Reporter’s Notebook Beware the Internet Romeo

He wooed her online and seemed to be every woman’s dream: romantic, charming, and successful. As their wedding date approached, the truth came out.

DRESSED IN A MINT-GREEN SILK PANT-suit, perfectly Complimenting her shoulder-length blonde hair and deep blue eyes, Stephanie Daniel son perched on a plush overstuffed chair, the center of attention in an elegant meeting room ai an upscale North Dallas apartment complex. A 46-year-old divorcée. Stephanie was getting married to Kenneth Eagan, a Florida man who ran a successful computer training company. For Stephanie’s wedding shower, the room was filled with (lowers and candles as 20 girlfriends sipped champagne, nibbled Caesar salad and quiche, and giggled as they watched the bride-to-be unwrap presents.

Terry, hostess of the July 25th brunch. though! Stephanie looked particularly lovely that day, more outgoing and gregarious than she’d ever seen her. “Yeah, we’re so happy for you.” leased Terry, single like most of the other guests. “Just like we’re so-oo-o happy that you’re beautiful and skinny and successful and always gel what you want.”

Terry and Stephanie had met through business in 1993, several years before Stephanie’s divorce. Both owners of successful small businesses, the two women had begun networking together and, after Stephanie’s divorce, shared stories about the horrors of dating again. Stephanie was grossing over $100,000 a year, but found it hard to meet compatible men.

Terry had been impressed with Stephanie’s quick intelligence and insight into people, honed in years of sales. But Stephanie was very private, a little hard to get to know at first. As their professional friendship grew closer, Terry got the impression Stephanie didn’t let many people into her life. When Terry learned that the cautious Stephanie had subscribed to an online matchmaking service, she was surprised-and skeptical. But Terry had to admit il worked. In May Terry had met the happy couple for dinner ai Mi Cocina, Ken instantly had Terry laughing. “He had a lot of charm, “Terry says. “Stephanie was nuts about him.”

At the shower Stephanie told several fascinated women how she had paid $60 lor a six-month membership with Matchmaker, com. She chose a pseudonym C’Veronica-402″), filled out a lengthy profile, posted her picture-one of those “glamour shots”- then fielded a deluge of e-mails from interested men. One of the few she answered was from Ken Eagan.

Now Stephanie and her new love were get-ling married in two weeks in Lake Tahoe, exactly four months after their first date. They hail designed and ordered matching platinum and gold rings, and had begun looking for a house to buy.

Terry was happy for her friend-and hopeful for herself. Stephanie had coaxed her into signing up on , too. “Look what’s happened to me!” Stephanie said. Stephanie had even taken Terry’s picture to post on her profile.

That afternoon in July, in the midst of opening gifts and playing silly shower games, Terry overheard another girlfriend ask Stephanie, “Oh, you’re getting married on Aug. 7?”

“Yeah, it looks like that,” Stephanie said. Terry was taken aback at her phrase. She knew Stephanie had jumped through hoops to set up the wedding in Lake Tahoe. Though Terry wondered if there was something wrong, .she said nothing to Stephanie, who looked radiant-just like a happy bride-to-be.

But Stephanie’s exuberant exterior hid a gnawing anxiety. Only two weeks before her wedding, Stephanie had learned her fiancé was in some kind of trouble. She confided to another friend that she and Ken had agreed to postpone (he wedding until a little later in the fall. Bui she wanted no one else at the shower to know,

Stephanie Danielson is not her real name; she asked thai D Magazine keep it confidential. But she is determined to tell her story, to warn other women about men they might meet on the Internet-and, in particular. about Kenneth Eagan.

In fact, as she learned more about the problems her fiancé faced, Stephanie Danielson would begin to wonder what other secrets Ken was hiding from her. She soon would begin to wonder something else: Was her life in danger? And just who was Kenneth Eagan?

