Sunday, December 24, 2006


By Dan Burns

ROSELLE, NJ - When Judy Cajuste went to school at Abraham Clark High School she always wore shoes that matched her brightly colored shirts.

In the classroom, she worked hard in hopes of being a teacher, nurse or police officer when she grew up. Outside of class, she had a small army of friends who felt they could tell her anything.

"She was friendly to everybody, outgoing, down to earth, just a good person in general," Cajuste's friend Edly Victorin said.

"When you needed someone to speak to, she was there for you," fellow ninth grader Yasmare McKnight said.

On Jan. 13, the girl with scores of friends, dozens of dreams and only 14 years of life experience was found in a dumpster in Newark's Weequahic Park. She had been strangled to death, according to Essex County Executive Assistant Prosecutor Charlotte L. Smith.

Cajuste was reported missing in Roselle on Jan. 12. At about 3 p.m. the next day, Essex County Department of Parks workers called the police after finding Cajuste's body inside a dumpster in a maintenance garage. The garage is located in a parking area for the park, near Elizabeth and Grumman avenues in Newark.

"Cajuste was pronounced dead at the scene," Smith said. "Preliminary autopsy results revealed the cause of death was strangulation and the manner of death was homicide."

Police didn't learn the body they'd found was Cajuste's until Jan. 20, one week later. Judy's mother, Magalie Cajuste, identified the body.

Magalie Cajuste has been cordial to the press, but declined a request for an interview Tuesday, saying she was exhausted from the whole ordeal.

The word among students in the ACHS parking lot after dismissal Tuesday was Judy Cajuste met a man in his 20s on an online chat site. They believe the meeting was part of a chain of events that led to her death.

Cajuste's friend Pierre Noel, a 10th grader, believes this wasn't the first time Cajuste met the man. From what he knows about her, he doesn't think she would go meet a strange man for the first time without a friend.

"She felt comfortable with him," Noel said.

Many of Cajuste's friends were still shocked by her death Tuesday. Students who didn't feel well enough to take their exams were allowed to make them up at a later date. Fewer than 30 students opted to do that, according to English teacher Victoria Lih.

Guidance counselors set up shop in the auditorium and talked to any students who were especially upset, according to Principal Nathan Fischer.

After school Tuesday, students mingled in the ACHS parking lot and gathered around television news crews. Amber Braswell, a ninth grader, carried around a decorated box collecting donations from teachers and students, which she and other friends planned to give to Magalie Cajuste.

"We don't care if it's even just a little bit of change, anything you can give will help," Braswell said.

Cajuste's classmates received help from the ACHS guidance department to put together a memorial to the young murder victim in the school's main hallway. It is a trophy case full of balloons, flowers and teddy bears, with a picture of Cajuste in the center. About eight poster-sized cards signed by Cajuste's friends are affixed to the wall next to the memorial.

"When you walk past the memorial you feel like crying, but you can't all the time," ninth-grader Ayeisha Forbes said. "It's sad because her locker was right next to mine. I won't see her there anymore."

Every ninth-grader asked about Cajuste Tuesday either knew her personally or knew someone that knew her personally.

Eighth grader Jakoya Duggans walked to the store with her every day. Kevin Lucien and Landry Poosh, both 12th-graders, always kept a spot reserved for her at their lunch table.

"We used to sit with her in the lunch room. All the Haitians sat together," Lucien said. "Now you see all of us Haitians sitting together and you don't see Judy. That's messed up."

Chris Mohr, an 11th-grader, was one of the students who didn't know Cajuste directly, even though he lives around the corner from her.

"It's sad even if you didn't know her. They thought she just ran away for a couple days and was going to come back," Mohr said.

"Even if you didn't know her you still feel bad about what happened, feel bad for the family," he added.

Many of Cajuste's friends know her from her days in elementary school. "I remember her from Polk school. She played Harriet Tubman in a play once," said Stephen, an eighth-grader who declined to give his last name.

"She would always come over my house and we would eat Chinese food," ninth-grader Diedra Whetstone said.

Eighth-grader Garrett Brown articulated what seemed to be the sentiment of everyone who knew her since elementary school. "She was easy to be friends with. She would talk to you about anything and if you needed something she had, she'd give it to you," Brown said.

