James and Richard Schoenfeld: What Happened to Chowchilla Kidnappers?

California witnessed a horrifying incident when 26 schoolchildren and their bus driver were abducted near Chowchilla in Madera County. Although the survivors managed to escape after spending several hours in captivity, the ensuing investigation indicated that Frederick Woods, James Schoenfeld, and Richard Schoenfeld were involved in the crime. ’48 Hours: Remembering the Chowchilla Kidnapping’ chronicles the shocking abduction and follows the investigation that brought the perpetrators to justice. Let’s delve into the details surrounding the crime and find out where James and Richard Schoenfeld are at present, shall we?

Who Are James and Richard Schoenfeld?

Brothers James and Richard Schoenfeld grew up in the San Fransisco Bay Area in California and belonged to a well-off family. Surprisingly, they rarely had any run-ins with the law before the kidnapping, and people who knew them insisted they did not behave differently than typical young adults. In fact, James and Richard spent most of their time in the company of friends, and there was nothing to indicate they were planning a massive crime. Hence, acquaintances were utterly shocked when the police revealed that the Schoenfeld Brothers were being investigated for the Chowchilla Kidnapping.

On July 15, 1976, Ed Ray was driving 26 children home from summer school in his bus when James, Richard, and their friend, Frederick Woods, armed themselves with guns and hijacked the vehicle right outside Chowchilla, California. The children, who were between the ages of 5 and 14, along with Ed, were forced into the backs of two windowless vans before the kidnappers set out on a long drive. Survivors later mentioned that they traveled without any sense of direction for almost 12 hours before the kidnappers stopped at a rock quarry.

This quarry was located in Livermore, California, and the police would later find out that the survivors were driven almost 100 miles from the kidnapping site. Once at the quarry, the children, along with Ed, were forced to go down a hole, and they found themselves inside an old truck trailer, which was buried 12 feet underground. Although the trailer had some water and food for consumption, the quantity wasn’t enough for 27 heads, and the hopes of rescue appeared bleak.

Once Frederick, James, and Richard secured the children underground, they called the State Board of Education, demanding $5 million in ransom in exchange for their lives. By this time, Ed knew he had to give it his all to get out alive. Hence, with the help of a 14-year-old boy named Michael Marshall, he pushed aside the cover to the hole’s entrance. With the opening exposed, the teenager began the laborious task of digging a path to the very top.

The others soon followed his example, and the survivors could escape after several hours in captivity. Subsequently, they approached the quarry workers, who helped them contact local law enforcement agencies. When the kidnappers realized the captives had escaped, they abandoned the plan and fled the area. However, during the subsequent investigation, law enforcement officials learned that the quarry belonged to Frederick Woods’ father. This led to a thorough search of his estate, from where the police recovered a carefully drafted ransom note and a paper where the trio had planned the kidnapping.

Further evidence indicated that Frederick, James, and Richard were responsible for the crime, and the police got arrest warrants in their names. Incidentally, Richard immediately surrendered to the police, whereas James and Frederick decided to skip state. Still, law enforcement officers soon caught up to them, and the trio was charged for their roles in the crime.

James and Richard Schoenfeld are Now Based in California

When presented in court, James and Richard Schoenfeld were ready to plead guilty to all charges except the multiple counts of causing bodily harm. Nevertheless, the jury eventually convicted them on all counts, and in 1976, they were each sentenced to 27 concurrent sentences of 7 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Naturally, James and Richard soon appealed their sentencing, and in 1980, a court reduced the life sentences and ruled that the brothers would be eligible for parole in the future.

Hence, based on that ruling, Richard obtained parole on June 16, 2012, while James was released by then-Governer Jerry Brown on August 2, 2015. Since then, both brothers have embraced privacy and prefer to keep their lives under wraps. Although considering their status as parolees, we can safely say that James and Richard Schoenfeld currently reside in Camino, California. Besides, a 2016 report mentioned that while Richard acted as the brothers’ 93-year-old mother’s full-time caregiver, James earned a living through architectural drafting work, which he learned in prison.

Read More: Frederick Woods: Where is Chowchilla Kidnapper Now?