A Toledo Romeo Is Cruelly Stung by a Phantom Love He Never Even Met

updated 04/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

'Her voice was like flowers and sunshine—her letters would eat your heart out'

What Ron Reed did for love defies belief. For 10 years, while working as a technical assistant at a Toledo glass factory, he devoted his life to his fiancée. He surrounded himself with her photographs, set his alarm for 4 a.m. to have time to write to her before he reported to his job at 6:30, and worked overtime—often as much as 30 hours a week—to send her money for medical care. The total: at least $34,000, perhaps as much as $50,000—something of a fortune for him. His beloved, the beautiful, wealthy Kyle Stratton, was trapped in a Gothic horror: After a tragic auto accident in which she was orphaned and lost both kidneys, she had fallen into the clutches of the executor of her parents' estate, a powerful attorney who employed around-the-clock nurses to monitor visitors to her private hospital room. Except for a rare letter, she could communicate only by telephone conversations. Still, Ron remained faithful to her through the years of waiting, and his love flourished in adversity. "Her voice would make you melt," Reed sighs. "It was like flowers and sunshine and light. Her letters would eat your heart out. They made me feel like I was her whole life."

It sounded too beautiful to be true—and it was. In 10 years Ron Reed, now 36, never actually laid eyes on his inamorata—and police believe they have discovered why. They claim that Kyle never existed, and that Ron was the victim of one of the most incredible scams in the history of con artistry. It began late in 1968 at a session with a local astrologer, from whom Ron gradually learned the purple story of Kyle, the poor little rich girl. Late in 1970 he received his first phone call from a breathy and voluptuous-sounding woman who introduced herself as "Kyle"—and love began to bloom. At later meetings the spiritualist, Carolyn Matuszak, convinced Ron to give her money to help hire the nurses and dialysis equipment needed to make Kyle independent of her lawyer. When Ron began making monthly payments to keep a nurse on call for the girl's "escape," "Kyle" responded with loving phone calls and letters—and firm instructions never to visit or try to call her. Over Christmas 1971 Reed arranged to spirit Kyle out of the hospital, take her home to his parents in Dayton and marry her. "At the last minute," Ron remembers, "Kyle told me her blood pressure was up because of the anxiety, and she couldn't leave the hospital." Every Christmas for the next eight years a last-minute medical emergency prevented a similar escape. "The holidays were so bad," remembers Ron's mother, Ruth Reed, who was suspicious all along. "He'd put up these big 'Kyle' and 'Ron' Christmas stockings on the mantel of the fireplace, and he'd sit and wait for the call that would bring her home."

For all those years, Reed says he received only a few letters from Kyle, all pledging true love and sealed "honor bright" and "yum yum yum yum." They nicknamed each other Tiger, and Reed still has a stuffed tiger in his room, along with a Kappa Delta pennant, supposedly Kyle's sorority. Police still aren't sure who wrote the letters and spoke on the phone, or whose photos were used to represent Kyle. All the while Reed allegedly sent Carolyn Matuszak regular payments, and waited to be united with his beloved. Matters came to a head in January, when Ron told Carolyn that his purchase of a Pontiac Grand Prix would set him behind on his payments to the nurse. "Where the hell are your priorities?" Matuszak allegedly snapped at him—and an angry Reed finally turned to police.

A quick check showed that Toledo Hospital had no patient resembling Kyle Stratton. The police arrested Carolyn and her husband, Robert, formerly the personnel director of the Toledo Mental Health Center; both Matuszaks were charged with fraud. According to Toledo authorities, they invented Kyle, and used their creation to bilk Reed—and other unsuspecting Ohioans. Police have discovered another ex-"fiancé" of Kyle's who says he sent Carolyn almost $6,000 for flowers for the invalid's hospital room in the 1960s. They have also turned up several men who were "introduced" to Kyle by phone—and three women whom Matuszak somehow convinced that Kyle was a sorority sister. "I now accept that Kyle doesn't exist," Reed says sadly. "It's like she died, and I have to go on. It was such a cruel hoax."

Reed's gullibility now seems amazing. Though timid and overeager to please, Reed is intelligent enough to have earned a B.S. from Miami (Ohio) University. He explains, referring to his July 29 birthdate: "Leos are loyal and trusting. This wouldn't have happened to a more cynical person."

Nor has he lost his faith in happy endings: Last week the Matuszaks—who had pleaded not guilty—made financial restitution, and the criminal charges against them were dismissed. Ron has received sympathetic letters from across the country, and, says Ron, "I still can't be cynical, I still have to trust." When he opened a letter from a widowed Toledo typist offering to discuss his experiences, he read it over four or five times and then called her up. "We had dinner that night and I can't describe it," he says excitedly. "She's beautiful inside and outside. My love for Kyle was spiritual, but not physical. This lady, I know where she is, I can call her, I can go see her and hold her in my arms. A lot of good things can happen. My whole life has completely turned around." Later this month, Ron says, he will take his new "special lady" down to Dayton to meet his folks.

From Our Partners