Marcella was dancing with three other guys, playing the field at America's Pub in Westport, when an olive-skinned Puerto Rican man tapped her on the shoulder. She'd never seen him before. But that night, in October 1998, William Rivera had been watching her.
"Here's my number," he told her, ignoring the other suitors. "Call me."
"I called him the next day and I was like, 'You've got to be nuts. I'm dancing with three other guys. How do you know I don't belong to one of them?'" she recalls. "He was really bold. I just had to get to know this guy."
A week later, she was living with him.
William Rivera was a construction worker. Marcella was working as an accountant in North Kansas City. The two fell hard for each other. On January 15, 1999, just three months after their club meeting, they were married.
The union started off rocky. He was a devout Christian; she was an atheist. Still, the family grew quickly. Their first daughter was born that July.
By 2005, Marcella was the mother of four, with one more on the way. The family was living in an RV in a barn outside Ottawa, she says, when Rivera dropped a bomb: He was joining the National Guard. He would be gone for three months of basic training. He told Marcella that he'd been called by God to serve his country. She couldn't argue with divine intervention.
"During that time, I found out he had been cheating with an ex-girlfriend in Missouri," she says.
Marcella, who had become a Christian, wanted to save the couple's marriage. She says the two were working on their relationship. That was made more difficult when, a month after he came home from basic training, Rivera told Marcella that he was shipping out to Iraq.
When he returned stateside in November 2006, he was home for only an hour before he said he had a plane to catch. He told Marcella that he was flying to California to join the Army as a full-time soldier and that he would send for her and their children once he was settled. Instead, he called three days later with the truth.
"He was not going active," Marcella says. "He was going to be with a girl he messed around with in basic training. He said they had a child together."
Marcella filed for divorce, but a few months later, Rivera asked for a second chance. In May 2007, he returned to Kansas City after his fling fell apart. "So I canceled the divorce," Marcella says. "I just wanted our marriage to work. I loved him and didn't want to give up. But it can only work if you're both trying."
Rivera was seeing someone new on the side.
At the end of 2007, Marcella says, he called to tell her that his new girlfriend, Danielle Odum, was having his baby. He wanted a divorce. "I said, 'Fine. You want it? You get it.'" Marcella recalls.
He didn't get the divorce, but he did get hitched — on television. Marcella's mother was watching the news on TV on Valentine's Day 2008 when she spotted Rivera and Odum say, "I do."
"I was like, 'No, he didn't! That little sucker just got married!'" Marcella says. "At that point, I was really ticked."
She called Rivera, and he talked her down yet again. He told her that he was dying; a chemical he'd been exposed to in Iraq was affecting his lungs. His time was short, and he wanted to marry Odum while he could. Marcella didn't buy it. Four days later, she went to the Independence Police Department, marriage license in hand, to press for bigamy charges against Rivera.
The Independence police would release only a portion of the case file, but Tom Gentry, the department's spokesman, says the cops took Marcella's claims seriously. "We interviewed the people involved and put a case together and sent it to the Jackson County prosecutor," he says.
Last winter, Rivera wasn't the only man charged with entering into multiple marriages. In March 2009, Johnson County officials charged Charles Clemens with bigamy, alleging that he had two wives in the same Overland Park apartment complex. Clemens pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months' probation.
Rivera's case didn't take up much of the court's time. The court file has been sealed, and its documents classified, but Marcella says her husband talked himself out of prosecution by claiming that he had post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, he claimed, had caused him to forget that he was still married to the mother of five.
Marcella admits that Rivera had complained of flashbacks and nightmares, common symptoms of the often combat-related disorder.
"Anybody who knows him knows he's good. He's very smooth," Marcella says. "He can talk his way out of anything."
The case was dismissed at the end of April.
Rivera tried to reconcile with Marcella when his Valentine's Day marriage soured a few months later. This time, though, Marcella was fed up. "After I filed for divorce, he said, 'You didn't have to do that. We could have worked this out,'" she recalls. "And I was like, 'You're joking, right?'"
The divorce became final in November. Marcella gets $825 a month in child support. She doesn't regret the marriage. She has five beautiful kids, she says, "and I've learned to not take any mess."
When The Pitch called the cell-phone number that Marcella and her children dial to connect with Rivera, the man on the other end of the line said Rivera wasn't at that number.