July 08, 1996 12:00 PM

WALKING HER HUSBAND TO THE DOOR OF THEIR Roy, Utah, home this past March, Karryn Chip-man marveled at her good fortune. At 54, the divorcée had wondered if she would ever remarry. Then she met Col. John Ellsworth Weaver. She was swept away by his tenderness, his smile that could “light up the place” and his tales of daring military missions. Now, Weaver, 55, was off on another perilous assignment. He caressed Chipman’s cheek with his lips and whispered, “Goodbye, Princess.”

“He called us all Princess,” scoffs Chipman today, “because he couldn’t keep our names straight.” Disenchanted with her paunchy Prince Charming, Chipman is a founding member of the Princess Club, an informal support group created by several women wooed, wed and cajoled out of a good deal of money by Weaver, a sometime bigamist—and full-time civilian—who used his fictitious military “call-ups” as cover for his multiple amours. (In fact his most heroic job was nabbing shoplifters as an employee of the Eagle Hardware store in Layton, Utah.) Mormon church records show that Weaver married seven times, beginning in 1964 with Deanne Lindsey (a neighborhood girl to whom he proposed at a drive-in), and fathered four children. But a family member believes he could have sweet-talked as many as 16 unsuspecting women into marrying him and sharing their bank accounts. Add the women he dated, and “there could literally be dozens out there,” says the relative.

But Weaver’s run may finally have come to an end. Three weeks after his arrest on May 17, he pleaded guilty to bigamy (involving four women), fraud, lying to the court and misusing military insignia. “This man is a predator,” says Gary Peterson, chief investigator with the Davis County attorney’s office. “At one time, in 1996, he was carrying on with at least seven women.” On July 16, Weaver will be sentenced on each charge to as many as five years incarceration and fines of up to $1,000. Says Peterson: “[He] preyed upon middle-aged women who had for some time been living alone and would have appreciated some tender, loving care.” Glenn Cella, Weaver’s public defender, expresses a more forgiving view: “Geez, it’s not like he’s killed anybody or anything. He marries people.”

Weaver has drifted from job to job and state to state for 30 years, and might still be playing the field if Chipman hadn’t smelled a rat. On her own since divorcing her first husband in 1979, Karryn Chipman met Weaver last October when he returned a trailer to the U-Haul office she owns. “He came up to me and told me I had beautiful eyes,” she says. “He told me he was a colonel in the military who was retired but still got called on assignment, and that his wife had died of cancer.” She learned months later that Weaver was not only married at the time—to two women—but that one of his wives, Sandra Deeter, had waited in the car while he returned the trailer.

Chipman says Weaver courted her with tender words and a diamond-and-sapphire ring and confessed he was married. But he said he had wed because he was lonely and the woman was suffering from a liver disease. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, what a hero,’ ” recalls Chipman. ” ‘What a guy to marry somebody just because she needed him.’ ” Even after Weaver convinced Chipman he had signed divorce papers, she wasn’t hooked until he asked her about the Mormon church, telling her he was Lutheran but thinking of converting. “It was a bonding thing, because when you pray, you get a warm feeling,” says Chipman. “As I found out later, John became whatever a particular woman wanted or needed at the time, and I wanted someone who liked religion as much as me.”

In March, en route to pick up their marriage license, Weaver talked Chip-man into a hurried ceremony at the courthouse in nearby Ogden, using the ring he had given her as a gift. As it turned out, Weaver had purchased the ring with a previous wife’s credit card.

All along, Weaver awed Chipman with stories of his military adventures. “He reduced me to tears many times on the danger of his missions,” she says. He once said he was instructed to find and, if necessary, detonate nuclear warheads belonging to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. “I said, ‘You’re telling me that the U.S. Army is ordering you to give your life?’ And he said, ‘Yes, this is something that has to be. You don’t want that bomb to end up in America, do you?’ ”

Eventually, Chipman grew suspicious. “Once, when he called me from Germany, I heard an English public-address announcement in the background say, ‘Lawn and garden, line four,’ ” recalls Chipman. “Another night I heard a loud train go by in the background. What seemed like the same train suddenly roared past my house.” Then there was the money. Whenever a bill was presented in a restaurant or store, Weaver would say he had left his checkbook in the car. “It was always, ‘Princess, will you get this?’ ” Chipman says.

Finally she asked Jim Mayes, a Mormon bishop who works for a defense contractor, to look into Weaver’s military credentials. Mayes first learned that Weaver had served in the Army only from 1959 to 1963, never rising higher than specialist fourth class. He also discovered that Weaver worked part-time in a hardware store, had been excommunicated from the Mormon church in 1995 and was already married. Dismayed, Chipman went to the authorities, and Weaver was arrested several weeks later. “He was a pro,” she says. “He fooled everyone.”

Weaver has spent a lifetime doing just that, say family members. “He lied about everything, no matter how big or small, no matter that it would have been easier to tell the truth,” says his sister Lee Brimhall of Salt Lake City. “He didn’t have any friends that I knew of—he was really a loner—except for the girlfriends. He always had lots of girlfriends.” Adds Weaver’s brother Jared, 48, an aviation safety inspector: “We didn’t realize he was involved in criminal activities. We thought it was just Walter Mitty stuff.”

John Weaver was the first of five children born to Bessie Weaver, a high school English teacher, and her husband, Ellsworth, a genuine Army colonel who later became a political science professor at the University of Utah. A problem student, John was sent to private school in South Dakota but was later expelled. As a young man he enjoyed impersonating a police officer. “He had himself a uniform and a siren for his car, and he’d pull people over and act like he was going to write them tickets,” says Brimhall.

