A former Louisiana television personality known as "Mr. Wonder" was arrested in San Diego County on charges he sexually abused young children during a free camping trip nearly four decades ago.
Frank John Selas III, known by his television name "Mr. Wonder," is accused of criminal sexual conduct with juveniles, said Sheriff William Earl Hilton of Rapides Parish, Louisiana. For the last 30 years, he has been living in the San Diego area under another last name, officials revealed Tuesday.
In a statement, the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office in Louisiana said 76-year-old Selas remained a fugitive for 37 years before his arrest Monday at his home in Bonita, California, on two counts of obscene behavior with a juvenile.
“As I have stated many times before, there are cases you never forget, some that always are in the back of your mind that you hope one day to solve. And today, this person has been brought to justice,” said Sheriff Hilton in a statement.
It was not immediately clear if Selas had an attorney.
In the late 1970s, Selas hosted the "Mr. Wonder" show on KNOE-TV in north Louisiana. In 1979, the sheriff's office received complaints from parents who accused Selas of abusing their children during a camping trip near Valentine Lake at Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. The three-day retreat was promoted by Selas through Ouachita Parish, associated with his TV personality. He promoted the trips for children ages 5-11, according to a flier provided by the sheriff's office.
Louisiana Sheriff's officials obtained a warrant for Selas' arrest in relation to two counts of obscene behavior with a juvenile. When officials went to his home, his wife told them her husband had fled in the family car. In the coming days, officials would find Selas' car in Dallas. Selas, then 39, allegedly fled the country and flew from Dallas to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before investigators could arrest him.
During the investigation, detectives learned Selas was accused of prior offenses when he worked as a teacher at a school in Tokyo, Japan.
Investigators believe he returned to the U.S. in the early 1980s and lived with his wife under assumed names in several different cities and towns across the country, including San Diego; Chicago; Darien, Connecticut; South Royalton, Vermont; and Sheffield, Massachusetts.
The sheriff's office said investigators learned about two weeks ago that Selas was living in San Diego County, California, where he had legally changed his last name to Szeles in the early 1990s.
Selas has lived in San Diego since 1985 and during that time, he was the PTA President of Ella B. Allen School at 4300 Allen School Road in Bonita and Valley Vista Elementary at 3724 Valley Vista Way. He was a PE teacher, soccer coach and a member of the Southern California Mormon Church and Bonita Optimist Group. He was an American Red Cross swim instructor and Cub Scout Troop Leader of Troop 888 in Bonita. As they arrested him, they found a Cub Scout uniform in his home.
"It's quite alarming, the access to children he had," said Steve Jurman, supervising deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service. "At this time, we don't know of any victims here in San Diego."
A Boy Scouts source told NBC 7 San Diego Selas worked with the Boy Scouts until 2012, when he was removed.
The Boy Scouts of America sent NBC 7 this statement regarding Selas:
"This individual was removed from Scouting several years ago and precluded from any further participation in our program. The safety of our youth members is of paramount importance to the BSA and we seek to prevent child abuse through a comprehensive program of education on the subject, the chartered organization leader selection process, criminal background and other checks, policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse."
When asked why he was removed, the spokeswoman said in an email, "This individual was removed from the Scouting program for non-compliance with our youth protection policies and procedures."
Agents from a U.S. Marshals Service task force arrested him without incident.
Hilton, the Louisiana sheriff, was one of the detectives assigned to the case in 1979.
“If there was a definition of a sexual predator, this is one, and I am so proud of the work of our investigators along with the assistance of Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office and our local members of the U.S. Marshals Western District-Louisiana, Violent Offenders Task Force, in locating this suspect after all these years. We never forget our victims,” Hilton said.
Selas is being held at San Diego County Detention Center on the two initial counts of obscene behavior with a juvenile and may be charges with additional crimes as detectives continue their investigation.
At a press conference Tuesday, Louisiana officials said they believed there may be additional victims spread throughout several Louisiana jurisdictions, across the nation and possibly internationally. At the time, Selas is said to have traveled to several countries, including Japan, Central and South America.
A neighbor, who did not wish to be identified, told NBC 7 she had a jarring experience with Selas years ago.
"The gentleman, when my children were little about 20 years ago, would come to the bus stop with a puppy," she said. When she asked Selas if he had children, he said no.
She called police and they told Selas to leave. However, now the neighbor wishes she had pushed harder.
"I saw fliers for camps he was offering that I knew weren't right, and when we called police, they said there was nothing they could do," said the woman.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call the RPSO Criminal Investigations Division at (318) 473-6727 or (318) 473-6700.