HEARING THE DOORBELL, STEPHANIE nervously smoothed the silk of her simple but elegant Oriental-style dress and answered the door of her apartment on Preston Road. Il was Wednesday, April 7, 1999, and Kenneth Eagan had taken a rent car from D/FW International Airport for their first date: dinner and dancing at Nana Bar and Grill at the top of the Anatole Hotel, the most romantic spot in town.

The first thing she noticed, besides his full head of dark hair and big smile, was that he was closer to six feel tall, not six-two as his profile said. But she had fudged a bit on her own profile: instead of clicking the “46-50” slot, Stephanie had shaved a year off her age and clicked “41-45.” Stephanie easily could pass for 40-smooth skin, 120 pounds, carefully groomed nails, and subdued makeup. In the four years since her divorce, Stephanie had dated often, mostly men she’d met through friends or at singles functions. The men seemed more interested in sex than a relationship. She tried Sunday school for singles at several large churches. The men seemed desperate. it was like going to a bar in (he daytime,” Stephanie says. “Yecchh.” Then her North Dallas facialist mentioned that many customers were meeting men through Internet dating services.

Stephanie had never tried Internet chat rooms. Cautiously, she investigated several online dating services. , the largest and most sophisticated, is based in nearby Bedford. In five years the site has grown exponentially. Very user-friendly, it presorts people by such criteria as geography, preferences, and religion.

As Stephanie browsed the site, she realized that Match had arranged things so that a woman could see how closely her interests meshed with a man’s and look at his picture before she decided to return his message. After exchanging e-mails she could then choose to give him her phone number-or not. She could choose to meet-or not. If she didn’t want to correspond, she could block his messages. The system even showed when someone she was interested in was online.

In her home office on March 6, Stephanie took almost two hours to fill out the lengthy questionnaire describing everything from her education (college degree), her car (European), to her ideal friends. She took the essay questions seriously, revealing a lot about her inner desires. A man carefully reading her answers would see Stephanie was a practical, self-sufficient, and smart entrepreneur longing for a long-term relationship with romance, trust, and passion. But did this little window to her soul reveal far too much?

About a week later, soon after she posted her picture, “Veronica402” received e-mail from “RoyR54l.” whose profile descrihed him as 46-50, six foot two, blue eyes, dark hair, and a mustache. His definition of sexy: “Intelligence, spontaneity, sensitivity, gen-tle touching, slow dancing, slender fingers, and a soft voice. Seeing the light from the fireplace in a woman’s eyes, with those eyes saying she wants you to kiss her/hold her. A personality, a sexy smile, and a wink.” He was looking for a “professional with a high self-esteem, extremely sexy, romantic, and a little bit wild.” said their profiles only matched “48 percent.” But because they seemed to have so much in common, Stephanie was intrigued.

They e-mailed back and forth. His name was Kenneth Eagan ([email protected]), and he’d run a computer training business for 24 years. Very successful, he drove a red Porsche. Because his job took him all over the U.S., Ken had little time for dating, but he wanted a long-term relationship. Though he now lived in a beach condo in Florida, he was in Dallas on business frequently and was thinking about moving here. In March Stephanie showed Terry his picture and said she’d just given him her phone number.

“He sounds nice,” Terry told her. Said the ever-wary Stephanie. “We’ll see.”She’d been out with other men who seemed interesting, but there had been no chemistry, no sizzle.

But from the moment she opened the door on April 7, Stephanie felt the sizzle. That evening at Nana Grill was like a fairy tale. Ken had a great sense of humor and was completely attentive. They talked, laughed, and slow danced. At the end of the evening, he asked if he could kiss her, and Stephanie said yes. He was a great kisser.

Ken took her home and left, saying he had to get back to his hotel near the airport. Early the next week, he sent a dozen white roses and e-mailed Stephanie, asking for a dale the next weekend. Impatient, he flew in early on Wednesday. April 10. and took her to Sipango, where they danced and snuggled in a booth. At the end of the evening. Ken surprised her by saying, “This may he kind of soon, but I love you.”

