The wife of Roman Leimer said today that she now believes several telephone calls made to the family's home last May were from her husband, who had been missing since Jan. 13 when his Exxon tank truck was found ablaze on I-66 near here.

Leimer, 39, was believed dead after the explosion until investigations revealed that remains found in the truck's cab were those of a pig, and not of a human.

Leimer, who is charged with felony arson in connection with the burning of the truck, was arrested in New Orleans two weeks ago and is being held in jail here.

Leimer's wife, Antonia, who lives with his three children in Burtonsville, Md., steadfastly maintained through her attorneys that she believed her husband was dead until his arrest in New Orleans. She had made repeated efforts during his nine-month absence to collect an estimated $500,000 in life insurance and other benefits.

"When we answered the telephone , there was just silence on the other end," said Antonia Leimer, who was attending a court hearing for her husband here today.

"Mr. Leimer called his home just to hear the voices of his wife and children and hung up," according to John Whitten, a family friend and former business associate of Roman Leimer.

Antonia Leimer's brother, Walter Siering, who was also at the courthouse today, said he was present at the family home at the time of some of the calls and assumed that the telephone calls were "crank calls-- we didn't even suspect anything at all."

Leimer telephoned his Montgomery County home three times last May from the home of the restaurant owner with whom he stayed, according to the businessman who said the three one-minute calls on May 14 were on his monthly telephone bill.

Meanwhile, at the hearing today, a Warren County Circuit Court judge appointed local attorney J. Casey Struckmann to represent Leimer.

The appointment came after Leimer and his family dismissed two attorneys that they had retained to handle the case because Leimer said he would be unable to pay their fees.

Whitten said earlier that the attorneys had estimated the case would cost $50,000 to $75,000 in fees and expert-witness costs. Struckmann will be paid $192 by the court to handle the case as a court-appointed attorney.

"You're telling me that except for a small equity in your house and what you might receive from Exxon stocks you own, that you have no other assets except the clothing on your back?" Judge Henry Whiting asked.

"Yes, sir," came the reply from Leimer, who was wearing a pale blue shirt and gray slacks.

At the time Leimer disappeared last January, he was operating a debt-ridden wine importing business. Lawsuits and claims totaling more than $100,000 have been filed against him in various courts, according to court records.

Whiting ordered that Leimer remain in the county jail without bail and set an arraignment for Oct. 6. A trial has been scheduled to begin Nov. 30.