Sordid Details Arise in Trial of Serial HIV Infector

Walter Armstrong

A 47-year-old HIV positive grandfather of five in Melbourne, Australia, who allegedly had unprotected sex with more than 200 men, has been charged with intentional HIV infection, rape and possession of child pornography.

The defendant, Michael Neal, was first arrested in June after what police described as a "top-secret investigation." As Neal's name and photo began circulating in the local press, a growing number of gay Melbournians understandably got a nasty surprise—and some headed to cop central to tell their own tale. So far, 16 victims have been identified, and five have tested positive.

Neal now stands accused of some 115 crimes, and the preliminary hearing has only begun. The facts in the case of the world's leading serial HIV infector are sketchy. According to the testimony of his STD doctor, Grandpa Neal had "condom phobia." He had consulted the doc in 1999 after having had unprotected sex with three different men in a single week, saying he wanted "to become HIV positive so he could have unprotected anal intercourse" because he was unable to maintain an erection while wearing a condom. Neal succeeded in seroconverting in 2000.

But Neal was apparently not satisfied by having unprotected sex only with positive partners. In fact, he seemed to be in training for some kind of deluded bareback Olympics, with "gift giving" his prize event.

An ex-boyfriend who began seeing Neal in 2001 said that during their relationship, Neal often vowed to "seed" him. "‘Daddy will seed you,'" Neal told him repeatedly. "You will be daddy's little poz boy." The man also described for the court "conversion parties" that he and Neal attended at a well-known Melbourne hotel, where HIV-negative "bug chasers" and HIV-positive "gift givers" would perform seroconversion rites. He claimed that at one such party there had been more than 100 gay men. This man, who was testifying against his will, tested positive in July 2004.

Police say Neal met many other victims at bars, sex clubs, cruising areas and online, often lying that he was HIV-negative in order to lure them into unsafe sex. One man alleges that he was drugged.

One of the most disturbing, if not surprising, aspects of this twisted tale is the apparent failure of authorities to intervene. Several STD doctors, the department of human services, and any number of local gay and AIDS organizations may have received warnings and complaints about the serial infector in their midst, but none ratted him out to the police. Nor was it clear why no one prescribed Viagra and counseling to the condom-phobic Neal.