Stephanie didn’t respond, but she had to admit Ken Eagan was everything she was looking for. His affectionate e-mails were often adorned with quirky visual jokes and pictures. They were sexy but not crude, As Stephanie had learned more about Ken’s childhood, his education, and the failure of his marriage, which had ended in divorce in 1984, she fell great sympathy, He’d suffered a bad childhood farm accident his parents (now deceased) were forced to lake city jobs, and in high school he’d fought depression because of a weight problem, since conquered. After overcoming adversity, he’d founded and built up his company and was making almost $10,000 a week, Ken seemed like an honest Kansas farm boy who by dint of his prowess with computers had made good. She felt he appreciated the real Stephanie: strong, successful, and independent, but also playful, vulnerable, and giving.

One night in late April, Ken (lew into town and took her to The Enclave, another expensive, romantic spot. He treated her like a princess. Stephanie was passionately in love. He spent the night. Sex with Ken was all she’d dreamed it would be.

For the next few months, they were in constant touch, e-mailing several limes a day. sending each other secret codes on their pagers (“59595959” meant “I love you”), and talking on cell phones, even doing real-time messaging on ICQ, a special computer network. At his request she installed a voice mail on her computer modem; he gave her the access code. No matter where he was- Florida, Wisconsin, New York,Taiwan-Ken stayed in touch. She began refusing to go out with friends in case Ken called.

At the end of April, he (lew her to Florida for a long weekend at his ocean-side condo, The weekend was fantastic. He was the master of the extravagant-and small-gesture, down to remembering she liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches. They got along in every way: spiritually, mentally, and sexually. She told him thing$ she had never told any man.

That weekend, Stephanie told Ken she loved him, But even then she was unprepared when Ken, taking her to catch the flight back to Dallas, stopped the ear in the airport parking lot, looked into her eyes, and asked. “Will you marry me?”

Stunned. Stephanie felt like saying. “This is way too soon.” Bui she didn’t. Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be, she thought. The word “Yes” popped out of her mouth. They saw each other only about once a week, but communicated every day, all through the day. Ken came for a week-long visit in May. doing his computer training business during the day and staying at her house al night. Stephanie fixed elaborate meals; he loved her cooking. Toward the end of the week. Ken gave her a sapphire bracelet, and they Marled planning the wedding. Stephanie took him to visit her mother. Her mother rarely liked the men Stephanie brought to meet her, but .she adored Ken., who went all out to charm her.

He did the same at dinner with Stephanie’s friend Terry, confessing that he was anxious to make his wife “sooner rather than later.” They began planning an elabo-rate four-week honeymoon in Europe, Stephanie told all her friends she’d met Mr. Wonderful on, of all places, the Internet, and they were getting married. That week, before he left to return to Florida, Ken gave Stephanie a key to his condo; she gave him a key to her apartment.

On MAY 9 STEPHANIE LOGGED ONTO to check her messages and delete her profile. “I’ve met a wonderful man through your service,” Stephanie e-mailed the system. “We’re get-thing married. Please delete my profile.” Later than night she got a frantic call from Ken. “What were you doing on Matchmaker tonight?” he asked. She explained, but il never occurred to her to ask: “What were you doing on Matchmaker?”

During her trip to Florida, Ken had picked her up in a rent car, saying his Porsche was in the shop. The high-rise beach condo was obviously expensive but had few personal touches except his computer. It didn’t even have a telephone; he said that, because he traveled so much, it was easier to use just his cell phone. The only food in the cupboard was whathe”d bought for their weekend. Ken had told her not to look in the bedroom closer, he’d had a problem with mildew. While he was out, Stephanie couldn’t resist peeking. Only a few of his clothes hung in the huge walk-in. She would realize later that she hadn’t seen much besides a business card identifying Kenneth Eagan by name: he had no appointment hook and never used credit cards, only cash.

