Two Kidnappers of 26 Children Paroled; One Remains in Prison

Fred Woods and James and Richard Schoenfeld, the men who kidnapped 26 children in 1976.

CBS Fred Woods and James and Richard Schoenfeld, the men who kidnapped 26 children in 1976.

In 1976, Frederick Newhall Woods IV and brothers James and Richard Schoenfeld kidnapped a school bus driver and 26 children, then buried them alive in a moving van trailer in a quarry. Miraculously, the driver and children managed to dig themselves out and escape relatively unharmed — and the kidnappers were eventually caught. Ahead of the 48 Hours episode about this infamous Chowchilla Kidnapping, here’s what you need to know about where the kidnappers are today.

Two Kidnapper Have Been Paroled; One Remains in Prison

After the children managed to free themselves, the kidnappers fled. But eight days later, Richard Schoenfeld turned himself in to the authorities, according to the San Francisco Gate. Less than a week later, Frederick Woods was captured in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and James Schoenfeld was captured in Menlo Park, California.

The three men pleaded guilty to kidnapping in July 1977 and received life in prison. However, according to CBS News, their families appealed the conviction and in 1980, a panel of judges ruled that the kidnappers would eventually be eligible for parole instead of spending life in prison without said eligibility.

In 2012, Richard was granted parole and in 2015, James was granted the same, according to CNN. The SF Gate reported in 2001 that the brothers had been in contact with some of the kidnapping victims over the years, repeatedly apologizing for what they had done. A local NBC affiliate reported at the time of James’ parole that he would join Richard in caring for their elderly mother at her home in Mountain View, California.

In October 2019, Woods was denied parole for the 17th time. According to CBS News, part of the reason he was denied parole was that he was conducting business from inside the prison that he did not have permission from the warden to be doing. Said business included buying a mansion, running a gold mine, and operating a Christmas tree farm. Woods also married three times while in prison.

Woods will next be eligible for parole in 2024. He is the heir to a sizable family fortune and his lawyer, Gary Dubcoff, has repeatedly argued that “apart from the commitment offense, [Woods] has no history of violence, whether before prison or in it. He is an elderly inmate, fast approaching 70, and clearly presents no danger to anyone.”

Incidentally, one of the judges on the 1980 panel that agreed to let the kidnappers be eligible for parole was William Newsom, who believed strongly in rehabilitating felons. His son, Gavin, is the current governor of California and will ultimately get to decide Woods’ fate when or if he is granted parole by the parole board.

The Survivors Are Still Dealing With the Impact From Their Harrowing Ordeal

After driving the victims around for nearly 12 hours, the kidnappers buried them in a moving van trailer 12 feet underground with very little food and water.

Survivor Larry Park told CBS News that Ray and Mike Marshall, one of the oldest students among the kidnapping victims, stacked the mattresses left in the trailer for them high up until they were right underneath the manhole cover at the top. Eventually, they moved the cover and Marshall scrambled into a box the kidnappers had put on top.

“He dug until he was exhausted and then he kept on digging. There was no quit in him,” said Park of Marshall, adding that eventually Marshall broke the surface and “brave person that he is, crawled out of the hole first.”

They had been in the hole for nearly 16 hours, completely terrified.

“I just remember the kids got a hold of me and were holding onto me. And just scared out of their – you know, we were all – just scared out of our wits,” Marshall told CBS News, adding, “It would be silent and then somebody would bust out crying and the hole would just erupt. Everybody’s crying. The thing that made me cry was not being able to say goodbye to my mom. … And I’m remembering the last time that I saw her and wishing I could have told her goodbye.”

In the years after the kidnappings, the children continued to be affected by the trauma.

Park said he turned into an “angry child” and his parents eventually sent him to a facility for youth offenders.

“By the time I was 21, I was using meth. I was smoking crack. I was doing acid. … And I was just angry,” said Park.

But as of the 48 Hours episode, Park is nine years sober and volunteers as a pastor at a local church. He says the nightmares have finally stopped and that “healing continues if you allow it.”

Park also said he met his kidnappers, shook their hands, and forgave them, which “changed [his] life.”

Marshall also struggled with addiction for a while as a young adult, but he too is sober now and has a therapy dog named Blue.

“I rescued him before he was a year old. And now he rescues me every day,” said Marshall.

48 Hours airs Saturdays on CBS.

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