amanda meet at a Country-Western dance club. They begin to date regularly.
December 21, 1989
Richard and Deborah receive a legal divorce. Amanda does not find out about this marriage until years later.
Jan meets Richard at a nightclub, and they begin to date regularly.
May 18, 1991
Richard and Amanda get married in Bryan, TX, among approx. 150 witnesses.
Kelly meets Richard, and they begin to date regularly.
Late in the month, Richard announces he's getting out of the secretive government work he's been doing to finally bring some stability to their lives. He says he has taken a job in Kentucky. Amanda leaves her job in Fort Worth, TX, and moves to Kentucky with Richard. Before they move, however, Richard and Kelly go Christmas shopping together at a mall. They pass by a jewelry store and Richard says he guesses he'll have to buy her a ring so they can "get hitched."
Late Dec 1991- Early January 1992
Amanda moves back to Texas because, alas, Richard's past has caught up to him. He tells her he must stand trial for war crimes he committed while performing secret duties for the government in S. America. Kelly visits Richard shortly after Amanda leaves. Of course, Kelly has no idea there is an Amanda, much less a Jan. They are engaged now with an October 1992 wedding date in mind.
Jan also visits Richard in Kentucky during this time period.
Upon Richard's request, Kelly quits her job and moves to Kentucky. Her first night there she hears a female voice on the answering machine. Richard runs to pick it up. She hears him say, "I love you, too" to the woman on the phone. Ignoring Richard's attempts to explain it away, she packs her stuff and leaves the next day.
May 16, 1992
Jan and Richard marry. He has not first obtained a divorce from Amanda, nor told her that he is not only still in the country, but living in the same metropolitan area as she is with another woman. The wedding is, oddly enough, two days before Amanda and Richard's first wedding anniversary.
Amanda sees Richard for the last time. He tells her the government has cut him a deal. If he agrees to go to Europe to perform more covert activities, all war crime charges against him will be dropped. It's an offer he says he can't refuse.
Amanda speaks to Richard for the last time. He tells her he's calling from Europe.
Richard is still calling Kelly begging for her forgiveness. It is also about this time that Jan gives birth to a baby girl.
Frustrated, Amanda files for divorce by publication.
May 18, 1993
Amanda, seeking to retrieve some of her belongings that were left behind in Kentucky, writes to Richard's former employers. They write back on this date (coincidentally the date of her second anniversary). They tell her why Richard had told them he had to move back to Texas and gave Amanda the forwarding address he had given them. It is Jan's address. for the last time.
Still seeking some answers, Amanda goes to the Tarrant County Courthouse to search through the marriage records. While she cannot find her marriage certificate, she does find the record of Richard and Jan's marriage. Amanda seeks to file felony bigamy charges against Richard but the Tarrant County District Attorney's office rejects the case saying they have bigger fish to fry than bigamists.
INSITE Magazine calls Jan for an interview for the article that will be featured in the February issue. It is the first time Jan learns the truth about Richard's past and that she, a former police officer, is in a bigamist marriage.
Richard is also called and interviewed and learns that his card house has just been toppled ... at least this one has.