Chowchilla kidnapper granted parole but remains in prison

One of 3 who kidnapped busload of schoolchildren in 1976, buried them in Livermore quarry

One of the three men who kidnapped a busload of Chowchilla schoolchildren in 1976 and buried them in a quarry in Livermore for ransom has been granted parole.

However, the ruling by a two-member state Board of Parole Hearings panel on Wednesday to grant parole to 63-year-old James Schoenfeld is only the beginning of a six-month process to determine whether he ultimately will be allowed to go free after 38 years behind bars, Bill Sessa of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

Sessa said the state Board of Parole Hearings' legal staff will now review the ruling to see if it's consistent with the evidence that was presented at Wednesday's hearing and then it will be up to Gov. Jerry Brown to approve the decision, modify it or ask for all 12 members of the panel to review it.

But Brown doesn't have the power to reverse the panel's ruling because it isn't a murder case, Sessa said.

Schoenfeld, his brother Richard Schoenfeld, 60, and Frederick Woods were in their early to mid 20s when they ambushed a busload of schoolchildren from Dairyland Union School in Chowchilla, a small farm community about 35 miles northwest of Fresno in Madera County, on July 15, 1976, according to prosecutors.

The men left the bus camouflaged in a creek bed and drove the children and bus driver Ed Ray about 100 miles to the California Rock and Gravel Quarry in Livermore.

They sealed their victims in a large van that had been buried in a cave at the quarry and fitted to keep the children and driver hostage, prosecutors said.

The kidnappers, all from wealthy families in the Peninsula communities of Atherton and Portola Valley, then demanded a $5 million ransom for the schoolchildren and Ray.

The hostages escaped from the buried van a little more than a day after they were first kidnapped when Ray and the two oldest children piled mattresses to the top of the van and forced their way out.

The Schoenfeld brothers and Woods received life sentences after pleading guilty in Alameda County Superior Court in 1977 to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom.

But an appellate court ruled in 1980 that they were eligible for parole, finding that the victims didn't suffer any bodily harm.

However, the Board of Parole Hearings has denied their parole requests multiple times over the years.

The panel recommended parole for Richard Schoenfeld in 2011 and he was released from prison in June 2012. He will be discharged from parole in June, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Jill Klinge said today.

Woods is still in prison but will have a parole hearing later this year, Klinge said.

— Bay City News Service

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11 people like this
Posted by mooseturd
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Apr 6, 2015 at 10:44 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

This is still fresh in my mind. This pond scum is guilty of 27 felonies but we are about to parole him? In 1977, they asked jurors to sit in judgement. Those jurors said "lock him up and don't EVER release him".

2 people like this
Posted by Pray4Peace
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 8:07 am

Schoenfeld and the others endangered the driver and students and caused great anxiety for the parents and the rest of the nation. It is unlikely he is still a danger to society so there is no reason to keep him locked up while costing tax payers a huge chunk of money. The purpose of prison is not for revenge but to keep dangerous people away from the public and to provide a path for rehab. He should get on with being a responsible, tax paying citizen.

5 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 7, 2015 at 8:49 am

Pray4Peace, do you really think he will become a taxpaying citizen? Or is it more likely he will become a welfare recepient as well as a section 8 housing recepient. I believe the numbers would show it would be less expensive to keep hiom in jail. As i said with the other release, i believe they should release him in Chowchilla on Main Street at a specific time that is publicized...let God take care of him, i bet it would look like Divine Intervention, the body would simply disappear into thin air.

4 people like this
Posted by mooseturd
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:13 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

Dear Pray4Peace,

Perhaps we should take a poll of those who were buried alive by this animal. And if cost were the most important factor, we should just eliminate his sorry behind.

4 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I agree with Pray4Peace, but not because of cost to the taxpayer or that the person is no longer a danger to society. Part of the purpose of punishing criminals is to deter other criminals and criminal activity. If a kidnapper, rapist, bugler or any criminal gets the same punishment whether he kills his victim or lets his victim live, what incentive does the criminal have to let his victim live?

It may be hard to put emotional responses to heinous crimes like this aside, but this crime was fortunately not a crime that resulted in death. So 38 years behind bars seems an appropriate punishment from a standpoint of deterring other potential criminals from engaging in non-deadly criminal activities at the same time providing some incentive to criminals to not become the ultimate criminal and kill their victims when they do engage in criminal activity.

Like this comment
Posted by Me
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Remember when they were discovered, my friends' father Chief Walt McCloed (spelling is wrong sorry) was called out to the gravel pits

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Apr 11, 2015 at 9:48 am

Perhaps what constitutes bodily harm needs to be redefined.

To be kidnapped is terrifying. Who can prove that the students were not harmed physically? Their brains/minds were harmed. Many of the students may have been harmed for their entire lives. Just because one can't see the harm doesn't mean that they were not harmed.

Like this comment
Posted by Tony
a resident of Livermore
on May 27, 2015 at 3:45 pm

I went to high school with Rick, to say the least I was shocked when I heard the news. As horrible a crime as it was and the terrible situation those kids were put through was awful. Though the children were victims, it doesn't help them to continually treat them like victims. Help them through this by treating them as strong individuals who survive this ordeal, though I am sure it is too late now.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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