Weaver’s long list of marriages and jobs was begun in 1964, after he was honorably discharged from the Army. Sally McCulloch Hawkins, 53, now of Overland Park, Kans., was Weaver’s second wife (they wed in 1965, the year after his divorce from Deanne Lindsey) and remembers his working in construction, at an amusement park, for a security agency and at a Las Vegas casino. “He had a couple of jobs every year at least. He usually got fired,” says Hawkins, who caught on to Weaver’s lies by accident. When Weaver was in a motorcycle wreck, his parents arrived at her door. “He’d told me they were both dead,” Hawkins says.

Weaver divorced Hawkins for another woman in 1972. But she had long since grown weary of the way he spent her money and neglected their children John Randal Weaver, now 29, and Sharlene, 27. “He’d promise a lot of things that never, ever happened: I’ll take you to the zoo,’ or ‘we’ll go flying,’ ” she says. “But he never bothered to show up.” Says son John, now a university student: “It isn’t easy when everything you’d ever been told about your dad is a lie.”

Ten years and three wives later, Weaver asked Sheila Jo Mix to dance at a Mormon church social in Las Vegas. Weaver, then driving a bus between Las Vegas and his home in Los Angeles, “was my knight in shining armor, and I was his queen,” says Mix, now 57 and a hairdresser living in Irving, Texas. Weaver told her he’d been married five times before but said he had left the women because they cheated on him. He also told Mix he had been in the Secret Service and appeared in movies. ” ‘You know in the movie Airport 77 where they tether the guy to the airplane,’ John said, ‘I was that guy. I’m a movie star,’ ” Mix recalls.

Mix also tired of paying Weaver’s bills and filed for divorce after three years of marriage. “I just got the heck out of Dodge,” she says. “If I ran into him sometime, I would slap him silly.”

That sentiment is echoed by Victoria Simmon, 51, a real estate agent in Southern California, who met Weaver in October 1993 at an outing sponsored by an organization for model-train enthusiasts. Her husband had recently died of kidney failure, then her home had burned to the ground. “You could say I was extremely vulnerable,” she says. In stepped Weaver. After she was immobilized by a car accident, Simmon says, Weaver took “time off and came to live at my home. He made meals, cleaned the house and was there doing things I should have been doing as a woman.”

But while doing good deeds, he also needed money, he explained, because he had served in Operation Desert Storm and the Army was still sending his pay overseas. He began using her credit cards—sometimes with her knowledge and sometimes, she says, without—and ran up $10,000 in charges with Sears. In March 1994, Weaver persuaded her to take out a $50,000 second mortgage on her home to pay off $3,800 he owed in back taxes, put a down payment on a six-acre plot in Morgan, Utah, where he said he would build her a home, and lease two new cars. Having promised her in the fall of 1994 that they would marry, he promptly left on what he described as overseas military assignments. He phoned frequently but never returned. “I don’t know how I could let myself be sweet-talked into all those things, but I did,” admits Simmon, who is losing her home over the debts. “He destroyed everything.”

In recent months, Weaver lured some women with personal ads in local papers and a 900 number on which he recited a lengthy recorded description of himself and his interests. Others he romanced where he found them. Divorced for 18 years, with three grown children, Zona Behrmann, 60, of Murray, Utah, met Weaver in 1994 in a Salt Lake City Sears where both worked. He asked her out to dinner on the spot, and after just two weeks he proposed. “I prayed to the Lord, ‘Please, let me win the lottery or meet a man I can respect and love,’ ” she says. “He sent me John. Looking back, perhaps it was my fault for asking.”

Before accepting, Behrmann hesitated. “I called my daughter and I said, ‘You know, his feet stink. I don’t like him.’ And my daughter said, ‘Well, Mom, you’re no prize chicken either.’ ” Weaver sweetened the deal with lavish gifts, including a ring and a $1,000 wedding gown paid for with one of Victoria Simmon’s credit cards, and they married in February 1995. But after just a few months of his freeloading, Behrmann had had enough. When he returned from what he said was an earthquake seminar in California, she threw him out. Their divorce was finalized Nov. 1,1995, one month after Weaver married Sandra Sue Deeter.

Chipman, Behrmann and Sharon Sevy, 59, a payroll clerk who became engaged to Weaver two weeks after he married Chipman last March, are the three closest members of the Princess Club. As the investigation picked apart Weaver’s elaborate fictions, the women met and began to trade stories. Later, having gone to court together to watch him plead guilty, they eased the pain he caused by providing each other with companionship—going to dinner, the movies and the symphony—and sharing their own indomitable humor. Recently, to purge Weaver from their systems, they toured the model home in North Ogden that Weaver had promised each in turn he would build them. And they play King’s Corner, a card game Weaver told Chipman he had invented in the Vietnam War. She later discovered that Sevy had taught him the game. “He even had to lie about a stupid card game,” she says.

Sadly, says Weaver’s brother Jared, John is “totally unrepentant” and still insists he never intentionally committed bigamy and never took money that wasn’t offered. Members of the Princess Club just hope other women will learn from their mistake. “It was clear that we all wanted to be special,” says Behrmann. “We all wanted to find even one little thing that would make us feel like he really cared.” They also have one consolation. “Whatever we’ve learned about John,” says Chip-man, “there is one good thing about him: He has good taste in women.”

ROB HOWE

CATHY FREE in Utah, LYNDA WRIGHT in Los Angeles, LORNA GRISBY in Chicago and ELLISE PIERCE in Dallas

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