2014-03-06 / Life in Leelanau

When history turns out not so nice

By Kathleen Firestone for the Enterprise

A CREW of about 15 men cleared and graded a landing area on South Fox Island for a landing strip for Francis Shelden, kneeling from left, and his brother, Alger. A CREW of about 15 men cleared and graded a landing area on South Fox Island for a landing strip for Francis Shelden, kneeling from left, and his brother, Alger. Editor’s note: In reference to her book, The Fox Islands, North and South

My recent history piece for the Enterprise was about North Fox Island and the short-lived deer hunts. It was also about Francis D. Shelden.

I don’t usually write history from a first-person voice, but this time I will. That’s because I’m angry.

I have walked the entire perimeter of South Fox Island, and also North Fox Island. There is no place I would rather be than on one of Leelanau County’s beautiful islands, walking along the shore, sitting atop a dune, exploring a lighthouse or old farmstead. But Shelden has put a damper on some of that. His legacy includes not only deer stories, but also alleged offenses against children. I have to say “alleged” because he was never brought to trial.

Shelden was from Ann Arbor and a well-known philanthropist who sat on boards and involved himself in childwelfare agencies. When two adolescent boys from Port Huron told family members that Francis Shelden had molested and photographed them on North Fox Island, the Leelanau County locals were shocked! Blurred photos from state police reports, evidence taken from child porn magazines, showed children with a background identified as being North Fox Island, verifying that the boys had been on the island.

How was Shelden able to take other people’s children to North Fox? Shelden and his cronies had established Brother Paul’s Children’s Mission, allegedly as a front for their child pornography ring. They hired the Omenabased excavating business headed by Frank Kalchik to clear a runway on the island, where Shelden and others could land small aircraft. The Kalchiks were among the shocked when the child pornography news broke.

Looking back, Joan Kalchik Ten- Brock told me of the days after the airstrip was constructed, when some of the family had gone to the island by boat to look the place over. Unexpectedly, Francis Shelden arrived and was surprised to see the Kalchik group down the shoreline. After walking to meet them, Shelden directed the Kalchiks to his small cabin and told them to stay until he came back to get them. After waiting an hour or so, Shelden showed up and gave a tour of parts of the island. Joan now believes Shelden’s actions were suspicious and that he was trying to get rid of some evidence (or maybe a small person).

Frank Shelden had friends and acquaintances on the Leelanau mainland — people who had let him stay in their homes, people who had shared meals with him. When some asked to read what Frank was writing on his typewriter, Frank declined, saying they wouldn’t be interested in the kinds of things he wrote.

I was near the end of writing my book The Fox Islands, North and South, when the child pornography allegations came to light. Shelden suddenly disappeared from the Leelanau landscape, both mainland and North Fox. The Leelanau Enterprise, the Traverse City Record-Eagle, and other newspapers around the state continued to pursue news about Shelden and the alleged pornography ring. No one could seem to locate him, but he did manage to get some angry responses against reporters, by way of his agents.

Leelanau County Prosecuting Attorney James R. Williams issued a warrant against Francis D. Shelden, but the man was never brought to trial. District Court File 2233 is only history, as Shelden escaped to the Netherlands, a place that rarely extradites.

I wrote a letter to Frank Shelden, after a friend gave me Frank’s attorney’s address. I promised Frank I would not ask any questions about the allegations; that I wanted to know about the deer, the fish, any shipwrecks he knew of near the island. He wrote me back, from the Netherlands. He graciously answered my questions and said he would like to see my book when it was finished.

Shortly after receiving Frank’s letter, I got a phone call from the FBI. I answered a few questions, and they seemed satisfied that I was not a criminal.

Reports of Frances Shelden’s death surfaced in 1996, and a Michigan warrant for him was cancelled in May, 1997, with state police reporting, “exceptional clearance, suspect is dead and cannot be prosecuted, but was obviously involved.” Private individuals still searching for justice suggest Shelden did not die in 1996, but established a new identity as Frank Torey, and continued to operate in the pedophile world. His close associate, Dyer Grossman, also disappeared and may have assumed a new identity.

That may be the end of the story for us in Leelanau County. It’s not the end for child pornography victims. In fact, at least one family in Southern Michigan believes that children were not only molested and photographed, but also murdered by members of the large pornography ring of which Frank Shelden was a part. The King family still looks for justice for their son and brother, who was one of those murdered in the unsolved Oakland County child killings of the 1970s. The family continues pressuring law enforcement to solve the murders of the four children who were molested, suffocated, meticulously groomed, and dumped, after being missing for several days. Their Internet blog gives many references to North Fox Island.

I don’t know if I will ever walk the beach of North Fox Island again. I hope so, now that it belongs to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But its beauty has been spoiled — spoiled by the terrible things that perverted men probably did there.

When I read newspaper accounts of horrible crimes against children, I have to believe reporters do not enjoy writing about such things. Likewise, when I wrote about Frank Shelden and the North Fox Island deer hunts, I knew there was more to the man. I just didn’t want to have to say it.

Return to top