The runway still cuts across Lake Michigan’s North Fox Island, faded like an old scar. The airstrip is the first thing that Francis D. Shelden built after buying his hideaway.
In 1960, the millionaire outbid the state government for the island, shaped like an upside-down teardrop, that hovers 19 miles off the coast of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. The state offered the owner, an elderly widow, about $3,500. The Detroit Free Press reported Shelden gave her $20,000.
He wanted isolation and he got it.
The 3,000-foot stretch of green was where Shelden, a former Michigan Air National Guard airman, would touch down in his private plane. It’s also where the young campers would arrive in the summer, before they were ushered into cottages concealed by beech and elm trees. Before, survivors say, they became stuck in a spider’s web of sexual abuse and child pornography.
Michigan State Police responded to Business Insider’s records request on Shelden with a statement saying that “a search of Michigan’s criminal history file has not located a criminal record that exactly matches the information that you have provided.” But a review of Michigan State Police reports from the 1970s on the case of North Fox Island point to an operation built on manipulation, deception, and coercion.
The story of the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of sexually abusing and trafficking minors, erupted in the news this year, and internet sleuths say the case of Shelden and Lake Michigan’s North Fox Island bears an uncanny resemblance to today’s scandal.
Both center on allegations that secretive millionaires weaponized their philanthropic giving, cliques of connected friends, and private island paradises to prey on young victims and escape justice. Like Shelden, Epstein was a millionaire, a philanthropist, and a man with powerful friends. And neither stood trial for the crimes for which he was accused.
After accusations surfaced about goings-on at North Fox Island, Shelden disappeared.