NEW LONDON, CT—According to reports, Steve Zollner, 36, a New London-area non-smoking SWM, may have lied about his taste for long walks and sunsets.

A June 1996 file photo of non-smoking SWM Steve Zollner sharing good times and outdoor fun with an unidentified woman.

Zollner's long-walks- and sunset-liking claim, which has appeared frequently in the personals section of The New London Examiner since late December, is believed by local police to be part of an elaborate scheme by the at-large Zollner to lure unsuspecting attractive, fit SWFs between the ages of 30 to 40.

"Lurking somewhere in this city is a scam artist who lures innocent women to his voice-mail box with false claims of enjoying sunsets, long walks and various other activities of a romantic nature," New London police chief Eugene Woodall said. "We are urging all women in the area to exercise extreme caution when approaching unfamiliar men for friendship and possibly more."

In addition to sunsets and long walks, Zollner, who sometimes goes by the aliases "Classy Companion" and "Your Mr. Right?" claimed in the 58-word ad to have a fondness for candlelit dinners, close companionship and new adventures. Zollner's numerous victims said these claims are also false.

"In the ad, Steve sounded like a real teddy bear, so I called him up," said Rhonda Leland, a petite 36-year-old veterinarian's assistant who is intelligent and independent, but also a dreamer. "Then, after a few weeks of dating him, it became clear that Steve wasn't interested in anything but drinking beer and watching COPS. Once, I even suggested that we go for a walk and he said, 'Walk? What do you want to walk for?' It was obvious that I had been the victim of a scam."

Shoe-store manager Janet Dreisbach, a once bitten, twice shy, recently divorced professional with above-average looks, had a similar experience with Zollner. "When I saw #2567's ad, it seemed too good to be true," said Dreisbach, who has been looking for a discriminating soulmate for good times and great conversation since February 1996. "After all, it sounded like we had a lot in common, like the part in the ad that said he 'enjoys having fun.' Well, as I quickly found out, it was too good to be true."

Thus far, police said, Zollner's scam has claimed eight victims. In addition to Leland and Dreisbach, six other women responded to Zollner's personals ad during its five-week run, including three who actually went on dates with Zollner and one who left several messages for him on The New London Examiner's automated Love Line.

"Something about this particular personals ad just didn't add up," said Det. Daniel Stenson, who launched the investigation of Zollner after spotting his ad in a special Jan. 3 "Catch The Love Bug" pull-out section of The Examiner. "A well-built outdoors-type who loves spending cuddly evenings in front of the fireplace and going out to movies? It just didn't seem possible for one man to have so many wildly divergent interests."

Also being sought by police is Erik Larsen, a friend of Zollner's who is widely suspected to be the individual who suggested that Zollner try placing a personals ad. According to police, Larsen also may have assisted Zollner in writing the ad, in effect making him an accomplice to the crime.

"Serving as an accomplice to fraud is a serious crime with serious consequences," Stenson said. "If Mr. Larsen is caught, he will have some very grave questions to answer."

Though no formal charges have yet been filed against Zollner, police have collected substantial evidence against him. For example, contrary to Zollner's claim of being "a major music lover," a police search of his home found that he owns only six CDs, one of which is a Little River Band disc still in its plastic shrink-wrap. Further, Zollner's assertion that he loves "drinking wine by the fireplace" was cast into doubt when investigators found no trace of either wine or a fireplace in his three-room apartment.

"It is clear that by concocting these deliberately misleading fabrications, Zollner intended to represent himself in a positive light to overly trusting members of the opposite sex," Stenson said. "And for what purpose? To ensnare them in the cruel web of banality and boredom that is his existence as an aging single."

Anyone with information about Zollner is urged to call the New London Police Department at 1-900-555-9365, box #2952. Callers must be 18 or older, and all calls are strictly confidential. Touchtone phones only. No fatties.