Stephanie’s hairdresser tried to raise a red flag. After Stephanie told her of their wedding plans, the stylist was concerned. “Are you sure?” the stylist asked. “Do you really know this guy? Do you have his social security number? Have you checked him out?”

In fact, Stephanie had run his name through . which she uses in her business to check Texas drivers’ license:- criminal backgrounds, and other records. The name Kenneth Eagan had not appeared, but she thought nothing of it. After all. he lived in Florida, “Oh, I trust him,” Stephanie told her hairdresser. And she did, completely.

On June 14 Ken came to town for the wedding of one of Stephanie’s girlfriends. Their own wedding in Lake Tahoe would he small, attended by only a minister and a witness. Stephanie took the opportunity to introduce Ken to her friends.

Her friend Dee was not impressed. He seemed shifty-eyed, off-kilter. “He was entwined with her.” Dee says, “overly affe -tionate for the setting we were in.” Ken insisted that Dee take a picture of them together. Stephanie seemed to like the attention. Dee later told her boyfriend she was concerned, but said nothing to Stephanie. “When a friend picks someone and you say he’s a jerk, you’ve slamming her judgment.” Dee says. She kept her doubts to herself.

That day. Ken surprised Stephanie by announcing he could stay a week: they began looking at S400.000 houses in gated communities in North Dallas and Las Colinas. The only glitch came when Ken surprised Stephanie with an engagement ring. It didn’t fit her finger and was not to her taste. Stephanie wanted them to go together to pick out matching rings. Ken didn’t hide his disappointment.

“I felt terrible and guilty.” Stephanie says. After Terry recommended a friend who is a jewelry designer. Stephanie found a picture of a platinum and gold ring she liked and, with Ken’s permission, ordered it. She continued the real estate search, e-mai)ing him photos of houses for sale, but they couldn’t find one both of them liked.

About this time Stephanie got another hint thai something was not kosher. A man identifying himself as “Bill Goldberg” called the voice mail on her computer modem with a message for “Mr. Wentzel.”

“You’re in a serious situation,” said Goldberg. His voice was deep, and he sounded older. “Be careful not to move any money around.” She’d gotten messages from salespeople for Ken before; it didn’t seem to be a wrong number, but the line had no caller ID.

Ken explained he was having serious legal problems, and Goldberg was his attorney. “Why did he call you Mr. Wentzel?” Ken just shrugged; he didn’t know. A few days later, Goldberg left another message for Mr. Eagan, saying he had a lot of clients and apologizing for calling him the wrong name.

Suspicious. Stephanie went on and some other research sites on the Internet, searching for “Kenneth Wentzel.” Finding nothing for that name or Ken Eagan. she relaxed. It was just a big mistake.

Stephanie now realizes that the fact thai there was no information on either name should have alerted her that something was wrong. But she was in love. And there seemed to be no reason for Ken to pretend to he someone else. He’d never asked her for money. To the contrary : he spent lavishly on her. And il’ it was just sex Ken wanted, well, he could have gotten that for less than the price of an airline ticket to Florida. Stephanie brushed away those liny qualms and slatted shopping for a wedding dress.

When Terry spotted Stephanie scut-tling into a doctor’s office in North Dallas in August, she noticed her friend looked odd-not sick, just not the usual perfectly put-together Stephanie. It was the Monday after Stephanie was supposed to marry Ken in Lake Tahoe. “Did you get married?” Terry asked. “Was it wonderful?”

“Yeah,yeah,”Stephanie said, “It was great.” But Terry noticed Stephanie didn’t want to talk. She didn’t seem excited. Terry knew something was wrong. Later that day, Terry told two of their friends that something was going on: “I don’t think she got married.”

