California

Chowchilla bus kidnapper makes 17th parole request. Here’s what the board said

The mastermind behind the 1976 kidnapping of a bus driver and 26 children in Chowchilla was denied parole on Tuesday.

Frederick Woods was found not suitable for parole during a hearing at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, according to Luis Patino Jr., spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The 67-year-old inmate of California Men’s Colony has gone before the board 17 times since the 1976 incident in which bus driver Edward Ray helped free 26 students kidnapped by Woods and brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld. The trio buried their victims alive in a rock quarry in Livermore.

The kidnappers drove the victims around for nearly a dozen hours before stopping at a Livermore quarry, where Ray and the 26 children were forced into a buried moving van.

The kidnappers planned to demand a $5 million ransom, but Ray and several of the older children were able to stack mattresses high enough to climb out of an opening at the top of the buried van. They pushed open a metal lid covered with about 200 pounds of industrial batteries, cleared away some debris and freed the rest of the children after 16 hours underground.

Woods won’t be eligible again until 2024, assuming no new evidence is produced. Richard and James Schoenfeld were paroled in 2012 and 2015, respectively.

Ray was honored in 2015 when the city of Chowchilla named a park after him, lauding him as a hero.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.
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