In between recalling fond memories of their friend, ACHS students showed their disdain for Cajuste's killer. Some called for the death penalty. "I think whoever did this is a sick person," eighth-grader Neosha Bails said.

Since Cajuste's death, several ACHS students have taken more precautions regarding who they talk to online, according to Bails. Some have taken their pictures down from pages with public access.

"I took my pictures down. Now only my friends can see them," Bails said.

Staff Writer Dan Burns can be reached at 908-686-7700, ext. 120

from our friend at WildXAngel

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Ex of a Cyber-Extortion-ist Speaks Out

A follow up on THIS POST regarding the extortion of a cybercheat!

This is from Jessica Wolcott's EX-husband. (Wolcott being the woman who attempted the extortion):
I wish I would have caught this all sooner. This poor soul, myself, is the ex husband of Jess. Divorced earlier this year. I've always known of her ways b/c when I was stationed overseas, she took my paychecks by threatening to ruin my career in the military only for me to return and find that she had also racked up $15,000 in loans and my name was in collections 5 times for unpaid utilities I had no idea about. Was that a run-on?

Anyways, I lost about $30,000 total while I was gone and now my credit is, well, it's bad and I'm still paying for the damage. I'm 25 and WAY behind where I should have been b/c of her. Nearly ruined my life.

She needs a psychiatrist and I'm not even sure if that will work. Maybe she needs to be heavily sedated. She's obsessed with using people to become rich. She's never had a legitimate job. This is how she makes her living and I'm so sorry people on here fell for her false hardships and promising hopes. She creates stories according to what she thinks you'll receive as the most heartfelt, and then play on your empathy for her. It's really sick. She'll even turn on the emotions to show her fake convictions, She'll create evidence to back up her claims. She's a professional fake. It took me 1 and a half years to realize it and 4 years to shake her off finally.

This is like a huge closure for me so it's good to see she finally spun so far out of control that other people got to see it. I'll never get back what she took from me, but the media and you guys are making up for that.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Online Fraud & Scams Scare Many Americans

Americans scared of being robbed - online

by Frank Washkuch Jr.

A new study has revealed that most U.S. PC users are worried about getting held up by online predators and schemers as much as bullies and robbers on the street.

More U.S. users are now worried about becoming the victims of an online attack than victims of physical violence, an IBM study revealed Wednesday. The poll revealed that PC users have also adjusted their online behavior in response to well publicized threats, breaches and other incidents.

More than three times the number of respondents believe they will be the victims of an online scam as those who think they will be affected by physical violence, IBM said.

Despite the threats, 70 percent of those polled said they would shop online – but only at sites that they trust and which display a security protection seal.

David Mackey, director of security intelligence at IBM, said the survey is proof that people "are taking the necessary steps" to protect themselves from intent predators.

"It's pretty definitive that internet commerce will be here for a long time," he said. "Seventy percent (of respondents to the survey) will still buy from trusted websites. That's a pretty significant number."

Sixty four percent of respondents said they do not conduct online transactions on a shared computer, and 50 percent said they do not use shared wireless networks at places such as coffee shops or airports.

A large number of people expressed some hesitance to online financial transactions. Thirty-eight percent said they do not bank online, while 37 percent said they do not use credit card information online.

Twenty-nine percent said they have stopped reading credit or debit card information over the phone during the past year, while 27 percent stopped buying from unfamiliar retailers. Over the same period of time, 18 percent stopped paying bills online and 16 percent stopped playing online games.

Mackey said people are vulnerable to credit card schemes both online and in traditional marketplaces.
"I think that people are being a lot more wary about their credit card information," he said. "Those are scams that can really be exploited at any brick and mortar store."
Stuart McIrvine, director of security strategy for IBM, said that consumers are more aware of online threats.
"They are also cognizant that they need to protect themselves from this emerging threat, in much the same way that they would protect themselves from the threat of a physical crime," he said. "As awareness of these new threats emerges, it is key that consumers, businesses and government agencies work together to ensure that everything from education to retail is protected to help alleviate public worry about cybercrimes."
The study, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, reached 679 adult Americans 18-years-old and older.


Friday, December 15, 2006


Raymond James Merrill bestowed gifts, money and affection on his girlfriend. Authorities say he paid for it with his life.
By Patrick J. McDonnell

San Jose dos Campos, Brazil - IT WAS a dream of love, and a dread of loneliness, that drew Raymond James Merrill from his comfortable home in suburban San Francisco to this industrial city in southern Brazil.