About two months later, after having a dream about Stephanie, Terry called her, using a business referral as an excuse. Stephanie burst into tears and a bizarre story tumbled out. Stephanie hail been alone on the July 4th weekend; Ken had to go to Taiwan on business. During the trip he’d fallen down some rain-slick stairs, severely injuring his back. It delayed his return to Dallas. Upset, Stephanie tried to arrange for him to fly back to the States in an air ambulance. She kept sending e-mails about this, but Ken was uncharacteristically incommunicado until the morning of July 12. when she received a shocking e-mail from him thai rocked her world.

Ken explained that in 1991 he’d reported some computer and tax fraud crime to the Justice Department. The crooks were members of the Mafia, and he’d been forced to take refuge in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Bill Goldberg. the head of it, had recently notified him that lie would have to testify in a new trial in New York City. Goldberg had left a few additional ominous but vague messages for Ken on her modem phone.

“I am risking my life telling you this,” Ken wrote, “but I feel we are one. and I don’t want to lose you. But to be fair, you have to make your own decision about continuing with me… I am so sorry that I haven’t told you everything in the past, but that is part of ’the program.’” He’d re-arranged his flight from Taiwan to avoid detection, but he would stop in Dallas on his way to New York to see her- if she still wanted to see him. She beeped him back with one word: “Yes.”

Late that afternoon, she answered the door of her apartment to find Ken, eyes streaming with tears behind his sunglasses. He’d parked a few blocks away and walked to her place. They cried and hugged. Wearing a back brace and moving stiffly. Ken explained thai he’d developed a computer encryption protocol, hiding information on the Mafia at various computer facilities where he worked. Now. he’d have to testify about it.

“So we’re never going to get married,” Stephanie said. “Yes, we’ll get married.” Ken insisted, as soon as the trial in New York was over.

“Is your name really Kenneth Eagan?” she asked. “Yes.”’ he declared. Wentzel. he confessed, was a code name. After a few hours he left, saying he had to fly to New York. Ken told her they couldn’t talk on her phone anymore. They’d have to use pagers, cell phones, and the modem phone on her computer, which he’d scrambled to make sure it couldn’t he traced.

For the next two months, Stephanie was plunged into Ken’s topsy-turvy world. He was constantly using aliases. like Ken Mitchell or Ken Foster. He talked her into buying him a cell phone and a pager, saying his had been compromised.

Ken’s romantic, passionate e-mails continued, but with a touch of the bizarre. The story escalated: There was a $100,000 contract out on his life. He was using several e-mail accounts trying to keep ahead of the Mafia. She flew to meet him in Appleton. Wisconsin, where he often did computer training, and waited outside a building while he went in to retrieve computer data damaging to organized crime. Coming back through Chicago’s airport, Stephanie became convinced that two FBI agents were following her. Frantic, she used her cell phone to warn Ken. He was grateful.

On Aug. 7, the day they were supposed to be married, they met in Madison, Wisconsin. and did their own little marriage ceremony, putting on their wedding rings. Later, at the airport, he pulled out an envelope with $6,800 in cash to pay for her ring. He promised that they’d get married for real after the trial, then go to Europe for a three-month honeymoon. He began talking to her about entering the witness protection program with him. She couldn’t bear to think about leaving her mother, her friends, and the business she had built. As she flew home, Stephanie reassured herself that his willingness to pay for the ring showed the wedding would take place.

By early September Stephanie’s nerves were frayed. Ken’s e-mails and sotto voce phone calls kept her constantly on edge. The judge on the case had been whacked. (Funny, she couldn’t find anything about the case in the on-line New York newspapers.) The FBI wanted his computer encryption program. They were pushing him to become a federal agent. The contract on his head had gone up to $500,000. The FBI had given him a gun. He began going out on opérations. “I was very upset with him and the whole situation because he always had to be someplace else, instead of with me,” Stephanie says.

On Sept. 9 Ken appeared at her apartment; her birthday was the next day. Stephanie was curious about his gun. Ken pulled out a loaded .357 magnum. When she asked how he got it through airport security, Ken had a ready answer: His driver’s license had a special designation on it for law enforcement clearance. He simply wen! through a separate doorway.

