MILWAUKEE -- She lost sleep, agonizing over the letter for days. In the end, ''Dear Abby'' columnist Jeanne Phillips decided she had to call police.
Phillips contacted authorities after receiving a letter from a man who had sought her advice on how to handle his fantasies about having sex with underage girls.
Phillips, the daughter of the column's founder, Pauline Phillips, said she was torn over what to do, since the column's credibility is based on the anonymity of those seeking her advice.
But her concern over the safety of potential victims led her to speak up.
''He talked about one little girl in particular and he mentioned her younger sister in passing,'' Phillips told The Associated Press early Thursday in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
''There was no guarantee that if I tried to have him talk to a psychotherapist that he would actually do it,'' she said. ''The only way I could be absolutely certain that the little girls would be safe was to try to have an intervention.''
Her call to Milwaukee police led to the arrest last Monday of Paul Weiser, 28. He was released on $10,000 bond Wednesday after being charged with three counts of possessing child pornography. A judge ordered Weiser to avoid computers and contact with anyone under 18.
Police said they recovered 40 pornographic photographs of children from his computer equipment.
''He acknowledges he needs help and denies ever acting upon any desires,'' prosecutor Paul Tiffin said.
Phillips, who shares her mother's pen name Abigail Van Buren, said the subjects of the fantasies included two young daughters of the man's girlfriend.
''This was not an easy decision, but I had to make sure the children were safe,'' she said. ''There may be people who criticize me for doing what I did, but I can live with this.''
The man's letter, she said, was ''very unusual.''
''I've received a couple of letters where I heard from young girls who felt that they were at risk but didn't know what to do,'' she said. In those cases, she said she contacted the organization Childhelp USA to help the letter writers, including notifying authorities if necessary.
Tiffin said police would not have arrested Weiser without Phillips' help.
According to a criminal complaint, Weiser said he has been sexually attracted to young girls since the age of 16, and has sought help from four separate doctors, who told him he did not have a problem.
If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the three counts against him.
''My heart goes out to him and I pray to God that he connects with a doctor who can help, because he seems to be a person who wants to be helped,'' she told the AP.
''I lost sleep, didn't sleep for days, because I really believe this man wrote to me genuinely seeking help,'' Phillips told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in its Wednesday editions.
A family member who answered the door at Weiser's home said the family had no 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.
The elder Phillips' twin sister, Eppie Lederer, is the advice columnist Ann Landers.
Associated Press writer Juliet Williams in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
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