A telephone rings and the caller sounds cool, soft-spoken, professional. In an Oriental accent, he tells the woman that her husband's blood test indicates venereal disease. The wife is hurt, angered, and shocked, but she listens, and believes.
The caller says he is Dr. Lee, or maybe Dr. Kim, Dr. Kimlee or Dr. Kimberly. But he is no doctor, just a perverse man who has angered and frightened hundreds of Marylanders in the last eight years.
He has nearly ruined the marriages of some and convinced others that serious medical tests prescribed by real doctors are unnecessary, according to law enforcement and hospital officials around the state. He has embarrassed countless victims of his calls, luring them into descriptions of their personal lives and sexual habits.
But the fake physician who this week brought his strange scam to Montgomery County has managed to elude authorities from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore County.
"We went from A to Z on him. This guy called people all over the state," said Baltimore County Det. Wayne Murphy, who has worked without success on capturing the counterfeit doctor for the last five years. He added that the man may have made as many as 1,000 telephone calls since he began his impersonations in 1973. "He's definitely got a mental problem."
Most recently, the impostor telephoned a suburban Washington man scheduled to take a pulmonary function test -- an important diagnostic test for lung problems -- last Tuesday at Montgomery General Hospital, according to Robert Sullivan, the hospital's assistant administrator.
"He got a call from a 'Dr. Kimberly' who told him he didn't need the test and that he should go to Greater Laurel Hospital instead," Sullivan said. "He told the patient he was a 'sexologist' and requested information on his sexual history, personal background and sexual habits."
The patient's wife recalled that "Dr. Kimberly" was "real professional sounding. He knew what hospital my husband was going to, his doctor's name and knew all about the test that was scheduled."
The wife said the two-hour conversation, in which she participated, "gradually went to sex. He prescribed massive doses of penicillin for us both for six to seven months and said my husband's problem was in his prostate."
When "Dr. Kimberly" failed to call back the next day, the man called his physician and only then realized he was being duped.
"It bothers the hell out of me," hospital official Sullivan said this week. Someone had access to information at this hospital or from the private physician. We're very concerned and want to issue a warning about this. He could be leading patients astray."
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the telephone calls is that, in every instance, the caller has known that the victim or the victim's husband has just undergone or is scheduled for some type of medical test, said Murphy. "That is what's so puzzling. It didn't make any sense that anyone would have access to all those records," said Rick Wade of the Maryland Hospital Association.
Franklin Square Hospital in suburban Baltimore has recorded at least 30 incidents involving the fake physician since 1978, said Sheldon Wengel, Franklin's director of public relations. He said that the telephone calls frequently had domestic repercussions when wives confronted their husbands later.
"The husband walks through the door and the wife attacks him. This guy is smooth," Wengel said. "Quite a few people get into heavy domestic arguments because of the calls," Murphy agreed.
Murphy and Wengel also said that the caller tells his victims he has a device attached to his telephone that will diagnose important problems, if the victim simply wraps the phone cord around his arm. "Some people actually do it," Murphy said.
Investigators know little about the impostor other than that his accent is Oriental and that his calls frequently are accompanied by background noise from machinery, Murphy added.
During Murphy's investigation, the fake physician's victims were always women. "Who knows why? Maybe he's getting a physical thing out of it . . . a mental high," Murphy said.
Investigators at one point believed the caller might work in a hospital or regional laboratory, where he would have access to medical test samples that included the patient's name. But scrutiny at various hospitals and laboratories failed to turn up any leads, Murphy said..
"It's a frustrating thing. No one he called had an unpublished number. They were all in the phone book," Murphy said. "You think you can catch him, but he never calls more than once."
In several instances, the fake doctor even left a call-back number, said Murphy. But the number belonged to Randallstown attorney Ralph E. Dietz, who never heard of the fake physician until he began getting calls from irate husbands and frightened wives.
"It went on for years. In the beginning, most of the calls were from Orientals," said Dietz. The calls began in 1976, Dietz said, when the phone number was at his home and his wife received most of the calls. But then Dietz had the number moved to his law offices.
"The worst part was when I got into the office early, before the secretaries were there," said Dietz. "I got phone calls from husbands saying 'Will you tell my wife I don't have VD? My wife's about ready to divorce me.'"