Chowchilla Bus Kidnapper Released From Prison

Richard Schoenfeld | Courtesy: CDCR/AP

After more than 35 years in prison, one of three men who kidnapped a busload of schoolchildren in a ransom attempt in Chowchilla has been released on parole.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) says Richard Schoenfeld was released on parole to an undisclosed location Wednesday evening. CDCR officials say he will be monitored 24 hours a day by GPS.

Earlier this year, an appeals court ordered Schoenfeld's immediate release, ruling that the Board of Parole Hearings unfairly set his release date for 2021 even though it concluded he wasn't a threat to society.

But Schoenfeld had remained locked up while CDCR appealed to the California Supreme Court. On June 14, the high court notified CDCR that it was refusing to take the case.

Schoenfeld, his brother John Schoenfeld, and their friend Fred Woods hatched their kidnap-for-ransom plan in 1976 after falling into debt because of a real estate deal gone sour. They spent 18 months working on the plan.

On July 16, 1976, they pretended their van had engine problems along Avenue 21 in Chowchilla, prompting bus driver Ed Ray to pull over and park his bus of 26 summer school students.

The trio forced the victims into two vans and hid the bus in a creek bed. They drove about 100 miles to a Livermore quarry owned by Woods' father and sealed the children and Ray in a trailer in a cave. They then left to make their $5 million ransom demand.

The Chowchilla Police Department was swamped with so many calls that the kidnappers couldn't get through so they decided to take a nap before calling in their demand.

When they awoke, Ray and the two oldest children had managed to stack mattresses high enough to escape through the roof. Eventually, all the abductees staggered to safety.

Richard Schoenfeld turned himself in eight days later. His brother and Woods were arrested the next week.

John Schoenfeld and Woods have parole hearings later this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.