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Canadian Man Accused of Sex Crimes in Thailand

Canadian and Americans Accused of Sex Crimes in Thailand


by Richard S. Ehrlich


Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Canadian who allegedly arranged for Americans to sexually abuse "prepubescent" boys in his home for payment, while he taught at a prestigious school in Bangkok, was arrested in London by the U.S. Justice Department working British police.

John Wrenshall, 62, was arrested on Monday (December 15) at London's Heathrow International Airport for "conspiring to travel...with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with children, aiding and abetting sex tourism, and conspiracy to produce" and distribute child pornography, according to the Department of Justice (D.O.J.).

Mr. Wrenshall, "a Canadian citizen living in Thailand," was arrested "by London's Metropolitan Police Service (MET) with agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)" who want to extradite him to America, the D.O.J. said.


Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich

"His arrest was a big shock, we never dreamed he would be involved in this kind of thing," said Adul Pinsuvana, director of the A.U.A. Language School in Bangkok where Mr. Wrenshall taught for nearly 10 years.

"He started teaching here in March 1999," and quit in December after giving his notice, six weeks earlier, that he would be resigning, Mr. Adul said in a telephone interview.

"He was very meticulous, and so polite and quiet. I imagine he is more of an effeminate type. He spoke softly, and would bow a little bit," in a respectful manner similar to Thai people.

"He was very classy. He was very articulate."

Mr. Wrenshall was a "permanent staff" teacher of English for Thais and others at the highly respected school.

"We have students ranging from age 15 to 60," Mr. Adul said.

His arrest was not linked to the school, or any of its students, and A.U.A. was not named in the indictments and court convictions which described his alleged victims as under the age of 12.

About 400,000 Thais attended English classes at A.U.A. during the past 28 years, including many who continued studying at universities in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia and elsewhere.

A.U.A. also teaches Thai language to foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, executives and other professionals.

The school's Web site continued on Tuesday (December 16) to list Mr. Wrenshall's "academic office" telephone number and extension.

"He was a very good teacher, and he was given the task of running specific courses, and helping us with the computer programs. He was very experienced with computers," Mr. Adul said.

"We had not received any complaints" about him.

The language school discovered Mr. Wrenshall was in trouble a few days before he was arrested in London.

"Thailand's Interpol came to our human resources manager, and said they had evidence about one of our teachers and planned to make an arrest, and asked for us to give our cooperation," Mr. Adul said.

"I heard about it on December 13. The human resources person told me that Interpol came to talk to her.

"I know all the teachers, but I do not socialize with them outside of the office, except when we have an annual party for the staff," Mr. Adul said, explaining that he knew nothing of Mr. Wrenshall's personal life.

The school did not provide housing for Mr. Wrenshall, who rented a room on Bangkok's northwest outskirts, just across the Chao Phraya River.

Mr. Wrenshall's room in Nonthaburi was, on Wednesday (December 17), still decorated with his treasured family photos and books about teaching English.


Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich

His untouched personal belongings indicate he planned to return to Thailand.


Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich

"He never brought other children here," said a Thai woman in the clean, modern, two-story, isolated house where Mr. Wrenshall lived with a Thai family and their children.

"He lived here for quite a while, and was OK," she said in an interview without elaborating, while graciously allowing a look inside the home where the accused pedophile had his own bedroom upstairs.


Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich

"My room is right across from his, and there was never any problems here with him," said a Thai man who lived in the house which displayed cartoon characters on some of its walls, reflecting a cheerful, fun mood for the Thai infant he held in his arms.

On the front porch, a gray-haired Thai woman quietly rested.

Between the years 2000 and 2002, Mr. Wrenshall allegedly arranged for Americans to sexually abuse Thai boys, for payment, in a home he rented near Bangkok, according to the D.O.J. indictment and three convictions in Alabama and New Jersey courts against three Americans who came to Thailand.

During those years, however, Mr. Wrenshall may not have lived in his current residence.