Despite all the strange events, sex was still great. The next day, they slept in. Before eating lunch at Houston’s on Belt Line, Ken gave Stephanie a zip disk, which he said contained evidence of corruption in the FBI and Congress. They drove to Stephanie’s bank to put it in her safety deposit box. Then they drove to the Texas Instruments facility in Piano so he could use a secure line to call Goldberg. He disappeared inside for 15 minutes. That evening, as they got ready for her birthday dinner at Old Warsaw, Ken handed her a present: a two-karal diamond tennis bracelet. It was a perfect evening. The next morning, Ken left for Washington, D.C.

In mid-September Stephanie had to have minor foot surgery. Ken couldn’t be in town, delayed, he said, by a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. On Sept. 21 he reported that while three agents were taking him to the airport, they’d been ambushed. One agent had been shot in the neck and died at the hospital. After hearing this Stephanie was terrified, wondering if Ken would make it back to Dallas alive.

It wasn’t until Sept. 24 that Stephanie finally reached her limit. Ken e-mailed her that he’d been captured in Philadelphia while getting on a bus to Dallas. The mob was holding him in exchange for the encryption protocol. “Buying time, but don’t know how much,” he said on e-mail. “TELL NO ONE! Will write more when I get a chance. If they find out about this, it will be all over… Still have beeper so let me know with ’wife ok’ beep when you can…delirious from being drugged so hope this makes sense. I love you. Pray. Ken.”

There was no explanation of how the mob had kidnapped him but left him with a beeper and e-mail access.

As if waking from a bad dream, Stephanie suddenly knew there was something very wrong with Ken Eagan. She sent an e-mail saying she didn’t think he was telling her the whole truth. Why didn’t the Mafia just kill him? Ken replied that they wanted to keep him alive in exchange for the protocol-and that, in order for the mob to trust him, he would have to “take out” someone at the FBI.

After months of keeping her secret. Stephanie finally confided in a few close friends. One recommended she call a private investigator. On Monday morning. Sept, 27, Stephanie walked into the office of Dennis Hazel wood, a crusty long-time private detective and president of Paul Beasley & Associates, Stephanie told her story, giving Hazelwood the Florida address and the names Ken Eagan and Ken Wentzel. She had kept copies of his e-mails and photos. The PI said he’d run a background check and sent her home to retrieve her computer, so he could have an expert scan it for tampering.

Stephanie returned with her computer at 1 p.m., sat down, and Hazelwood gave her the bad news: Her fiancé was really Kenneth Eugene Wenzl, the president of a small company called Computer Trilogy. He was married and lived in Piano about 12 miles from her apartment. He pointed out gently that “Bill Goldberg” could have been Ken, using a device to distort his voice, laying the grotesque groundwork to end me relationship before any wedding could take place.

Stephanie almost threw up all over Hazelwood’s desk.

THE END OF THE ROMANCE WAS UGLY, After the meeting with Hazelwood, Stephanie called her friend Dee. She was angry, hurt, and emotional. Just before dark, they donned disguises and drove to Wenzl’s $400,000 house on Riley Drive in Piano: a 5.000-square-fooi two-story with a pool, “I just can’t believe he would do this to me,” Stephanie repealed over and over. While they watched his house. Ken paged her. leaving a message that he loved her, still pretending he was in Washington, D,C. When she didn’t respond, the messages got increasingly vitriolic as the evening went on. Dee says the last ended with “You bitch, you are probably out with another man.”

Stephanie realized he had been controlling her every move. A forensic expert had confirmed earlier thai day that someone had tampered with Stephanie’s computer. The next evening, the two women checked intersections around Wenzl’s home to see if a number thai appeared on her home phone caller ID actually came from a pay phone. At the comer of Legacy and Independence. Stephanie, wearing a short, dark wig, shouted. “Bingo!”

