THE SPYING GAME

By A.J. Jacobs
Updated March 31, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

”FBI counterintelligence is probably monitoring this call,” cautions Carlos de Abreu, husband of The Price Is Right hostess Janice Pennington, during a phone interview. ”But that’s okay, we have nothing to hide.” But is something being hidden from them? To find out, de Abreu and Pennington are seeking help from cybersurfers at their World Wide Web site (http://HusbandLoverSpy.com), one of the strangest places in the increasingly surreal world of the Internet. The story begins in 1975. As the perma-smiling Pennington was busy showing Bob Barker’s stuff in L.A., mountain climber Fritz Stammberger, her husband of about two years, vanished near Afghanistan. Since then, Pennington, 51, has decided Stammberger may have been a U.S. spy-or even a Russian double agent- and has been trying to find him or his remains. Her search-recounted in her book, Husband, Lover, Spy (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)-has been a marathon of hush-hush meetings with ex-KGB agents, an appeal for President Clinton’s help, and even a not-so-successful L.A. seance. In 1984, Pennington married author de Abreu (Opening the Doors to Hollywood), but didn’t give up the manhunt. And to put the past to rest, de Abreu agreed to help. A computer maven, he took the search to the Internet this month. ”We thought, What a great access to the global community,” says Pennington, on another possibly recorded phone interview. ”And how instrumental it could be in searching for missing people.” Armchair detectives can flip through dossiers, download photos, and peruse updated memos written with Joe Friday seriousness: ”In or around 1972, Fritz Stammberger traveled to New York City, USA, and met with two men of Latin descent.” If, after browsing, they have a juicy lead, they can zip off a message. On July 10, the cybersleuth who has given the most helpful tip will win $1,000. The couple realizes their site may raise eyebrows. ”People will say all we’re doing is selling the book,” de Abreu says. ”But if people who buy the book can help us, I’m willing to pay the price.” The price, in other words, is right. -A.J. Jacobs

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