Neighbors in a well-to-do section of this San Diego suburb knew him as Frank Szeles, a friendly Cub Scouts leader who gave swimming lessons to kids in his backyard pool. The feds who arrested him last week knew him as "Mr. Wonder," the host of a popular kids TV show who vanished decades ago amid allegations that he sexually abused several kids on a camping retreat in Louisiana, reports the AP. 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—and that he could have preyed on other children during the 37 years he eluded capture. "It's absolutely shocking the level of access that this guy had to children, even now," said Steve Jurman, a US 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 believe Selas lived in other places—Chicago; Darien, Conn.; South Royalton, Vt.; and Sheffield, Mass.—after he returned from South America. Some see an alarming pattern of behavior:
- Szeles served as a Cub Scouts pack leader in Bonita but was removed years ago for failing to comply with "youth protection policies."
- Szeles also was removed from "all positions related to children" at his Mormon congregation in San Diego for failing to comply with "child protection policies."
- A company called Szeles Enterprises organized Cub Scouts day camps, swimming lessons, and field trips to boys as young as 5.
Selas' former co-workers at KNOE-TV in Louisiana remember him as a strange, standoffish man, but nobody saw any sinister motives behind his "Mr. Wonder" hit show. "All the kids wanted to be on it," said one. "Nobody could stand him," said another. Investigators claim Selas sexually abused at least seven children during the camping trip to Kisatchie National Forest. After parents complained, Rapides Parish authorities obtained a warrant for his arrest. The Rapides Parish sheriff said his detectives have spoken to some of Selas' alleged victims and they are willing to testify. "It's been a long road and it's not nearly over," he said.