20th parole try is a charm for Chowchilla kidnapper

chowchilla2One of three men sentenced to life in prison for one of the most notorious kidnappings in California history is a step closer to freedom.

James Schoenfeld, his brother Richard, and Frederick Woods kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver from Chowchilla back in 1976. The trio planned to ransom the children for $5 million. They forced the captives into a moving van that was buried in a rock quarry, and then abandoned them. The students and their driver managed to escape after 16 hours below ground.

The state parole board has now granted James Schoenfeld initial approval for parole. He had been denied parole on 19 previous occasions. The decision begins a four-month process that will ultimately determine whether Schoenfeld goes free.

chowchilla1Richard Schoenfeld was released from prison in 2012. Woods remains behind bars.

All three men came from wealthy families and were in their 20s at the time of the kidnapping. They had lost money on a real estate deal and hatched the kidnapping scheme to get what they thought would be easy money.

chowchilla3The kidnappers wore masks and carried guns when they intercepted a bus from the Dairyland Union School District.. They herded the children into a pair of vans and drove them to the quarry near Livermore. Before they could make their ransom demand, though, the captives managed to dig their way out.

The Chowchilla kidnapping story has been turned into a movie and several books have been written about it.