The place: the Gwinnett County Courthouse. Imagine coming to the Courthouse in downtown Lawrenceville, Georgia in order to take your marriage vows before a Probate Judge. As one of the couples is preparing to for their wedding, a clerk happens to run the groom’s name into the county system… to discover that he had already been married eight times in Gwinnett County alone!

And such is the story of William James Fairley. Who would have wed number nine that day if the clerk hadn’t stumbled on his name. And it turns out that he’s also pulled the same bigamy stunt in at least one more Atlanta metro county.

The clock read 2:30 p.m. that Friday afternoon. Fairley had just wed a woman from Kenya amid the blond wooden benches in a Gwinnett County courtroom. And marriage records show he must have been in a bit of a hurry. Fairley would pledge his eternal devotion again less than four hours later, this time to a Ghanaian bride in front of the mahogany-stained pews of a Cobb County courtroom. The ceremonies were separated by 40 miles — and one rush hour. [1]

That’s crazy enough, but sometimes it just seems that things come in threes. And so it is with our story, because three serial bigamists have either been arrested or are being sought, for multiple marriages in Gwinnett County: Alvin Lorenzo Murdock, William James Fairley, and Shawnta McBride.

[William] Fairley told police it is easier to get hitched in Gwinnett than other surrounding counties, although he didn’t elaborate as to why, Head said. Three magistrate judges officiated a wedding for Fairley twice, apparently without recognizing the popular groom. [2]

The tally: Murdock: 6 wives; Fairly: 10 wives; McBride: 8 husbands. At least that many. With spouses from west Africa.

If these were “green card” marriages, they weren’t garden variety. Organizers of most marriage frauds match up one willing U.S. citizen with one immigrant seeking legal status, said Rob Rodriguez, assistant special agent in charge at ICE’s regional office in Atlanta. That was the case last month in suburban Washington, where immigration agents arrested 22 people in a marriage fraud sting. Immigrants, mostly from Ghana, paid the masterminds $2,500 to $6,000 for each sham marriage, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. [3]

Some steps are being taken as a result of this rash of fraud - a standard check of the couty records, although it’s not foolproof because the state does not centralize any of the records collection to check across counties.

Gwinnett County is now checking its computer database each time someone applies for a marriage license, to double check whether the man and the woman have been married previously in Gwinnett County. No county in Georgia can tap into another county’s marriage and divorce databases, without going through commercially-available — and fee-based — personal-data background searches. There is no statewide database of marriage or divorce records, similar to the statewide database of birth and death records. [4]

I don’t know if the there is an increased trend for commiting immigration fraud through bigamy throughout the country, but it seems to currently have a fairly healthy trade here in Atlanta.

END NOTES:
[1] Brian Feagans, “12 months, 1 groom, 10 brides”, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 15 October 2006 (Link).
[2] Andria Simmons, “Cops charge second man with bigamy”, Gwinnett Daily Post (Georgia), 30 September 2006 (Link)
[3] Atlanta Journal Constitution, 15 October 2006 (Link)
[4] Jon Shirek, “Bigamy Cases May Be Linked”, WXIA-TV (Atlanta, GA), 14 October 2006, (Link)

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