In 1972, Steven Stayner Jr was only seven years old when he was taken. This marked the beginning of seven years of abuse while living away from his family. In a remarkable tale of resilience, Steven returned after all those years, saving another kid in the process. Hulu’s ‘Captive Audience’ delves into the fascinating but morbid case of Steven. So, if you’re curious to find out what happened to him, we’ve got you covered.
Who Kidnapped Steven Stayner?
At the time of the incident, Steven was a 7-year-old living with his family in Merced, California. On December 4, 1972, he was walking home from a highway when he was approached by Ervin Murphy and his associate, Kenneth Parnell. Both of them pulled up next to Steven and asked if he would donate to the church. When the 7-year-old said his mother would be willing to, they offered him a ride home.
However, Steven was not taken to his residence. Instead, Kenneth drove him to a cabin in Catheys Valley, California. Once inside, there were toys waiting for the kid, but Kenneth also told him something ominous. He convinced Steven that his parents did not want him anymore because they couldn’t afford to take care of him. When the child didn’t come home, the parents went to the police and mounted an extensive search but turned up with nothing.
For the next seven years, the Stayners lived with the agony of not knowing where Steven was. During that time, he was with Kenneth, who moved around quite often, living in different trailer parks and motels. He had also sexually and psychologically abused Steven in those seven years. It was a brainwashing of sorts where abuse was alternated with pleasurable experiences. Kenneth told Steven that his parents had given up custody and abandoned him. He was often enrolled in small, remote schools and passed off as Kenneth’s son.
Later on, Steven talked about having sex with Barbara Mathias, a woman who lived with Kenneth when Steven was around 11 years old. The abuse continued until he turned 14 years old when Kenneth began looking for another child. Kenneth tried using Steven’s help to do so, but the teenager didn’t want to do it. Nevertheless, Kenneth kidnapped 5-year-old Timothy White in February 1980 while walking home from school.
Once Timothy was brought home, Steven knew all too well what was in store for the little kid and resolved to escape. When Kenneth was away working as a motel handyman about two weeks later, Steven took the kid and hitchhiked across to Ukiah, California, where the police eventually got to know their tragic story. Once Kenneth was arrested, the authorities learned of his criminal background. He had been sent to jail for molesting an 8-year-old in the early 1950s. He later said, “The reason I think this happened was, my wife was pregnant, and she was just too big for me, I guess, and I had to find another outlet.”
By January 1982, Kenneth, then 49, was convicted of kidnapping Steven and Timothy. Ervin was also found guilty of kidnapping and conspiring to kidnap in relation to Steven’s case. Kenneth was then sentenced to serve only seven years in prison, of which he served five before being released on parole. However, it seemed that he was back to his old ways after an incident from December 2002 came to light.
How Did Kenneth Parnell Die?
After Kenneth’s release, he lived in San Fransisco, California. He had met Diane Stevens, who was his caretaker’s sister. In December 2002, Kenneth told her that he wanted to buy a young African-American boy. He offered Diane $100 for a birth certificate and $400 to bring him the child. She promptly told the police about it, and Kenneth was arrested in January 2003.
Despite Kenneth’s claims that he only wanted to raise the boy, he was found guilty of trying to buy the four-year-old. In 2004, Kenneth was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the crime. He died on January 21, 2008, while under hospice care at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California. Kenneth was 76 years old and was reported to have died of natural causes.
Read More: Where is Ashley Stayner Now?