A CALLOUS Casanova conman has broken dozens of men's hearts and stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars by posing as a string of beautiful Asian women looking for long-distance romance. Christopher Barnes even sent the men photographs of ''herself'' - actually pictures of Playboy models with the names changed. Some of his love-struck pen-friends, aged from 16 to 86, were so desperate to meet the dark-eyed beauty they actually turned up at ''her'' address. Others sent money for air tickets, which were never bought, and jewellery. But now Barnes is behind bars in Los Angeles, serving a 30-month jail sentence for mail fraud. ''This is a very serious offence, although at first people might laugh at it,'' said Assistant US Attorney Mr Duane Lyons, who prosecuted the case. ''The individual sums of money were small, and it's safe to say he didn't bankrupt anybody. But people got emotionally involved with these characters he was making up, and it was a terrific blow when they found out the truth.'' Barnes, an athletic 37-year-old, 1.88 m-tall bodybuilder who drove a flashy sports car and who is married to a Filipina, is believed to have started his career as a romance writer at least seven years ago, when he founded the Barne Club, a society which promised introductions to beautiful Asian women - for a fee. He then expanded, opening other societies with names like Orient Express, Club Connections, Club East-West Intro and The Club, using anonymous mail-box services as their addresses. ''He worked by exchanging a series of letters,'' said Mr Lyons. ''He took out advertisements for his clubs, and when a man responded he wrote back, using a false name, to thank them for writing. ''He would describe himself as an Asian girl, with an hourglass figure and extremely attractive. He would then describe 'her' hobbies, and what sort of sex acts she enjoyed. And she would ask him to join the club, for a US$100 (HK$780) processing fee. ''In the next letter 'she' would tell him his application had been accepted and he could join for a membership fee of US$495, which would entitle him to a membership list, introductions and parties - but none of it ever happened. ''We have no idea how many victims there were altogether, but certainly more than 400.'' Barnes went too far when he pretended to be genuine Playboy models and wrote to victims using the models' real names. Several men complained to the US postal service and to Playboy. Barnes - who was ironically in jail for passing bad cheques in Hollywood- agreed to sign a cease and desist order. But authorities claim he simply ignored the order, opened a new mail-box and came up with new names. His two most popular names were Velma Tang and Myra Perez. Others included Jasmine Ortega, April Go, Pearl Santana and Olivia Tan. Most of the handwritten notes were form letters, sent to hundreds of men and signed with a heart as well as a name. In one of them, ''Velma'' wrote: ''Darling, more than my limited use of words can express, I am overjoyed to have finally found someone as special as you. I sincerely believe you are a very special man. I also believe you are capable of filling the void in my life. ''And if you will give me that chance by sending me your enclosed membership form and dues, which is totally refundable, you may find that I am equally capable of filling the void in your life, too, and in more ways than you might previously have imagined.'' Barnes' most successful creation - but the one who eventually led to his downfall, was Myra Perez. She won the hearts of her pen-friends so thoroughly they sent her roses and jewellery - then started turning up at her address. ONE man, 84-year-old Mr Glenn Buechly, clutched red roses as he waited at an Ohio airport for Myra, knowing he would recognise her by her ''sinfully straight'' black hair and red dress. When she did not arrive, using the airline ticket he had sent her, Mr Buechly went after his love. Instead of finding his dark-haired beauty's home, he found a mail-drop run by a couple who knew nothing of Myra. Heartbroken, he died soon after. He was not the only man to turn up at the mail-box centre - where many thought the Thai manageress, Mrs Pat Ohara, must be the woman of their dreams. ''This old man from New Jersey hobbled in here with a cane and told me he loved me,'' she recalled. ''I told him to go sit down and take a rest.'' Victims who did not arrive in person sent love tokens, chocolates and roses, which Pat ended up giving away to customers and street-sleepers. Another victim, a 41-year-old electronics worker from California, told the authorities: ''I poured out my heart and soul, not to mention my cash, to a woman who turned out to be a hairy-chested bodybuilder. ''This guy tapped into that yawning gap of lonely, horny men who don't have easy access to fulfil their needs. I was sucked in like a vacuum cleaner.'' A third man, a 34-year-old Pennsylvania engineer, said: ''When I saw the photograph I went, 'Wow! Look at that girl'. She was beautiful. The fact she came from a different country made things more intriguing.'' Barnes spent six months in jail for mail fraud in 1988, and bragged at the time he had sent more than 1,500 letters signed Myra Perez. He was arrested again last July, when postal inspectors confiscated thousands of letters, his mailing list and plans tolaunch a new scheme - a phone-sex line. Authorities discovered he had put US$280,000 through his bank account in the 30 months he had been free, and he admitted it could have been as much as US$350,000. He pleaded guilty to 10 counts of mail fraud. On top of his jail sentence he was fined US$30,000 and ordered to serve a three-year period of supervision on his release. Despite all the money he made from his romantic victims, only US$7,000 was left in his bank accounts by the time investigators got to it. But Mr Lyons added: ''His wife, Ms Grace Bondoc, has gone back to the Philippines, we understand. He says he gave a lot of the money to his church, but who knows?''