Fred Woods: Where is Chowchilla Kidnapper Now?

Law enforcement officers in California were left stunned when they learned about the abduction of 26 school children and their bus driver near Chowchilla in Madera County. While kidnappers ambushed the school bus and demanded $5 million in ransom, a police investigation soon led straight to Frederick “Fred” Newhall Woods IV, James Schoenfeld, and Richard Schoenfeld. ’48 Hours: Remembering the Chowchilla Kidnapping’ chronicles the horrifying incident and follows the immediate police action that brought the perpetrators to justice. Naturally, many are intrigued by the details surrounding the crime and want to find out where Frederick Woods is at present.

Who is Frederick Woods?

A native of the San Fransisco Bay Area reports claim that Frederick “Fred” Woods came from a well-to-do family and had no serious criminal history before the kidnapping. In fact, he was rarely in trouble with the law, and most saw him as a typical 24-year-old who loved hanging out with his friends and was trying to make it on his own. However, people had no idea that Frederick would commit such a heinous crime alongside brothers James and Richard Schoenfeld.

According to sources, 26 children were being driven home from summer school by their bus driver, Ed Ray, on July 15, 1976, when Frederick, James, and Richard ambushed them right outside the city of Chowchilla. They armed themselves with guns before hijacking the vehicle and threatened to harm anyone who dared to go against their orders. Seeing how the children’s lives were in danger, Ed complied, and the kidnappers forced the children and him into two waiting vans. Incidentally, the survivors were forced to jump from the bus to the van as the kidnappers did not want to leave any footprints behind.

After forcing the survivors into the vans, Frederick and his accomplice drove for almost 12 hours before arriving at a rock quarry in Livermore, California. Once at the rock quarry, the children and Ed were made to go down a hole that put them inside an old truck trailer. With time, the survivors realized they were buried almost 12 feet underground and had no easy escape. Besides, the trailer had food and water, but it was barely enough for the 27 people cramped inside. Meanwhile, Frederick and the Schoenfeld brothers called the State Board of Education and demanded $5 million as a ransom in exchange for setting the children free.

Once the food and water inside the trailer began running out, the survivors knew they had to find a way to escape. That was when 14-year-old Michael Marshall and the bus driver, Ed Ray, managed to open the cover blocking the entrance to the hole they were forced to go down through. With the hole accessible, Michael somehow dug a path to the top for the others to follow. After that, the survivors sought help from the local quarry workers, and law enforcement officials arranged for their journey back home. Interestingly, authorities received an early breakthrough in the investigation as they learned that Frederick’s father owned the rock quarry.

That gave the police enough reason to search his estate, where they found evidence indicating Frederick Woods was involved in the incident. Furthermore, the search revealed a carefully drafted ransom note and pointed the police toward James and Richard Schoenfeld. Subsequently, Richard Schoenfeld turned himself in while Frederick and James went on the run across state lines. Still, authorities did not take long to arrest the escapees, and the trio faced several charges, including eight counts of causing bodily harm.

Frederick Woods is Now Out on Parole

When produced in court, Frederick Woods pled guilty to all charges except for causing bodily harm. Nonetheless, he was convicted on all counts, and the judge handed him 27 concurrent sentences of 7 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1976. Following the sentencing, Frederick appealed, and then-state Judge William Newsom reduced the life sentence and made him eligible for parole in 1980.

Reports mention that before 2022, Frederick appeared before the parole board seventeen times, only to be denied release and sent back to prison. However, in March 2022, two commissioners on the panel recommended his release. Even though Governor Gavin Newsom asked the board to rethink their decision, it seemed like Frederick was on the way toward freedom. Naturally, several people, including the kidnapping survivors, objected to this decision, and some insisted that he had not changed his character in prison. Regardless, the parole board upheld the original decision, and Frederick was released on August 18, 2022.

Even though he currently prefers privacy, Fredrick’s status as a parolee indicates that he still resides in California. As explained in the Max documentary, he had seemingly continued to conduct his business while still in jail, including retaining the ownership of the two vans that were used to kidnap the 27 victims. It is possible that he has continued to expand his work as a businessman while still on parole.

Read More: Jodi Heffington: How Did the Chowchilla Kidnapping Survivor Die?