Cyber-husband's manhood proved only virtual reality

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Margaret Anne Hunter had been married for four months to a man she had met over the Internet before she noticed he was a woman.

The crucial clue that alerted the West Virginian woman that all was not as she had supposed with her husband, came when "his" mother rang and asked to speak to "Holly Anne" and not to the Thorne Wesley Jameson Groves she thought she had married.

Now she is suing her spouse for $575,000. As well as the fraud she charges "him" with, she also wants compensation for all the money she spent on food, transportation and telephone calls during the relationship. According to her lawyer, Seth Guggenheim, Ms Hunter had every reason to be deceived. "Holly had such credible and detailed explanations, excuses, and personal history. There was nothing that gave my client and other people pause," he said.

Groves told Ms Hunter that "he" was suffering from Aids, and that the heavy bandages, which covered his chest at all times when he undressed, were to heal wounds "he" had sustained in a car crash, rather than to conceal his breasts. She believed him.

The couple met electronically in the autumn of 1995. It is common for men to pretend to be women on the Internet for reasons ranging from curiosity to obscure sexual gratification; and fairly common for women to pretend to be men, at least in some areas of the Net, in order to avoid ceaseless propositioning.

However, this is the first recorded case in which such pretence has been carried through to the point of marriage.

By December last year, they had spent two nights together in a hotel room. It is not clear what transpired, but afterwards Ms Groves proposed marriage, and Ms Hunter, her suit claims, agreed "out of compassion and love"

They were married last winter in a hotel in front of 60 relatives of the bride. No one from the purported groom's family attended the wedding; and though Ms Groves claimed to have Aids, "he" never saw any doctors for the condition. Contacted by a news agency, Ms Groves' mother, who had unwittingly exposed her daughter's identity, refused to comment.

Ms Hunter blamed the whole thing on the Internet, which she no longer uses. "Computer users need to be increasingly careful with whom they speak," she said.