While the occupants were unable to detail how long he lived here, they appeared to have no idea that he was in trouble, and said he recently left to travel abroad and would return soon.

Evidence that he planned to come back included mid-20th century, black-and-white photographs of people who may have been his relatives, framed behind glass, including one photo in an antique, worn-leather binding showing a man in an out-of-fashion uniform.

Other photos showed Mr. Wrenshall partying with several foreign men, women and children alongside a blazing fireplace and a Christmas tree, in a upmarket home, while they read a book titled "The Night Before Christmas" and opened gift-wrapped presents.

A caption on a photo showing a Christmas holly with candles read: "Christmas on Exmoor, 2006" and included a handwritten note:

"John, a Christmas memento with so many thanks for your constant and willing help. X X X X Joan."

Exmoor is in coastal southwest England, on the Bristol Channel, and includes cliffs and a national park.

Mr. Wrenshall's framed 1971 University of Calgary Master of Arts degree in sociology, "with a specialisation in complex organization," hung on the wall.

Among shelves of books about teaching English, titles also included, "History's Worst Decisions and the People Who Made Them," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," and CDs of Mahler, Beethoven and Mozart.

His choice of residence indicated he was trying to live as inexpensively as possible, while teaching at the A.U.A. School, which required a commute of one hour or more each way.

To reach the house involved traveling a maze of lanes past fields of rice, lotus blossoms and long-necked white birds, punctuated by an occasional Buddhist temple and utilitarian slabs of light industrial buildings, and residences where few foreigners live.


Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich

A Grand Jury indictment from the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, for the case of the "United States of America vs. John Wrenshall," listed several counts.

Mr. Wrenshall's "co-conspirator" was Wayne Nelson Corliss, 59, an American apprehended in May 2008 in his Union City, New Jersey apartment.

Mr. Corliss pleaded guilty in October to producing child pornography, and traveling abroad for illegal sex, and faces up to 75 years in prison when he is sentenced on February 9, 2009.

The two men were linked to Burgess Lee Burgess, 44, of Mobile, Alabama, and Mitchell Kent Jackson, 31, of Pensacola, Florida.

Mr. Burgess and Mr. Jackson pleaded guilty on November 13 in Alabama, after traveling to Thailand between 2000 and 2002, where they paid money to sexually abuse children, guided by Mr. Corliss, a separate D.O.J. statement said.

Mr. Wrenshall received "money for obtaining young boys in Thailand, for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts with individuals who traveled from the United States" from 2000 through 2002, the New Jersey indictment said, echoing details of the Alabama case.

Mr. Wrenshall had a house near Bangkok where he, Mr. Corliss, and "others" allegedly sexually assaulted, photographed and videotaped Thai boys being "sexually abused", including a May 2002 videotape showing Mr. Corliss having sex with a Thai boy in Mr. Wrenshall's home.

Mr. Wrenshall was "paid" by Mr. Corliss and others "for their sexual contact with the young boys," according to the D.O.J. indictment.

In the Alabama case, "Burgess, Jackson and Corliss" were named abusing and videotaping Thai boys.

The D.O.J. indictment describes explicit images "mailed to New Jersey" in 2002, revealing an unidentified "prepubescent minor" and "an adult male".

Mr. Wrenshall allegedly sent, via Internet, "sexually explicit pictures" to Mr. Corliss in December 2002, including one showing a boy who Mr. Corliss "previously sexually abused," the indictment said.

If convicted, Mr. Wrenshall "faces up to 15 years in prison for each count of sex tourism, a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 20 years in prison for each count of child pornography production, and up to 15 years in prison for distribution of child pornography. He also faces a fine of up to $250,000 per count," the D.O.J. said.

"Burgess and Jackson will be sentenced on April 3, 2009. At sentencing, the men will face a maximum term of 30 years in prison. They also face the possibility of lifetime supervised release, following their prison terms, and a $250,000 fine."

*************

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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