Man Who Buried 26 Children Alive in 1976 Recommended for Parole

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Photo of the van used as a prison | Image by Jim Palmer / AP

A man involved in the 1976 mass-kidnapping of twenty-six children and a bus driver was recommended for parole by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on March 25.

After 40 years in prison, the now 70-year-old Frederick Newhall Woods received approval for parole on his 18th attempt with the help of two survivors. He and his accomplices, James and Richard Schoenfeld, pleaded guilty in July 1977 to the kidnapping, which took place in Chowchilla, California, on July 15, 1976.

Bus driver Edward “Ed” Ray and twenty-six Dairyland Elementary School students were traveling on a country road in Chowchilla when they were abducted. The captives were transported more than 100 miles to a quarry in Livermore, California.

The driver and children were placed in a moving van and buried alive underneath the quarry as the kidnappers made plans to request a ransom of $5 million in exchange for their return.

The crime itself was patterned after one portrayed in the 1971 film Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, and is said to be the largest mass kidnapping in U.S. history.

However, the abductors could not immediately call to demand their captives’ ransom because the phone lines were jammed.

After approximately 16 hours underground, the children and driver dug their way out and escaped while their captors slept.

The victims were examined at the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center and determined to be in good condition.

One week after the kidnapping, Richard Schoenfeld voluntarily surrendered to authorities. Police captured his brother James Schoenfeld and Woods not long after.

Each of the men received twenty-seven life sentences without the chance of parole. A subsequent appeal offered the three men the possibility of parole in 1982.

Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012. Three years later, James Schoenfeld was released.

While no one died or was injured in the kidnapping, some victims have discussed the psychological scars from their experience.

“I’m 50 years old, and I can have an anxiety attack over getting in the car with my husband,” survivor Jennifer Brown Hyde said to Claudia Cowan with Fox News.

The proposed decision regarding Woods’ parole will become final in 120 days. California Governor Gavin Newsom has 30 days to reconsider the parole decision after it becomes final. He can uphold the decision or submit it to the entire board for review. The governor can only overturn a parole decision for murder convictions.

In the parole hearing on Friday, Woods apologized for the kidnapping, stating that he did not know better at the time.

“I was 24 years old,” said Woods. “Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act.”

The bus driver, Ray, died in May 2012 at the age of 91. In gratitude for his long-term service in the community and his actions during the kidnapping, Chowchilla named a city park after him in 2015, calling it Edward Ray Park.

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