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Thursday, March 14, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Abby' turns in reader for molestation letter

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MILWAUKEE — A man who wrote to "Dear Abby" for advice on how to handle his fantasies about having sex with children, particularly his girlfriend's daughters, was charged yesterday with possessing child pornography after the columnist turned him in, authorities say.

Paul Weiser, 28, was charged with three counts of possession of child pornography. He was released on $10,000 bail on the condition he avoid computers and contact with minors.

Police said 40 pornographic photographs of children were found in his computer after his arrest Monday. "He acknowledges he needs help and denies ever acting upon any desires," said prosecutor Paul Tiffin.

"Dear Abby" columnist Jeanne Phillips, the daughter of the column's founder, Pauline Phillips, called police after receiving the letter. Jeanne Phillips, who shares her mother's pen name, Abigail Van Buren, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she agonized over whether to report Weiser because the column's credibility is based on the anonymity given those seeking her advice.

"I lost sleep, didn't sleep for days, because I really believe this man wrote to me genuinely seeking help," she said. "I was torn because my readers do turn to me for help, yet there was the priority of the safety of those young girls."

Phillips added: "I believe he was seeking help, and I hope that is considered, and I hope he gets the help he so obviously needs."

Tom Hayes, Weiser's attorney, said he hoped Phillips' call to the police would not deter others from seeking help. He declined further comment. Pauline Phillips created the "Dear Abby" column in 1956. Her daughter has contributed to the syndicated column since the early 1980s and took over most of the duties in the early 1990s. The column appears in more than 1,200 newspapers around the globe, according to Universal Press Syndicate.

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