DALLAS -- She calls herself C. J. Nobody is sure who she is -- or if she even exists -- but many people fear that they know her.
Before she dies, she says, she wants to kill as many men in this town as she can.
C. J. is infected with the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which she says she contracted from a white bisexual man. Since then, she says, she has launched a deadly mission to infect the men of Dallas.
For reasons no one quite understands, C. J., who is black, appears to pick black men as victims. She says she sleeps with four to five men a week.
Some people find her story too horrible to be true. They suspect a hoax and think C. J. might be a publicity-seeker playing a prank on the city.
Some health and law-enforcement officials are taking her seriously, and they warn that she could be the first of many such women.
But Dallas health officials say that it's not likely that C. J. would infect a sex partner in a single encounter.
While relative likelihoods of transmission of the disease have not been established by research, many AIDS specialists believe that infection of a woman by a man occurs more readily than infection of a man by a woman.
"The devil in disguise," Debra Johnson said of her recently at a Dallas nightclub. "That is what she is."
Whether fact or fiction, she is a nightmare this town can't seem to wake itself up from. Men in nightclubs are approaching women cautiously. Women who supposedly resemble C. J. are whispered about and pointed at, and they complain that they can no longer get dates. Wives are telling radio talk shows that their husbands are coming straight home after work, not stopping at bars. And the Dallas Urban League has begun passing out free condoms in the restrooms of the city's 10 most popular nightclubs.
Fear of the woman and of AIDS has been building here since Ebony magazine published in its September issue a letter purportedly written by a Dallas woman named "C. J." The author wrote that she had AIDS and was now having sex with men for revenge.
"If I have to die of a horrible disease, I won't go alone," she wrote.
She claims to have slept with 48 men, some of them married. But some here estimate that C. J. actually may have slept with a couple of hundred men because the letter to Ebony is believed to be 2 years old.
Radio talk-show host Willis Johnson, who works for station KKDA-AM, said that a woman named C. J. sent him the same letter two years ago and that he read it on his show then.
At a station function the next day, a black woman whom he describes as "the kind men find it difficult to say no to" -- pretty, with long, dark, curly hair, about 5-foot-5 and 120 pounds -- walked up to him and introduced herself as C. J.
The woman talked with him briefly, he said, and then disappeared.
He did not hear from her again until last month, when she called one morning after he appealed over the air for her to contact him to discuss the letter, which had stirred up listeners who had read it in Ebony.
C. J. called him Sept. 3, this time while he was on the air.
During the 20-minute conversation, Mr. Johnson asked her if she felt guilty.
C. J. replied: "No, I don't. I blame it on the man. Not just one man. All of them. I'm doing it to all the men because it was a man who gave it to me."
Johnson: "You feel no remorse? No sorrow? Do you feel anything at all?"
C. J.: "Nope. Revenge."
Johnson: "How do you answer the folks who say C. J. is not for real?"
C. J.: "Well, I say this: Time will tell. Because the ones that say C. J. is not for real, I probably slept with their man."
Johnson: "Do you view yourself as a serial killer? . . . Do you stalk the men you want?"
C. J.: "I don't do it like that. I don't approach them. They approach me. And I go along with them."
According to her on-air conversation, C. J. is from Dallas, and so is her family, which apparently is well-to-do. She has seven brothers and sisters. She has plenty of money. And like many other women, she had wanted a husband and children.
When Mr. Johnson read C. J.'s letter over the air two years ago, callers discussed it for about a week and the issue faded. But this time, emotions erupted: Callers began commenting on and analyzing her behavior.
Hundreds of them wrote letters. One is from an 18-year-old woman -- a virgin, she wrote -- who is afraid she will never get a chance to have sex because C. J. is killing off the men.
The publicity has opened doors to AIDS groups that have been trying for years to sell this message to people who weren't buying it. In the last two weeks, the Dallas Urban League's Minority HIV/AIDS prevention project has distributed 3,000 free condoms, and its hot line has been busy taking calls from people wanting to know if they should be tested, said Rick Thurmond, the program coordinator.
"It has brought [AIDS education] to a new awareness stage," Mr. Thurmond said. "We have more people taking the condoms. Probably, it is the guilty conscience speaking.
"We have reached more people than we have reached in a long, long time."
Some of those being reached are those who wrongly believed that they were not at risk of getting AIDS: heterosexual men and women who have multiple partners, Mr. Thurmond said.
A study released in June says the number of cases among women is soaring, suggesting that AIDS may be entering its third stage -- infecting heterosexual women after first appearing among gay men and then intravenous drug users. The study found that one-third of the women who have the disease contracted it through sex with men and that slightly more than half the women are black.