Dumped by his girlfriend and approaching his 56th birthday, Merrill was aching for companionship. A "Latin singles" website led him to his new passion: Regina Filomena Crasovich Rachid, a 40ish divorcee with a seductive smile and some rough friends.

Merrill, a musician and carpenter with some money in the bank, jumped on a plane and was soon bestowing lavish gifts on Rachid, including $10,000 for the Botox clinic she ran out of her home here. He was besotted, even as her financial demands intensified and fraudulent charges mounted on his credit cards. Merrill made plans to sell his house, move to Brazil and marry Rachid.

Less than two weeks after arriving on his wedding trip to Brazil, police say, he was dead. His charred corpse lay unidentified in a pauper's grave for months, his fate an excruciating mystery for distraught loved ones. Finally, a misplaced handbag and a barroom boast helped break the case of Raymond James Merrill.

THAT Merrill was infatuated with Rachid seems beyond doubt.

The couple's voluminous e-mail conversations, in an eclectic, if often ungrammatical, jumble of English, Spanish and Portuguese, provide a chronicle of midlife romantic obsession - with a deep financial undercurrent. Mutual longing leaps from the screen in five months of greeting-card-style texts now being scrutinized by investigators.
"With each breath that I take, I love you more and more," Merrill wrote to Rachid on March 6, as he was preparing for his third, and final, trip to Brazil. "I have more kisses for you that there are stars in the sky."
Rachid appeared to reciprocate.
"I have more kisses and affection to give you than all the little drops of rain that stay on your window for an entire dark night," she replied. "And when day breaks, the little drops have the sunlight's most beautiful color. That's how my love is for you."
But the correspondence was not all sunlight and kisses.

Rachid and her English-speaking daughter, Ana Paula, 22, repeatedly sought cash from Merrill. Money woes were driving her mother to a heart attack, the daughter warned.
"Love doesn't pay my bills, doesn't pay the supermarket," Rachid wrote to Merrill late last year. "Love like this doesn't give me peace!"
Authorities also found an e-mail from Rachid to a photographer acquaintance, asking for fresh snapshots for two boyfriends - an American and a Brazilian.

"Don't worry about the money," she wrote. "The American will pay for all of them."

EVEN in his mid-50s, Raymond James Merrill cut a striking figure with his chiseled features, lean physique and bushy mustache.

"A combination of the Marlboro Man and John Lennon" is how an old friend once described Merrill, an accomplished guitarist who composed rock and blues numbers. To his regret, however, he was never able to break into the recording business.

Merrill spent almost a decade playing with rock bands in Buenos Aires, where he lived with his then-wife, a vivacious Argentine flamenco artist whom he met in 1979 in San Francisco. The couple parted amicably in 1998. Merrill returned to the United States and moved to Las Vegas with a new girlfriend, Barbara Cortez.

Though Merrill had an arrogant streak, Cortez recalled his moments of contentment, his bouts of generosity, his sharp sense of humor. "We laughed quite a bit," Cortez said.

Still, Merrill's demons were never far off. He had overcome alcohol and drug abuse, Cortez noted, and attended occasional Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Those close to him worried about his solitary, broody inclinations.
"My brother had a lot of things going for him, but like a lot of people with all those blessings, he had a lot of insecurities," said his sister, Marcia Sanchez Loebick, four years his senior. "He could be a bit of a recluse. He was a loner."
After breaking up with Cortez, Merrill sold his Nevada house and returned to his longtime home in San Bruno, south of San Francisco. But he regularly made the 10-hour commute to Vegas to woo a new girlfriend, whom he showered with gifts. He was distressed when she ended the relationship.

Merrill confided to some a dream of returning to Latin America, retiring on his investment income and finding the right mate.
"He was very intoxicated with the idea of love," said Loebick, his only sibling. "And feeling loved."
Merrill turned to the Internet. Deep in cyberspace, Regina Rachid was waiting.

IN THE February edition of a Brazilian skin-care magazine, an advertisement hypes the wonders of "dermopigmentation," a process of medical tattooing in which freckles or other skin alterations are created for aesthetic effect. Accompanying the text is a gauzy photo of a buxom Rachid in a low-cut rose dress that Merrill used as a computer screen saver. Despite her cultured ways and upper-middle-class lifestyle, Brazilian authorities say, Rachid had no license to perform medical tattooing or any other surgical procedure.

