Neighbors in a well-to-do section of this San Diego suburb knew him as Frank Szeles, a friendly Cub Scouts leader who frequently gave swimming lessons to young children in his backyard pool.
The federal agents who arrested him on Monday, January 25th knew him by a different name: “Mr. Wonder,” the host of a popular children’s television show who vanished decades ago amid allegations that he sexually abused several kids during a camping retreat in central Louisiana.
The man who faced a San Diego judge Wednesday denied he is the 76-year-old fugitive named Frank John Selas III who allegedly fled to Brazil in 1979 after Louisiana authorities secured a warrant for his arrest.
Back in Louisiana, Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators are convinced the right man is in custody. Meanwhile, officials in California are suddenly facing fears that Selas could have preyed on other children during the 37 years that he eluded capture.
“It’s absolutely shocking the level of access that this guy had to children, even now,” said Steve Jurman, supervisory deputy U.S. marshal in San Diego. “If there’s a playbook for pedophiles, he checked off every single box.”
Jurman said Selas had moved to California by 1985 and legally changed his last name to Szeles in 1992. Investigators in Louisiana believe Selas lived in other places — including Chicago; Darien, Connecticut; South Royalton, Vermont; and Sheffield, Massachusetts — after he returned from South America in the early 1980s.
Although no reports of other victims have surfaced outside Louisiana, some see an alarming pattern of behavior that followed the fugitive suspect to the community near the Mexican border where he lived with his wife.
The man known as Szeles once served as a Cub Scouts pack leader in Bonita but was removed from the position several years ago for failing to comply with the organization’s “youth protection policies and procedures,” the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement. The statement says a parent had made an unspecified complaint that didn’t relate to scouting.
Szeles also was removed from “all positions related to children” at his Mormon congregation in San Diego for failing to comply with the church’s “child protection policies,” according to Eric Hawkins, a Utah-based spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A company called Szeles Enterprises organized Cub Scouts day camps, swimming lessons and Saturday field trips to boys as young as 5. Jurman said investigators are confident the website belongs to the suspect.
The Chula Vista Elementary School District is reviewing whether Szeles had connections with any of its 45 schools, which enroll roughly 30,000 students. A flier promoting Szeles Enterprises’ programs for kids said the district was distributing it “as a public service.”
“To have someone with this alleged background literally in our backyard is a concern,” said school district spokesman Anthony Millican.
Investigators claim Selas sexually abused at least seven children during the camping trip to Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana in 1979. After parents complained about the alleged abuse, Rapides Parish authorities obtained a warrant for his arrest on two counts of obscene behavior with a juvenile.
He apparently planned other such trips. A flier for “Camping Weekends with Mr. Wonder” said some trips would only be for boys between 5 and 11 years old, but “Mrs. Wonder” would help supervise other co-ed trips.
After he disappeared, Selas’ wife told investigators that her husband fled in a car that later turned up in a Dallas suburb, according to the sheriff’s office.
One of the detectives assigned to the case was William Earl Hilton, now Rapides Parish’s elected sheriff. Hilton recently asked the U.S. Marshals Service to take a fresh look at finding Selas. They found the man known as Szeles in California about two weeks ago.
Neighbors said parents frequently took their children to Szeles’ large cul-de-sac house for swimming lessons. Haywood Gammon, who lives next door and knew Szeles and his wife since 1999, said children visited Szeles’ home throughout the summer.
The marshals found a Cub Scouts cap in the suspect’s house when they arrested him without incident Monday. Jurman said Selas acknowledged to authorities that he changed his name. Carlos, the defense attorney, said the allegations were “a shock to everyone.”
The Rapides Parish sheriff said his detectives have spoken to some of Selas’ alleged victims from the 1979 camping trip and they are willing to testify.
“It’s been a long road and it’s not nearly over,” Hilton said.
“We have finally captured this guy,” spokesman Lt. Tommy Carnline told the AP. “Now the investigation can really start, because we believe there are more victims out there.”
The charges against Selas currently only include two of his alleged victims but could result in “multiple” sexual battery and indecent behavior with a juvenile charges, according to The Town Talk.
Authorities are awaiting an extradition warrant after Selas refused to be extradited back to Louisiana from California during a hearing on Wednesday.
The suspect challenged authorities to prove he is the fugitive. On Wednesday, a San Diego judge ordered him to be held without bail and scheduled a hearing for Feb. 11th to establish identity. In the meantime, Louisiana authorities are reviving a long-dormant investigation.
More information about Frank John Selas III’s case can be found here:
- Decades-long search for “Mr. Wonder” ends with arrest
- Decades-long search for abuse suspect ends with California arrest
- The 37-year search for kids TV show host who police say sexually abused children
- Maria Magdalena Aranda Selas Szeles, ‘Mr. Wonder’ Frank John Selas III Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
- Former Louisiana children’s TV personality ‘Mr. Wonder’ busted after nearly four decades on the run from sexual abuse charges
- Man denies he is TV host wanted on child sex charges
- Church bans TV host ‘Mr. Wonder’ over sex abuse allegations
- REVEALED: Man believed to be ‘pedophile’ TV host Mr Wonder was banned by his Mormon church from contact with children after breaching their child protection policies
- Mormon Church bans “Mr. Wonder” from contact with kids
- Kids’ TV Host, Accused Child Molester Shows Up 30 Years Later as Youth Leader with New Name
- Decades-long search ends with an arrest
- “Mr. Wonder,” alleged La. pedophile, ostensibly caught after decades
If you have information about abuse by Frank John Selas III (aka Frank Szeles) please contact the San Diego, CA or Rapides Parish, LA police departments.
Also, if you would like advice from an attorney about the rights and options for victims of child sexual abuse, please contact Crew Janci LLP today for a free, confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our private online form. We will treat you with discretion and respect.