Where Are the Chowchilla Kidnappers Now?

The 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping is brought back to memory in CBS’ ’48 Hours.’ On July 15, 1976, a school bus driver and 26 children aged between 5 and 14 were kidnapped by three armed men. A van blocked the road ahead of the bus; one man held a gun to the driver while the other drove the bus. The third followed in the truck.

They hid the bus in the Berenda Slough, where a second van had been stashed. Ray, the driver, and the children were herded into two vans and driven around for 11 hours. Then they were taken to the quarry in Livermore, California. There, they were transferred to a buried moving truck, with mattresses and a little bit of food. Ray and Michael Marshall, aged 14 at the time, managed to find an escape for the group, which finally led to the apprehension of the three kidnappers, Frederick Newhall Woods IV, the quarry owner’s son, and his two friends, James, and Richard Schoenfeld. So, where are they now?

Where is Frederick Newhall Woods Now?

Frederick has been called the mastermind of the kidnapping, and like his accomplices, he received 27 life sentences without the possibility of parole. He’s incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. You can check out his prison record here. However, Newhall has kept applying for parole 17 times, and his most recent rejection came in October 2019.

A spokesperson stated that Newhall’s parole hearing was not convincing enough for him to be released. Reports suggest that in his past hearings, Frederick has been evasive and refused to acknowledge the severity of his crimes. While behind bars, he continues to run his businesses and grows richer by the day. According to reports, he’s directing at least three enterprises from behind bars, including Ambria Acres Christmas tree farm, the Little Bear Creek gold mine near Lake Tahoe, and another used car business. He’s been married three times while behind bars.

Frederick purchased an ocean-view mansion at Nipomo appraised at nearly $1.5 million. His trust fund helped settle the civil lawsuit brought by the kidnapping victims. Currently, Frederick is 68 years old.

Where is Richard Schoenfeld Now?

Richard was 22 at the time of the kidnapping. Like his accomplices, he received 27 life sentences without the possibility of parole. However, 36 years later, in 2012, Richard was the first of the trio to be granted parole. He was 57 at the time. The state prison spokesman, Luis Patino, said, “As such, CDCR does not have any legal option other than to release inmate Schoenfeld and will do so.” Richard, like his fellow kidnappers, was also incarcerated at San Luis Obispo.

Where is James Schoenfeld Now?

James was the second one to get paroled in 2015. After nearly 40 years, James gained his freedom in April at the age of 63, after twenty parole hearings. Governor Jerry Brown, who was in his first year during the kidnappings, had 120 days to decide whether he wanted to send the case back to the parole board, but once the time elapsed, James’ release became imminent. He too served time at the same facility as Newhall and Richard.

At the time of his release, his lawyer said to People Magazine, “It was long overdue, and I think there is solid evidence that he isn’t dangerous, and California has no interest in keeping him in prison. Of course, we all sympathize with the victims who suffered. It was an atrocious crime, but he’s not dangerous now, and so the law entitles him to his freedom.”

Both Richard and James have been contrite in their parole hearings, acknowledging the severe nature of their crimes. Furthermore, the brothers had run into severe debt and thus came on board for the kidnapping, as they needed the ransom money. However, it is their acknowledgment and ownership of crimes that have led them to be free men currently. [Cover Image Courtesy: Alameda County Sheriff’s Office] 

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