26 Children Kidnapped — Perpetrator Approved for Parole

One of three men who kidnapped a school bus full of children in California, burying them alive, over 45 years ago has been approved for parole. Frederick Newhall Woods, 70, was approved at a hearing at California Men’s Colony, a state prison, after his request had been denied 17 times previously.

His release still needs approval from the full parole board, the board’s legal division, and Gov. Gavin Newsome.

Woods was one of three kidnappers who commandeered a bus with 26 children and the driver in Chowchilla, California, in 1976. The three armed men blocked the road with two vans, as the group of children returned from a summer class trip to an area swimming pool.

The victims were then driven around for 11 hours without food or a restroom, with older children singing songs to comfort the younger ones. They were ultimately taken over 100 miles away to Livermore and placed in a moving truck that was then buried in a quarry.

The perpetrators of the largest mass kidnapping in U.S. history demanded $5 million in ransom from the State Board of Education. Their demand never made it to Chowchilla, as phone lines were jammed by anxious parents and media inquiries.

The driver and children were able to dig themselves out and escape as their frustrated captors slept. And the three perpetrators were arrested approximately two weeks later.

Woods and the other two kidnappers, Richard and James Schoenfeld, each received 27 life sentences without possibility of parole for the kidnappings. An appeals court later overturned the sentencing and gave them a chance for parole. Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole in 2012. And James Schoenfeld was let out in 2015.

On Friday, Woods told the parole panel that he has empathy for the victims that he didn’t have then and that he now takes “full responsibility for this heinous act.” Two survivors of the kidnaping also spoke at the hearing on Woods’ behalf. Several other survivors and their families opposed Woods’ release, saying that he still has not made full amends and “is still a millionaire.”

All three perpetrators came from prominent California families, and Woods inherited a trust fund reportedly worth over $100 million. So, why did they do it? They were inspired by the 1971 Clint Eastwood film “Dirty Harry.”

It’s a crazy world.