Skip to comments.Accused bigamist: 'Searching for a mother figure'
Posted on 02/11/2004 1:35:19 AM PST by sarcasm
It was eight wives, not nine, and Anthony Owens insists that he was never married to all of them at the same time.
That's news to Gwinnett County police, who say the itinerant preacher and self-styled "bishop" was a Svengali-like con artist who wed nine women in 12 years without pausing to legally divorce most of them.
Owens is in the Gwinnett County Jail awaiting trial on bigamy charges. But during a rambling jailhouse interview Monday, he painted himself as a man of faith whose psychological and spiritual confusion led him to wed and wed again.
"People think that I just went around marrying women," said Owens, as he sat in a small room outside his cell. "That I just married them to hurt them. This was something that was based on my religion and not just me going out to hurt and marry women. I want the world to know the truth."
Owens, 32, has had time to ponder the circumstances that led to his November arrest. He has heard attacks from his wives in newspaper and television reports. Unable to raise his $50,000 bail, he has sat in his jail cell 18 hours a day scribbling his rebuttal the life story, he said, of a traveling preacher searching for the love of his deceased mother.
"At age 12 my mom died. If you notice, most of the women that I married were way older than me," said Owens. "After years of trying to replace my mom I felt like I found the answer. I started dating older women. The reason why there were so many marriages was that I was . . . searching for a mother figure and I could never find it."
Owens' first marriage took place in his birthplace of Memphis. Owens was 17. His bride, Joanna Hill, was 43. The couple had dated for three months, said Owens. Hill was the mother of sons, 18 and 15.
"They always argued that their mom could be all three of our moms," said Owens. "After several months of marriage, me and Joanne decided to go our separate ways and get a divorce. But I had one problem with that."
He did not believe in divorce, said Owens. He had become an ordained minister, was building a nondenominational ministry, and was studying literature about the Mormon faith. "Their book showed me how it was OK to marry without getting a divorce," said Owens. "I was misled in the spiritual aspect of life. I was thrown off-track."
The Mormons did once teach a belief in polygamy, but abandoned the doctrine long ago, said a local church leader. "The Book of Mormon states that a man should have one wife," said Elder Chalmers, a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church) in Atlanta. "We believe in honoring the laws of the land."
Owens said his misunderstanding of Mormon doctrine was also at the root of his marriage to a 41-year-old woman in 1992. At the time, Owens was still married to Hill. This began a string of marriages that spread from Tennessee to North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia, ending with the 2002 marriage to a woman from Duluth.
The Duluth woman, Gwendolyn Robinson, made a complaint with Gwinnett police.
Some of Owens' wives have said he was a con man who married them only to steal their money, that he wed and ran after draining their bank accounts. Owens, who fathered two children, disputes that, and Gwinnett police say they do not have enough evidence to charge Owens with theft or fraud.
It also remains unclear exactly how many wives Owens had at the same time. Police originally investigated marriages between Owens and nine women. But making the case against Owens was complicated because some women associated with the alleged bigamist declined to cooperate with police, said Gwinnett Detective F.S. Matheson. Owens has been charged with one count of bigamy, but Matheson said he will recommend that a grand jury indict Owens on four counts. Owens faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.
Owens insists that he did seek divorce from several of his wives, but declines to say how many, saying it could hurt his court case. His trial has not been scheduled yet.
In the meantime, Owens said he will continue his ministry, preaching to his fellow inmates. Owens said if he could talk to some of his wives, he would apologize to them. He said he dreams of being released from jail and that one of the first things he will do is file for a few divorces. But there is one of his wives he hopes will stay married to him, said Owens. "I do have one in mind, but do not want to say," he said. "But I do plan on being married after this is all over with."
Yeah. Wedding eight or nine women, more or less simultaneously, will give folks that impression sometimes.