"Regina aspired to be something she wasn't," one Brazilian investigator said.

Rachid, according to police and her e-mail conversations with Merrill, was a woman bristling with resentments - about her lack of means to care for Ana Paula and her son, João; her inability to practice legally what she regarded as her craft; her bitter estrangement from her father, a successful Lebanese immigrant merchant. She seemed to feel that life had dealt her a low blow.

Even as Rachid wooed Merrill with steamy glamour photos - including one of her topless, her arms embracing her breasts, the top button on her jeans opened - she also liked to present herself as an upholder of traditional values.

"If we are going to be together, we have to get married," Rachid wrote to Merrill.

MERRILL first ventured to Brazil to meet Rachid in November 2005, a 12-day jaunt that left him smitten.

"When he came back from the first visit, he was very happy with the woman," recounted Eva Quinones, a longtime friend and neighbor.

But already there were some sour notes. On one stop at his home after the first trip, Quinones recalls finding Merrill struggling with bills and paper on his desk.

"What's all this?" she asked.

"Someone charged almost $8,000 on my credit card in Brazil," he said.

That didn't deter Merrill from going back Jan. 17. For slightly more than two weeks, he stayed mostly in a hotel, telling one friend that he didn't feel comfortable in Rachid's home. He later confided to the friend that Rachid hinted at a romantic complication. Known to his friends as frugal, Merrill lavished gifts upon Rachid, including a $20,000 SUV, a vehicle she later sold to pay her legal bills, police said. Upon returning to the United States, Merrill found that as much as $20,000 more had been falsely charged to his Citibank credit card.

The fake charges deeply troubled Merrill, but he refused to blame his beloved.
"I'm very tired of banks, cards, Master, Visa, Debit, accounts, payments, reales, dollars, swifts, pin numbers, online banking, managers, ATMs, withdrawals, transfers…. Enough!" Merrill wrote to Rachid on Feb. 21. "I would prefer to think of candies … and of you, Regina."
Quinones urged him to abandon his Brazilian reverie, but she said Merrill became defensive, responding, "You have to fight for what you love."

On March 21, Merrill left for Brazil. He told friends that his agenda included marriage - he had bought a $5,000 engagement ring - and a little "detective" work on the bogus credit card charges.
"Bill," Merrill told his oldest friend, Bill Rauch, as he left for Brazil, "it's showtime."
MERRILL didn't return to California as scheduled on April 4.

He had also extended his previous Brazilian trips. But both times, he had alerted Rauch. Merrill's sister was soon frantic. Their father, who had recently reconciled with his son after a lifetime of differences, was near death. Benjamin Eugene Merrill, 86, a Pearl Harbor survivor, died May 2.

On May 8, the sister and Rauch finally reported Merrill missing to the San Bruno Police Department, which notified the FBI. The U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo made inquiries.
Backed-up mail showed tens of thousands of dollars streaming from Merrill's accounts. Unpaid bills were piling up, and the house was nearing foreclosure.

Prodded by U.S. authorities, Brazilian police interviewed Rachid in late May. She said Merrill had left in early April to visit a woman friend in the Brazilian coastal city of Paraty. The friend told police that Merrill never arrived.

Between Feb. 2 and May 12, authorities say, about $132,000 was removed from a UBS bank account that Merrill maintained in Las Vegas.

Eventually, UBS officials blocked further transfers. On May 24, branch officials received a grammatically suspect e-mail purporting to be from Merrill - using a Hotmail account in his name - seeking $50,000. The note demanded "respect" because Merrill was in mourning over his father's death.
"I ask you to reactive my card RIGHT AWAY," the e-mail insisted. "I am remaking my life in Brazil."
Investigators would later conclude that Merrill had been dead for almost two months by then.

Although strongly suspecting foul play, police had no body and no physical evidence of wrongdoing, just reports of a missing American whose savings were hemorrhaging.

EVEN as Merrill's loved ones worried that they would never know what happened, fate intervened in the unlikely guise of a botched robbery in an upscale shopping mall here in San Jose dos Campos.

