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Wanted man turns up in Shawnee after being accused of rape 26 years ago

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SHAWNEE, Okla. - He could run, but he sure didn't hide.

Wanted for at least four counts of rape, Ronald Lee Paulson lived, by all accounts, an active, public life. For nearly a decade, Paulson called Shawnee home, never revealing there was a warrant for his arrest outstanding from the 1980s.

"Usually when people are trying to hide from the police, they don’t put themselves out there," said Pottawatomie County Sheriff Lt. Ken Vanduser. "He wasn’t really hiding too hard."

Paulson, who went by the name Warron Big Eagle, was an ordained minister, who officiated weddings and funerals.

He was a member of the Historic Shawnee Alliance, dedicated to bringing new business to downtown, and with his wife, played a major role in working to restore the Ritz Theater.

"I guess he changed his name back to his original birth name and was just involved in the community and wasn’t trying to hide too much," said Vanduser. "I guess he figured it wouldn’t catch up with him here."

Ronald Paulson 1980s

Ronald Lee Paulson in the 1980s.

Paulson's criminal charges originate in Poulsbo, Wash., a small town of about 9,000 people in Kitsap County. He was charged with multiple counts of rape in the 1980s and was due to appear in court, but he fled.

The Pottowatomie County Sheriff's Office thinks he arrived in Shawnee about 10 years ago with his wife, who they say had no idea he was a fugitive.

Authorities in Washington State eventually traced Paulson to Pottawatomie County, at which point they asked the sheriff's office for assistance.

"This is the first time in my 15-year career that we’ve actually had [a call for help from] this long ago," said Vanduser. "We’re talking a 26-year-old case from Washington, so it’s quite odd for us."

Through an investigation of their own, deputies found Paulson working for a local roofing company, and set up a fake roofing appointment to confront him.

"Once he got there, we were able to stop and interview him," Vanduser said. "During talking to him, we asked about his background, who he was, if he had any ID on him. Then we started talking about the difference of the names and that’s when he admitted that he was Robert Paulson."

Deputies took him into custody without incident. He will now face an extradition hearing, at which point he could be sent back to Washington to face charges.

Lt. Vanduser says the department is just happy to help.

"This is kind of a proud one for us to be able to put closure to a 26-year-long investigation for Washington State," he said. "We take pride in the fact that we were able to assist them."

There is no indication Paulson committed other crimes while in Oklahoma. But the Sheriff's Office is asking anyone who may have been sexually assaulted to call a deputy.