CHESTER — When a friend introduced Manetta Smith to Manuel Rice Jr. nearly six years ago, the Chester woman was taken with his charm and outgoing personality.
So much so that in December 2007, they got married.
Little did Smith know that Rice, now 53 and behind bars, had been married to another woman for years without getting a divorce.
Finding out about her husbands previous marriage, was like a nightmare, said Smith, 33. It was like a dream. It was like a puzzle. Its something you see on TV.
Deputies arrested Rice on Wednesday, charging him with bigamy, a felony carrying a maximum five-year prison sentence and a minimum $500 fine. Rice was taken into custody on an outstanding warrant after he was found living in Clinton, possibly with another girlfriend, said Maj. Mary Anne Tolbert of the Chester County Sheriffs Office.
Thursday evening, Rice was being held at the Chester County Detention Center without bond. It was unclear if he had ever faced bigamy charges in other states, but Laurens County court officials confirmed that he had never married while in Clinton.
Smith said her marriage to Rice turned sour and they eventually separated.
No one warned Smith about Rice before they exchanged vows. After the separation, Smith said people started talking. Finally, someone said something to Smith that sounded strange, she said.
She started doing research and asking questions, which led her to the Union County Courthouse, where she learned that Rice had married another woman in 1996.
That woman is Dorothy Ann Mobley Rice, who, according to a police report, is alive and well living in Columbia.
Smith found Dorothy Rices phone number and made the call.
She was very nonchalant, Smith recalled. She was very nice about it; she wasnt mean.
Manuel Rice, on the other hand, was nasty when Smith confronted him on the phone about nine months ago.
He had some few choice words and said he wouldnt say anything over the phone to incriminate himself, she said.
He hung up. Smith hadnt heard from him since. She reported her findings to police in November, right after she and Dorothy Rice had a revealing conversation.
I told her, You cant be married because he had no divorce from me, said 52-year-old Dorothy Rice, who lives in Columbia with her daughter from another relationship.
Union County Courthouse officials confirmed that Manuel Rice married Dorothy Ann Mobley on June 20, 1996. Their union was short-lived.
He left me and went on about his business, she said. He liked the women and suffered from a drug problem.
Dorothy Rice hasnt spoken with her husband since they separated in either late 1996 or 1997 it was so long ago she said she couldnt remember the exact date.
When we were together, it was OK, she said. I cant say anything bad about him. He was a fun person; he kept you laughing all the time.
The two went to high school together in Union County. Before their nuptials, Manuel Rice had been married to another woman, and yes, he did divorce that woman, Dorothy Rice said.
That woman was Manuel Rices first wife, whom he married in Union County on July 12, 1988, court officials said.
Dorothy Rice said she and Manuel Rice never had children. He left her, supposedly for another woman, after she went on disability.
The only thing he had to do was send me the (divorce) papers, she said. I wouldve been glad to sign it.
My heart still hurts, Manetta Smith said. You cant play with peoples lives like that. I hope he gets what he deserves.
She said theres no hope for their relationship.
Being a Christian woman, she said, I still love him, but I hate what he did.
Jonathan McFadden • (803) 329-4082