Man Who Kidnapped 26 Kids On School Bus & Buried Them Alive Gets Parole

Man Who Kidnapped 26 Kids On School Bus & Buried Them Alive Gets Parole

Back in 1976, three armed men hijacked a school bus full of 26 children, buried the vehicle in an underground quarry with the victims still alive inside, and then asked for $5 million in the largest for-ransom scheme ever recorded in America. Now, 46 years later, the last of the men still behind bars has been granted parole.

  1. Thankfully, all the hostages survived. Sixteen hours after Frederick Woods, then 24, and two friends, brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, buried the bus in an underground quarry, the victims managed to dig themselves out and get to safety. However, the psychological scars still haunt them all these years later. The children were aged between 5 and 14 at the time of the incident.
  2. The crime was calculated and cruel. The 26 schoolchildren and their driver, Ed Ray, were returning from a summer school excursion when they were intercepted in the small town of Chowchilla. The three men forced the hostages into two other vans, drove them around aimlessly for nearly 12 hours, and eventually buried them in a quarry owned by Woods’ father.
  3. They were motivated by money. Despite Woods and the Schoenfeld brothers coming from significant privilege, the trio seemed to want to continue on that path. “Ronald Reagan put out a headline to the press that the state of California had a billion-dollar surplus,” James Schoenfeld told the California State Board of Parole in 2015, when he was released; his brother had been let out of prison earlier. “I kept thinking the state’s got more than it needs. They won’t miss $5m. I wasn’t going to commit any crimes, risk my life or risk my reputation for anything less than a million, so a bank robbery wouldn’t work. A drug deal wouldn’t work. I didn’t know anything except a kidnapping that I’d seen on TV that would provide sufficient reward.”
  4. The plan obviously didn’t work. After the three men buried the children and their bus driver in the quarry, they tried to call the Chowchilla Police Department to demand their $5 million ransom. However, the phone lines were busy, so they decided to take a nap. When they woke up, they saw that the hostages had escaped. All three men were quickly caught and sentenced to life in prison.
  5. Woods, now 70, has been granted parole against the wishes of the governor of California. This week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation decided to set Woods free despite previously denying him parole 17 times. Richard Schoenfeld was released in 2012 and his brother got out in 2015.
  6. The victims are furious at Woods’s release. Jennifer Brown Hyde, one of the victims who was 9 years old at the time, told the parole board about “the lifetime effects of being buried alive and being driven around in a van for 11 hours with no food, water or a bathroom in over 100-degree weather,” the AP reports. She added; “His mind is still evil and he is out to get what he wants. I want him to serve life in prison, just as I served a lifetime of dealing with the PTSD due to his sense of entitlement.”
  7. Woods hasn’t exactly been a model prisoner, either. According to Governor Gavin Newsom, Woods “continued to engage in financial related-misconduct in prison” by using an illegal cell phone to give advice on a car dealership, running a Christmas tree farm, and a gold mining business. Woods claimed during his hearing in March that he was “selfish and immature at that time” and that “his more recent violations were to benefit the trust fund left him by his late parents.” Of his crime, he simply said: “I didn’t need the money. I wanted the money.”

[H/T The Independent]

Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more.