A black-market currency dealer reported on June 2 that a man and a woman had assaulted him in his car in a parking lot. The woman had supposedly wanted to buy dollars and euros, he told police, but it turned out to be a setup. The money dealer said he managed to escape and that the man and woman fled in another car.

Inside the dealer's vehicle, police discovered a handbag. It belonged to Rachid; along with her identification, the bag contained Merrill's Citibank ATM card.

Rachid was arrested that day and has been in custody since on a robbery charge. Police think she is the woman who accosted the currency dealer.

A subsequent search of Rachid's home, police said, revealed that the house had recently had a complete makeover: new paint, furniture, appliances. An extensive handwritten "to-buy" list noted new televisions, DVDs, a refrigerator, a dryer, bedclothes, patio furniture, artwork, rocks for the front pond and an outdoor grill.

The buying spree, police said, included a new Peugeot, valued at $19,000, for Rachid's daughter.

Among the evidence seized at Rachid's house, authorities said, were packages of the date-rape drug Rohypnol and another sedative, Rivotril, both purchased with forged prescriptions. Authorities think Merrill passed his final days sedated while Rachid and an accomplice coerced him into providing passwords for the accounts that held his life savings.

In statements to police, Rachid denied wrongdoing. She said Merrill had given her everything - including his bank card.

THE investigation led to Nelson Siqueira Neves, Rachid's apparent boyfriend and a small-time grifter with a history of fraud, officials said. He was suspected as Rachid's collaborator in the alleged takedown of the currency dealer. But Siqueira couldn't be found.

Investigators checked the Internet, wondering whether Siqueira might have represented himself on orkut, a website where thousands of Brazilians post personal histories.
The hunch panned out.

Siqueira introduced himself on the Internet as a rock 'n' roll bon vivant who loved women, booze and the good life. Several photos showed him living it up at a beach resort in the weeks after Merrill's disappearance.

Police presented the photos of Siqueira to the currency dealer. "That's him," the victim said, pointing to an undated photo of Siqueira partying with friends. But he wasn't referring to Siqueira; he fingered a pock-faced man at the side of the frame. That man was Evandro Celso Augusto Ribeiro.

EVANDRO, as police here call him, was a small-time loser with a long history of drug use and petty crime, authorities said. His connection to Rachid and her boyfriend possibly linked him to the disappearance of Merrill. But like Siqueira, Evandro had dropped out of sight. The case stalled.

But Evandro had a tendency to shoot his mouth off - and a weakness for draft beer. "I killed a gringo," he bragged at a chopperia, or bar, in the beach town of Cabo Frio.

A tipster called police about Evandro's boasts. Authorities swooped in. With the help of cellphone records, Evandro was arrested Sept. 23 at his beachside shack. "You know me, and I know you," a police officer warned Evandro, according to one investigator. "The woman is talking, and she's blaming everything on you." Evandro opened up like a faucet, authorities said.

A TEARFUL Evandro led police to the dirt road where, he said, the body had been dumped.

He told police that his longtime friend Siqueira had promised him about $6,000 to help dispose of the corpse. Police suspect Evandro may have been involved in the slaying, though he denies it.

According to Evandro, he and Siqueira helped carry the already dead Merrill from Rachid's house to a rented car on the evening of April 1. Siqueira found the April Fools' Day date auspicious.

"No one will believe it!" Siqueira joked, according to Evandro.

Rachid drove about 25 miles outside town to an isolated dirt road, with Merrill's body in the front passenger seat, a seat belt holding the American in place and Evandro and Siqueira sharing the rear, Evandro told police. The body was dragged from the car, Evandro said, doused with diesel and set ablaze.

Authorities checked records. A charred body, copper wire around its neck, had been found April 2 at the site. A grisly photo of the corpse even ran in the local newspaper. Officials had buried the remains as an unknown indigent in the cemetery of the nearest town, Cacapava.

With the mission accomplished, Evandro demanded his payout, he told authorities. The ill-fated assault on the currency dealer, police said, was meant to obtain the cash owed to Evandro.

BASED on Evandro's statement, authorities here exhumed the body and took DNA and dental samples. Dental records conclusively confirmed the body was Merrill's, police said last month. Police said Merrill had been strangled.

Rachid and Evandro remain in custody on the robbery allegation and will be charged with murder, along with Siqueira, who is still a fugitive, said Ana Paula Medeiros Monteiro de Barros, deputy police chief here.

