Prince George’s County sheriff’s deputies pounded on the motel door at 3:30 a.m. Glenn Wilson Jr., 61, answered in a faded Disney T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.

Four decades ago, he didn’t show up for court after being charged with burglary. Since then, Wilson married twice, had three children and worked several jobs. Finally, deputies had their man.

“I’m like, ‘Are you guys for real?’ ” Wilson said in an interview. “This was just amazing, after all these years.”

Wilson’s case is among the oldest in a backlog of warrants that deputies have been working to clear since Prince George’s Sheriff Melvin C. High took office in December. Although nearly 47,000 warrants remain unserved — with new ones coming in every day — the number is shrinking, officials said. Even “aged warrants” are getting full attention.

But prosecuting decades-old cases won’t be easy. Police could not say exactly where or when the burglary occurred or what was taken. (Such case files are usually destroyed after 25 years.) Prosecutors said they were hunting for a file in the archives.

And Wilson has moved on. He said he has not had serious run-ins with the law in the intervening years, and court records in the Washington region show no significant charges. The man charged 40 years ago is “no longer around,” he said.

“I started a new life for myself,” Wilson said. “The sheriff’s department or the police, they had a job to do, but I’m still dumbfounded by this. Forty years is a long time to carry on something that doesn’t have to do with murder, rape, bank robbery or being a spy or something.”

He wanted to forget

Wilson was charged in late 1971 with larceny, receiving stolen goods and housebreaking — a statute now known as breaking and entering. Early the next year, he failed to show up for court. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Wilson said he was an alcoholic back then, in his early 20s. Parts of the incident, he said, were lost to beer and screwdrivers. Others were lost to his conscious effort to forget. Even when the sheriff’s deputies came to his door this month, Wilson said he had no idea why they were there.

“I still can’t bring it to my mind,” he said, smoking a cigarette outside the courthouse after his arraignment. “It’s just been so long ago. It’s kind of like a mental block.”

Sheriff’s deputies, too, did not know specifically what Wilson is accused of, said Lt. Col. Kenneth Payne, who heads the sheriff’s Bureau of Field Operations. Payne said it wasn’t clear what efforts earlier administrations had made to track Wilson down in the days, weeks and years after that 1972 hearing.

What separated Wilson’s warrant from the tens of thousands of others was that the charges are felonies, Payne said.

Sheriff’s deputies also arrested a man recently who was charged with rape in 1984 and a robbery suspect with a warrant that dates to 1976. Payne said the warrant backlog — which stood at more than 50,000 earlier this year — is down to about 47,500. As of June, he said, only 457 of the warrants were for people accused of serious felonies who are not locked up elsewhere.

The night of his arrest, Wilson was staying with his girlfriend at an extended-stay motel in Germantown. A son, Gary Wilson, 22, was awake on the floor next to them.

Gary Wilson said he heard the deputies outside and thought that they might be there for him. Then the deputies showed him a picture of his father, sporting bushy hair and mutton chop sideburns.

“I’m like, ‘Dad, for real?’” Gary Wilson said. “I didn’t know nothing about this. . . . My dad always told me he’d never been in trouble.”

Glenn Wilson said his son was not the only one in the dark; his past was not something he liked to talk about with friends and relatives.

A difficult life

Wilson, who grew up in Southeast Washington, said he started drinking as a teenager. He often skipped school and eventually dropped out. He had a daughter when he was young — a daughter who he said has since asked him not to be a part of her life.

Starting in the 1970s, though, Wilson began to turn things around. He went to work as a maintenance man in various D.C. office buildings. At some point, he stopped drinking. Over the years, he married, divorced and re-married. He had three sons — two with his first wife and one with his second.

“I had to do something,” Wilson said. “I was too young to become a bank robber. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, anyway.”

But Wilson’s life was not perfect or easy. In 1993, his second wife died of cancer. She had been pregnant with twins. At some point after that, he briefly relapsed into alcoholism, although he maintains that he took care of his children and has since stopped drinking.

Wilson’s eldest son, Glenn Wilson III, 26, was shot to death in Bladensburg in 2005 in a case that remains unsolved.

More recently, Wilson worked at a discount store in Montgomery County. He is unemployed now, but he said he is looking for a job. He also helps his girlfriend, Jennifer Hillyard, 32, who has blood clots in her legs and makes regular doctor’s visits.

Hillyard has known Wilson since she was a teenager — and dated him since she was 21. He’s “not the kind of person you’d think had ever got in trouble for anything,” Hillyard said, saying she knows him as a “hardworking, caring” man who likes wrestling and playing fantasy football.

“It was just something that was very, very unexpected,” Hillyard said.

Wilson said that over time, the criminal charges against him slipped from his mind completely. If the authorities were looking for him, he figured that he would have been found. When he applied for a Maryland driver’s license, he listed his real address. The state even garnished his checks for child support.

“The one deputy sheriff said, ‘Glenn, you’re a hard guy to find.’ ” Wilson said. “I said, ‘I been around.’ ”

After his Aug. 8 arrest, Wilson said he was released on his own recognizance. At his arraignment this month, he said a judge looked incredulously at his file before referring him to the public defender’s office.

Nancy Lineman, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s state’s attorney’s office, said that she could not comment on Wilson’s case specifically but that prosecutors were working with the sheriff’s office to develop “a procedure for determining the highest-priority warrants.” She said even with felonies, prosecutors must “look at the age of the case . . . whether or not there’s witnesses still around, whether or not the police who investigated the crimes are still part of the police force.”

“We don’t want them to spend their time on warrants for cases that we may have to decline to prosecute, basically,” Lineman said.

Wilson said that the case “should have been cleared up a long time ago” but that the deputies had a job to do. He just wants a resolution.

“Let’s get it sorted out now,” he said, “and let me get on with my life.”

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.