ABC News’ ’20/20′: Who Kidnapped Steven Stayner?

Steven Stayner


In the early 1970s, a convicted child molester named Kenneth Parnell found a job doing the books at a resort in Yosemite National Park. He recruited a coworker, Ervin Murphy, to help him abduct a young boy.

That boy, we would later come to learn, was Steven Stayner.

On the afternoon of December 4, 1972, Murphy found Steven, who was just 7 at the time, walking home from school. He offered to give the boy a ride home, and he obliged. Instead of going home, however, Stayner was driven to Parnell’s cabin in Catheys Valley.

According to the book, “I Know My First Name is Steven,” by Mike Echols, Parnell molested Stayner the first night in the cabin. He began raping the young boy thirteen days later. It has been reported that Parnell told Stayner that he had been granted legal custody of him because his parents could not afford so many children.

Steven’s name was changed to Dennis Gregory Parnell and he was enrolled in school by Parnell. For years, the kidnapper pretended to be Stayner’s father, and, astonishingly, the charade was successful. Despite the fact that he was the victim of abuse and kidnapping, Steven managed to do well in school. A high school girlfriend shares with ABC News, “He had a great personality… He was spunky. You could see that he wanted to play and be with kids and be normal.”

While Steven was in high school, Parnell kidnapped another young boy named Timothy White. As the story goes, Steven did not want White to experience what he went through, so in March 1980, he instructed Timothy to go to the police station– he would return to Parnell’s by himself. “However,” Good Housekeeping writes, “Police officers spotted both of them, and that’s when Steven’s real identity was revealed.”

What Happened to Kenneth Parnell?

Parnell was in no way stable. Growing up, he spent a majority of his time in juvenile hall and mental institutions.

In 1950, Parnell was convicted of sexually abusing an eight-year-old boy that he had kidnapped. He had reportedly pretended to be a police officer and used a fake sheriff’s badge to lure the child into his car.

It wasn’t until 1972 that Parnell abducted Steven Staynor. Eight years later, he was arrested.

In 1981, Parnell was tried for kidnapping Stayner and White. He was convicted of both boys’ kidnappings and sentenced to seven years in prison– five of which he served.

In 2003, Parnell was once again arrested. At the time, he was 71 and in ill health. Still, he attempted to persuade his caregiver at the time to buy him a child, claiming he wanted a family. Within a year, Parnell was convicted of attempting to purchase a child and attempted child molestation. He was sentenced to 25 years to life.

In 2008, Parnell died at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California. He was 76 at the time, and was on hospice status.

Be sure to tune into tonight’s episode of 20/20 on ABC to learn more about the notorious and horrific acts of Kenneth Parnell.

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