By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
His modest home in Little Elm on Lake Lewisville is a bachelor-pad parody. Old newspapers and heaps of junk mail sprout like mushrooms in corners and under tables. Cobwebs and balls of dust cloud the narrow spaces under the couches. Tangles of socks, T-shirts and rumpled sheets are visible through a cracked bedroom door off one corner of the living room.
As a crowning touch to the ultimate bachelor residence, he shares it with two roommates--strippers who work in Dallas men's clubs.
Attorney Bob Buss, 44, speaks with a generous Chicago accent. And judging by the décor, Buss is a homesick Chicagoan. Caps of various Chicago sports teams are lined up on his big-screen TV. Cabbage Patch dolls dressed in Chicago Cubs uniforms are perched along the back of the couch.
The phone rings.
"I always grab the phone because it might be one of these Ukrainian women calling me," Buss says, shuffling off to the kitchen. He has just returned from a trip to the Ukraine with stops in Odessa and Kiev. The catalog on his coffee table describes Kiev as a city of country charm. Odessa, it says, is a seaside village with beautiful sunsets, walks on the beach and warm summer nights to "create a truly relaxing and romantic atmosphere."
Next to the catalog, Buss has lined up a series of dark, poorly composed snapshots. There are pictures of his house, pictures of his old office, pictures of Buss next to his TV, pictures of him standing in his yard. "My thought basically was this whole thing was just a load of baloney," he says, returning from the kitchen. "It's like a singles bar, girls all over the place. It starts at noon, you wander around, ya hit on 'em. I want to go back again. I'm still high from the damn thing."
The "thing" Buss is referring to is a matchmaking tour sponsored by Anastasia International Inc., a Winchester, Kentucky-based Russian-American correspondence and tour service dedicated to linking American men with Russian women "for...romance, love and marriage." Anastasia is one of more than 200 international matchmaking firms advertising potential brides for American men, more than half of which represent Russian women. The firms range from free "pen pal" clubs in which participants write via e-mail, to correspondence services that advertise the photos and bios of hundreds of women on Web sites and in catalogs with addresses that can be bought for roughly $10 apiece, to tour services costing from $3,000 to more than $5,000 that usher men to Russian cities, where they spend their days meeting as many women as they like. But the Rolls Royce of Russian matchmaking services is right here in Dallas. In business for barely one year, Miss Russia Dot Com fancies itself the crème de la crème of Yankee-Russki lust. It's supposedly a collision of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and The Dating Game, in which well-heeled American men pay $25,000 for a seven-day tour to meet and court supermodel-caliber Russian women. And only millionaires need apply.
Dallas CPA James Hickman, 57, never planned on being a matchmaker, least of all for some of America's most affluent businessmen. But that's what happened, he says. Born in Sherman, Hickman seems to have a preference for beautiful foreign women. He says he married an Italian model in Italy while he was working for the accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick. The marriage didn't last.
Then in 1993, while recruiting Russian programmers in Moscow for the computer consulting firm he ran, Hickman collected a few addresses of the women he met. One of those women was Yana Kosenkova, 27, a law school student with whom Hickman corresponded for roughly a year. "Then he came to see me," Kosenkova says. "It was love at first sight, and three months later I came to the U.S. on a fiancee visa, and we were married."
"We met and fell in love immediately," Hickman explains. "It was like a sledgehammer hit me on the side of the head." Hickman says it was Kosenkova who actually started the business that would become Miss Russia Dot Com. He set her up with a computer and an Internet site, he says, so she could earn a little extra money for clothes. In time, she learned to program, and she used her contacts in Russia to set up a small matchmaking business. "We started out like most sites, selling addresses," Kosenkova says. "After I learned English, I ran the business and did the Web programming and everything."
Hickman and his wife stumbled onto the millionaire matchmaking idea after recruiting beautiful models interested in marriage through Hickman's teen pageant companies, another of his ventures. One of their earliest male clients said he would gladly pay $25,000 for the chance to meet the girl whom he'd marry. That comment was the seed for their "matchmakers for millionaires" service, and from that point on they catered only to wealthy men. Ironically, Hickman wouldn't make the financial cut with his own company if he were a prospective client, although he claims his business is worth $5 million alone just for the trademarks to the teen pageants.