Chowchilla Bus Kidnapper Who Buried Dozens Of Kids Will Be Freed

After 17 failed parole attempts, the final Chowchilla bus kidnapper left in prison will be released from the California Men’s Colony.

On July 15, 1976, Frederick Newhall Woods IV, along with James and Richard Schoenfeld, held up a school bus in Chowchilla, California. Woods was 24 at the time. Ed Ray and twenty-six students were returning from a trip to the local swimming pool when they stopped on the road, supposing the three guys in the car ahead of them were having automobile difficulties.

Woods and the Schoenfeld brothers instead boarded the bus with guns drawn and ordered everyone into two vans with their windows covered. They were taken to the site of what is now the Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area in Livermore and put into a truck that had been buried beneath.

Ray told the Merced Sun-Star in 1976, “It was terribly hot and we were dumping water on our heads to cool down.” “Keeping the kids from sobbing was a major challenge. I had to plead with them for silence.”

After 16 hours of hard work, Ray and a few of the older kids were able to force open the blocked entryway and crawl to safety.

Inside the cargo truck where 26 kids and their school bus driver, Ed Ray, were held captive after being kidnapped from Chowchilla in 1976.
A look at the van’s interior, where the 26 Chowchilla schoolchildren and their driver, Ed Ray, were held captive in 1976.

The family of the quarry’s affluent owner, who resided in a 100-acre home in Portola Valley, rapidly became the focus of police attention. The son of the quarry owner, Woods, was discovered to have emigrated to Canada after authorities conducted a search of the property. The sons of a wealthy Atherton physician, the Schoenfeld’s, were also apprehended in the Golden State. Once they were in jail, they admitted that they had planned to hold the kids for ransom for $5 million (about $25 million when adjusted for inflation).

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At his parole hearing in 2015, James Schoenfeld said, “We needed several victims to get multiple millions, and we picked children because children are precious.” The government would offer a ransom to get them back. Plus, they put up zero resistance. They’re really defenseless.

Each of the three men admitted to kidnapping for ransom and robbery and was given a life sentence. Following the release of Richard in 2012 and James in 2015, Woods, now 70 years old, is the oldest inmate still serving time.

In 1976, James Schoenfeld, Frederick Woods, and Richard Schoenfeld have accused of kidnapping 26 Chowchilla children and their school bus driver.
On trial for the 1976 kidnapping of twenty-six Chowchilla children and their school bus drivers from their neighborhood are James Schoenfeld (second from left), Frederick Woods (second from right), and Richard Schoenfeld.

However, in March of this year, Woods finally had his parole application approved after 18 previous denials. In spite of the protestations of several of the kidnap survivors and of Governor Gavin Newsom, Woods has been granted parole because the crime did not involve a murder. The only recourse Newsom had was to ask the parole board to reconsider their judgment once again, which they did not do.

Although Woods has spent the majority of his adult life behind bars, he is reportedly in good financial standing. According to CBS News’ investigation from this year, Woods managed a Christmas tree farm in Creston, a gold mine near Lake Tahoe, and a used car lot in Tehachapi all while incarcerated.

The mansion, which had a view of the Pacific, was supposedly one of his assets at the time. Newsom argued in his petition for a parole board review that Woods “continued to participate in financial related-misconduct in prison” through his businesses.

Jennifer Brown Hyde, who was 9 years old when her father abducted her, told the parole board, “His mind is still evil and he is out to achieve what he wants.” “I want him to spend the rest of his life in prison, just as I’ve spent the last decade struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder because of his attitude of entitlement.”

“Justice has been insulted in Madera County,” District Attorney Sally Moreno told the Associated Press on Wednesday.