After a series of e-mails accusing her of being a bitch and a golddigger and demanding the ring back. Ken tried a different strategy, inundating her with e-mails and phone calls begging for a chance to explain. Frightened because she knew Ken had a gun, she refused, and on Nov. 30. tiled a police report accusing him of harassment. After Dallas Detective David Peters contacted him, Ken’s calls and e-mails ceased. [Wenzl did not respond to numerous phone calls from D Magazine.] What Stephanie still doesn’t know: Just who is Kenneth Wenzl?

STEPHANIE SAYS THAT KEN LIED TO HER about everything but his birth date and the fact he owned a Porsche. However, a D Magazine investigation reveals that Wenzl peppered his fantasy persona with nuggets of truth.

Raised in Kansas, Wenzl graduated from Emporia Stale University with a business degree in 1974. A month later, he married a fellow student. Many of the details of Wenzl’s business background were con-finned by David P. Barrie, a former business partner. After stints at Phillips Petroleum and Rockwell, Wenzl went to work for JC Penney, then started doing training for acom-puter consulting firm called Informatics, where he met Barrie.

In the early ’80s, Wenzl persuaded Barrie to leave and join him in forming a computer training firm called Computer Knowledge. The company was extremely successful; it had a contract with IBM to do computer training at 60 stores around the country. Barrie handled the financial and marketing side; Wenzl. the technical side.

“Ken was very impressive, a technical wizard,” Barrie says. “He could pick up a book about computers and just absorb it.” They built the company up to 120 employees and were splitting a net of about $ I million a year by 1983 or ’84.

But there were several incidents during their partnership that bothered Barrie. Once, when their bank wanted a copy ol’ Wenzl’s federal income tax form in order to renew a line of credit for Computer Knowledge, Barrie noticed it didn’t jibe with a financial statement Wenzl had provided earlier.

“It appeared that he was hiding assets,” Barrie says. When the concerned banker called, Barrie confronted Wenzl, who brushed it off. saying he didn’t want the bank to know what assets he had. Another time, Barrie says, they needed a new training book quickly. Wenzl turned the project around in a few weeks, but then Barrie discovered he had plagiarized a competitor’s manual. Wenzl rationalized it away; “I had to put it together too quickly,” he told Barrie. who had to pull the book from the shelves.

Barrie says that the partnership finally dissolved in the mid-’80s over other disagreements. A lawsuit by an investor resulted in a heavy judgment that forced Wenzl to file for bankruptcy in 1995, but by that time he’d bought the expensive house in Plano, which was protected from seizure. His company now is known as Computer Trilogy.

Barrie was incredulous at the idea of computer geek Wenzl as a charismatic Romeo, preying on unsuspecting women through the Internet. Though a polished speaker on the training platform, Wenzl had few interpersonal skills, Barrie says. He remembers years ago being shocked when he discovered Wenzl had gone to a topless bar. Though the majority of the company’s employees were attractive women trained in public speaking. Barrie never heard a hint of impropriety in regard to Wenzl from any female employee.

“He was not flirtatious, just a staid married guy.” Barrie says. “Are you sure it’s the same person?” (After seeing a photo of Wenzl taken by Stephanie, Barrie confirmed il was the same person.)

But perhaps it was Wenzl’s prowess on the computer and his casual altitude toward the truth that led him to re-create himself as Kenneth Eagan. With cell phones, free e-mail accounts, mail drops, pagers, and laptops, he could pretend to be anybody, anywhere, anytime. He even obtained the gun to buttress his Mafia/FBI story (although, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, he does not have a permit).

Hazelwood. the private detective, says that two years ago he had never heard of Internet dating scams. But in the last 18 months, he’s gotten at least one call a week from a woman (never a man) asking him to check out her Internet Don Juan.

One woman, in her late 30s. called from New York Stale to hire Hazelwood. Aller corresponding extensively with a Dallas man, she had met him in New York City for a weekend: he paid lor everything. Then she flew to Dallas to stay with him at his condo for a week, In love, ready to gel married, she though! she’d surprise him by Hying back to Dallas I he next week. Bui when she knocked on the door of the condo and asked for “Richard,” the people who answered the door said they’d never heard of him.