The investigation, which includes six volumes of e-mails, cellphone records, photos, declarations and other evidence, should be completed this week and presented to prosecutors, Medeiros said.
"We have the elements to prosecute the three suspects for Merrill's murder," Medeiros said.
Merrill's family and friends are planning memorial services in California and Buenos Aires. Cortez, his former girlfriend, paints a portrait of a man whose flight from the anguish of solitude blinded him.

"Raymond believed in a dream, and I think that's why he met his demise," Cortez said. "He didn't see the warning signs, didn't pay attention. He just believed in his dream."


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Teacher visiting online dating site fired

Mark Zaretsky

A male substitute teacher at East Haven Academy was escorted from the school and removed from the town's pool of substitutes Friday after allegedly being seen in class using a school computer to peruse a "mail-order brides" Web site, school officials confirmed Monday.

Authorities identified the Web site as www.loveme.com, which represents a company that arranges "romance tours" and introductions to would-be foreign mates. The site, "A Foreign Affair: Introductions and Tours," bills itself as a "Russian, Latin, Asian Women Dating Service - Mail-Order Brides.

It describes itself as "the world's largest and most respected introduction and tour service," and lists its corporate headquarters as Phoenix.

The substitute teacher was not immediately identified.

School officials, reacting to initial reports that the sub, a Kelly Services temporary worker who was presiding over a sixth-grade art class, had been looking at a pornography site, reported the situation to police Monday.

But Youth Officer Mike D'Amato said that after looking at the computer record of sites the substitute visited and discussing it with a member of the state's attorney's office, no charges were filed.

"I looked at it myself and I checked with the prosecutor's office, and they said that it was not illegal and not pornographic," D’Amato said. "I mean, obviously, he was misusing the system over there. He also was checking his e-mail, he was checking job listings in other states."

East Haven Academy, in the old high school at 200 Tyler St., houses East Haven's gifted and talented student program, including more than 230 students in grades three through eight.

Board of Education Chairman John Finkle said Principal Angela Speck, who started in September, "was told of the incident" and "within minutes of her being told … he was escorted out of the building."

Finkle said it didn't matter that the site wasn't a sex site. "Whether it was pornography or not, it was definitely inappropriate," Finkle said. "Poor judgment. Definitely bad judgment."

Finkle and Frank Meoli, the schools' administrative director and former technology director, both said Internet access in all town schools is filtered by the state and by the school system.

"On its face, right now, as best as we are able to figure it, he went to no pornography … but to ensure that, it has been turned over to the Police Department to find out for sure," said Finkle.

"Somebody would have to be pretty savvy to get to a pornography site from those computers. … You couldn't even get to MySpace from our computers, let alone to pornography."

Finkle later said that there was nothing on the site more racy "than what you would see in a Victoria Secrets Web site" and "nothing that puts the kids in any danger."

The Foreign Affair Web site has dozens of pages of photos and short descriptions of women in foreign countries, some as young as 18 but many in their 30s or 40s and a few as old as 64.

While some of the women in the photos are clad in sexy lingerie, most are more modestly clad.

While the school system has the ability to tighten its filters for sexual content, violence and hate sites, the danger is that a student trying to do research on the Holocaust, for example, might not be able to get through, Meoli said.

Mark Zaretsky can be reached at mzaretsky@nhregister.com

Sunday, December 03, 2006


While the rise of Internet dating may have brought about a new era of sexual freedom, most sites still cling to at least the pretense of courtship. Not this one.

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* By Amy Sohn

Not all single people are looking to settle down, and the ones who aren't have finally found their heaven: the Casual Encounters page of online bulletin board Craigslist. If Missed Connections is the side of the dance floor where the wallflowers stare moony-eyed at the popular crowd, then Casual Encounters is the dank, smoky basement where the druggies and sluts party till dawn. Casual Encounters users post ads seeking sex, usually that same day, with come-ons like LET'S GET NAKED IN W'BURG or MUTUAL J/O TO STR8 PORN. Despite all the risks of trolling for sex on the Internet - disease, violence, a spouse who hacks into your e-mail - fans say they're thrilled, relieved to have found a place where a paramour can be at your door in less time than the Shun Lee delivery guy.

