Divorced, widowed and HIV-positive, Pamela Wiser was so angry with a former boyfriend for infecting her that she had to get revenge. Not on him - on any man she could sleep with.
Wiser said she spent the past year having a series of one-night stands with up to 50 men she met at bars in largely rural Marshall and Bedford counties. Though she's now changed her story to only five such encounters, police are investigating as if the larger number is the truth."We don't know who they are," Police Chief Michael Hunter said Thursday. "Some we have first names, some we have no names."
It is the latest high-profile case in which authorities say someone carrying the AIDS virus knowingly had sex with others.
In the St. Louis area, health officials said Darnell "Boss Man" McGee infected at least 18 women and girls, the largest documented case of its kind. McGee, 28, had more than 100 known sex partners before he was slain last year in an apparent robbery attempt.
Earlier this year, authorities in New York said 17 people are believed to have HIV infections linked to Nushawn Williams, a drifter now charged with rape. The cases stretch from New York City to the western half of the state.
Wiser, 29, said she contracted HIV three years ago from an ex-boyfriend and decided a year ago to act out on her anger by having one-night stands. She said she told her lovers that she had the virus, but they didn't care.
"I was just getting revenge for what he did to me," Wiser said in an interview at the Marshall County Jail. "I feel I've gotten my revenge."
She has been charged with two counts of criminal exposure to HIV and could face more. Hunter said his department received about 80 calls in the first 24 hours after men were urged to get tested.
The announcement by Wiser has stunned residents of Lewisburg, a Tennessee community of 9,900 about 50 miles south of Nashville.
"I never thought we'd have heard of it here," said Michael Pogue, whose family moved here from Memphis last year to get away from big-city problems.
But some in town knew about Wiser and what she was doing.
Pat Blackmore, manager of the Economy Inn in Lewisburg, said Wiser came in about once a week for months with various men. The men always paid the $25 room charge.
"We knew she had (HIV) and even warned people who were in the hotel, `Don't get a hold of her, she's dangerous,"' Blackmore said. "I am terribly hurt that anything like this could happen in this town, because it's a church-going town."
Hunter said police were tipped to Wiser by a man who had sex with her and was tested for HIV. He would not say whether the man tested positive.
A Marshall County grand jury indicted Wiser on the two charges last week. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in jail.
Hunter said the Department of Public Health has promised to share the burden of searching for Wiser's lovers. State workers will help locate them, urge them to get tested and provide counseling.
Steve Hoelscher, administrator of the town's Marshall County Medical Center, said he hasn't seen an increase in the number of people coming in for HIV tests. He said the news caught him off guard.
"I guess in this day and time, anything's possible," he said. "Certainly no place is immune, but you don't expect it here."