The 13th Duke of Manchester has a list of offences including bigamy, debt, deception and deportation. On the eve of his next court appearance in Las Vegas, Marcus Scriven records the trials of the disgraceful dukeThe Clark County Courthouse, Nevada, sounds as though it should be in a twohorse town marooned in wilderness; in fact, it’s in downtown Las Vegas. It’s here, on 25 October, that Judge William D Jansen will hear details of an alleged felony involving an unusual defendant – Alexander Charles David Drogo Montagu, 13th Duke of Manchester.
The 49-year-old, who sometimes styles himself ‘Lord Alex’, is, nominally at least, an eminent member of the British peerage, and undoubtedly the only one to have been exposed as a bigamist, as he was last year in the High Court in London. Twice imprisoned (in Australia), once deported (from Canada), he came to American attention first in 1988 when embroiled in the divorce of Lia Belli and her husband Melvin, a legendary attorney. That summer, an intruder broke into the Bellis’ San Francisco residence, firing twice at Mrs Belli but missing. Police interviewed Alex but did not detain him.
It’s from California that his latest case is being most closely monitored, by the woman with the doubtful privilege of knowing him better than anyone: the second of his ex-wives, Wendy Buford. They met in April 1992 at the Crazy Horse bar in Santa Ana, California, when Wendy, then 24, was juggling work at a law firm with parttime waitressing. With minimal knowledge of the aristocracy – her father was a salesman, her mother a waitress – she was ill-prepared for the whirlwind that struck her that night. It took the rugged form of a thick-set, good-looking 29-year-old, with an Australian accent and a card parading his name in embossed gold lettering. His charm was insistent and irresistible. Although they spoke only briefly, it was long enough for Alex to extract Wendy’s telephone number.
Days later, he’d installed himself in her apartment. ‘He told me I love you so much: “I love you, I love you, I love you”,’ she remembers. The words were matched by ‘hugging, holding hands’ and the first in a flood of cards signed ‘Eternally yours’. There were grand, if undefuned, plans and the reassurance: ‘You won’t have to worry about a thing’.
A practical, disciplined person, Wendy carried on working. Alex, who remained at home, focused on her car. ‘He said, “It doesn’t make sense, your car just sitting there all day, when I don’t have one”.’ She gave him the keys. He then wrecked it and replaced it with a cheque. The cheque was a dud, but Wendy forgave her man, who elicited her sympathy by explaining that he had no relationship with his father, Angus, the 12th Duke, whose closest friend, Kerry Cheeseman, was the founder of Aristocats escort agency. Later, Alex told her that his mother had died.
Wendy then became pregnant with their first child, Alexander Jr, who was born in May 1993, six days after they married in a civil ceremony that, Alex insisted, had to take place immediately and without guests. She was by then familiar with his volatility, his effusive proclamations and his need for control. She was forbidden from checking the mail and his rejoinder to her many enquiries was: ‘It’s being taken care of’.
But in those pre-internet days, she gave him the benefit of the doubt, unaware of his marriage in 1984 to an Australian model, Marion Stoner, who had considered him ‘a real gentleman’ until ‘the spear-gun incident’ (Alex had fired at her but missed), or of his front-page appearance in a British Sunday newspaper (declaring his willingness to marry any woman who’d pay him £25m), or his nine months in prison in Australia in 1985 (for obtaining money by deception), or his second incarceration in 1991 (for hiring a rental car in one State and selling it in another), or his deportation from Canada (for entering the country illegally) where, in Vancouver, he enjoyed a relationship with Katie Lynch, a former stripper.