Hazelwood discovered that “Richard” was married, a medium- to high-earner employed by a major corporation, and lived in Carroll ton with his wife and three children. The condo was an executive suite owned by his employer. The detective snapped photos of the man one Sunday morning, going to church with his wife and kids. Heartbroken, the woman did nothing. “Had she called me in the first place.” he says, “less than $100 would have found out he was still married. not divorced.”

Stephanie’s situation has been Hazelwood’s most bizarre ease, but he has turned up suitors with problems more serious than an inconvenient wedding band. Some have had histories of substance abuse and others, criminal records. “Is this a new kind of rapist?” asks Hazelwood. “It’s about power and control. Is there a difference between forcing your way in and lying your way in?”

Men and women have always told lies to each other about love, but the lengthy profiles posted on matchmaking services can give a false impression of security. After discovering Ken’s true identity. Stephanie called to say there was a man who was abusing the system. But she had never actually read the site’s lengthy disclaimer before clicking her mouse to accept the terms. There seemed to he nothing she could do.

AFTER WEEKS OF BEING UNABLE TO WORK. Stephanie started going to therapy, trying to overcome her insomnia, depression, and crying jags.

“She’s the least likely person in the world to he bamboozled like this,” says Terry. “She opened up to Ken more than she opened up to anyone. What he has done to her emotions, her dreams-it’s just horrible. This is brutality in its highest form.”

Terry’s own Matchmaker experience was miserable. But she thinks it taught her how someone like Stephanie could he fooled. On the Internet, Stephanie could be brave, revealing more than she probably realized. “These profiles give away too much information,” Terry says. “Ken worked with a lot of high-powered women. He was saying all these things he knows women want.”

Even after the discovery of his real identity, Stephanie couldn’t help but wonder if Ken had ever felt real affection for her. He’d often said, “I wish I’d met you 20 years ago.” She didn’t understand then what he had meant. But any lingering perplexity was dispelled when on a hunch she re-activated her “Veronica” account on and discovered Wenzl was still trolling for women, back on Matchmaker as “Maverick” (because “people say I look like James Gamer in Maverick”) and two other pseudonyms. Suspecting that he’d been on there even while they were together, Stephanie deactivated her account.

But that wasn’t all. In an odd coincidence, her friend Dee talked to a business acquaintance in Fort Worth who said she was trying the free dating service on . One man who’d contacted her was named Ken and said he looked like James Garner in Maverick. He’d even e-mailed his photo.

Dee ran from the woman’s office to her car, grabbed a picture she’d taken of Stephanie and Ken, and showed it to the woman. “That’s him!” she shouted. Stephanie later spotted five personal ads on Yahoo that used details consistent with Ken’s profiles. Ken responded to another identity set up by Stephanie on Yahoo as a Trojan horse: he even sent the same profile from his Maverick site.

Furious-and concerned that Ken is going to seduce and betray someone else- Stephanie began sending warning e-mails to other women on whom Ken seemed likely to contact. Some refused to respond, but one who did was Donna in Piano, who was sending out warnings of her own after she encountered a man she felt was mentally unstable. Donna organized a “happy hour” at Pappasito’s in Piano for several Dallas-area women on the service to compare notes.

Blond, slim, with green eyes. Donna was regularly exchanging e-mails with a divorced man named Kevin, who said he lived in ZIP code 75205 (Highland Park), was originally from Nebraska, traveled a lot, and had a condo in San Diego that he likes to escape to. There was no photo.

“I am 45 and resemble Omar Sharif,” he typed. This Kevin said he had taken his photo off Matchmaker because he “had a ’crazy’ that would not give up.” But he’d e-mail a picture if she were interested.

The picture Donna received was of Ken Wenzl.


Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.