Craigslist launched Casual Encounters in New York in April 2002, sensing that people looking for a quick fix needed a haven. 'We only introduce new categories when we guess there's a critical mass for them, ' says founder Craig Newmark. "A lot of people are a lot more interested in something casual than I ever imagined," he says. 'And that's okay with me as long as no one gets hurt. Unless they want to be."

Judging by the numbers, interest is soaring. The monthly postings in New York have gone from about 1,000 in April 2002 to 14,400 in March, and the monthly page views have reached 3.2 million.
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Not surprisingly, over three quarters of the posts in New York on a recent day were "m4w," men seeking women, with the next most popular group "m4m" (about 10 percent). Until recently, many of the female posters used phrases like "sensual massage" and "happy ending" to indicate that they wanted quid for the pro. In response to repeated complaints that the site was being corrupted (apparently even sex maniacs have limits), Craigslist started a category last month called Erotic Services, for 'professionals' and the men who 'love' them.

Now most of the female posters are "civilians." Debbie, 33, has slept with a few guys she's met on Casual Encounters and likes the efficiency. "It's the lazy man's bar," she says. "I can come home, put my feet up on the couch, go through a couple ads, and have someone in my house shortly. I answered one guy because he was eight blocks from my apartment looking for company, he sent me a photo, and was really cute! Those are the things that matter, that someone's close to you and cute."

Does she feel unsafe with strange men in her apartment? "I have dogs," she says.

She describes herself as "not the most beautiful woman in the world," but says she never had trouble getting laid the old-fashioned way. What she likes about CE is that people's motives are on the table. "What's more hurtful is when you think someone wants more than sex and then you find out they don't."

She’s been surprised by how normal the interludes seem. "The guys will come over and have a drink and sit and talk. It’s not as awkward as you would expect. And except for the fact that I'll come home late and have casual sex with men I met on the Internet, I'm relatively normal, too."
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Lee, 24, a production assistant, began browsing CE posts last summer. One day he saw a post from a woman in the music industry who was looking for a friend. He works at MTV and thought she could be a good contact. She sent a photo, and though he didn't have one, she suggested they meet at Hooters. After beer and chicken wings, they went for a walk in Central Park and wound up on the stage of the Delacorte, where, he says, "it became a stereotypical casual encounter."

He's met four other women on CE, though Shakespeare in the Park's the only one he slept with. One time after posting an ad, he got a few e-mails from a woman named Adrienne. He gave her his phone number and a little while later it rang. "It was a guy. I asked who it was, and he said, 'I'm Adrian.' I said, 'Oh. I was expecting someone female.' He said, 'I'm bisexual, I hope you're not offended by that.' I told him I was looking for a woman, and he said, 'Well, you should at least give it a try.' I said, 'I'm sorry, my door doesn't swing that way.' "

Neil, a 54-year-old divorced father, first used Craigslist to sell an old Mac. After he posted, he started reading Missed Connections and Casual Encounters for the fun of it. One night he spotted an ad marked "w4m" in which the poster expressed a desire for oral sex and nothing more, and he saw that she lived not far from him, just outside the city. They exchanged photos, and he was happy to find she was attractive and over 40.

Over the next few days, they exchanged explicit e-mails. "She was very clear that all she wanted to do was have cunnilingus performed. I said I had to have kissing too, and she said she wasn't sure. The e-mails were whimsical, humorous, and sexual." They spoke on the phone and arranged to meet at a cocktail lounge. He requested she not wear underwear. She obliged.
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"She was smart, charming, and gorgeous," he says. "After drinks, we went to the car. There was a lot of heavy touching, and there were orgasms involved." They've gone out twice since then. "I have yet to do what she asked, but only because it's not that easy in a car."

When Neil asked why she agreed to meet him, she told him he was among the first responders. His proximity helped, too. "She had answered a few others, and they had turned out to be jerks, but the thing that really interested her was that I lived so close. I told her I thought she was brave, and she said she based it on instinct." He thinks they'll continue to see each other, though neither is looking for a relationship.

Neil partied a lot in the eighties, and even went to Plato's Retreat a few times, but says this casual encounter was very different. "We are both adventurous and cosmopolitan people, but we are not people who are living on the edge. We have responsible lives, we did this, and it was fun. We're not wild. She's a single working woman, and I'm a single working father of two."
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Do his kids know he's dating someone he met in a place called Casual Encounters? "They know I met her on the Internet," he says. "To them, it's totally normal."