Man Who Kidnapped School Bus Full of Children in 1976 Gets Parole

Governor Jerry Brown has allowed the parole of 63-year-old James Schoenfeld, one of three men convicted in the 1976 kidnapping of 26 children and their school bus driver.

As the Chronicle reports, Schoenfeld, his brother, and a friend spent 18 months planning the crime; the trio hoped to get a $5 million ransom. The children and their bus driver, Ed Ray, were kidnapped at gunpoint in Chowchilla, a town in the San Joaquin Valley, and held hostage in an underground trailer at a secluded rock quarry in Livermore.

[jump] As The New York Times reported in Ray’s obituary (he died in 2012 at age 91), the children and their bus driver huddled together in the trailer for 16 hours.

“There was a lot of crying and begging for mama,” Ray told reporters later. “They kept hollering and saying, ‘Why did they do this to us?’ I’d like to know, too.”

Eventually, the children piled mattresses to reach a trapdoor in the roof, from which they escaped while the kidnappers napped. According to the Times, Ray was put under hypnosis and able to recall the license plate number of one of the kidnapper’s vans.

The story inspired a 1993 TV movie called They’ve Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping.

Schoenfeld’s brother was paroled in 2012. The third kidnapper, Fred Woods, could have a parole hearing this fall.

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