Who were the Chowchilla kidnappers and where are they now?

Chowchilla kidnapping
The captors from the 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping - Frederick Woods [left], James Schoenfeld [center], and Richard Schoenfeld [right] (Image via CBS)

This week's episode of CBS 48 Hours will revisit the 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping of 26 children from a school bus along with the bus driver. Three masked and heavily armed kidnappers, namely Frederick Woods and brothers James Schoenfeld and Richard Schoenfeld, held them captive in an underground box truck in a rock quarry.

The all-new episode titled Remembering the Chowchilla Kidnapping will air on CBS this Saturday, March 18, 2023, at 10.00 pm ET, following the recent developments in the case.

The synopsis reads:

"Twenty-six school children were abducted by three men and buried alive in a trailer. Inside their daring escape."

All the children, including the bus driver Ed Ray, managed to make a daring escape by digging their way out after nearly 16 hours. The kidnappers, all three from wealthy San Francisco families, were arrested nearly two weeks later and were sentenced to life in prison with parole. All three of them have now made parole.

Reports state that Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole in 2012 followed by his brother James' parole three years later. The most recent development has been with regard to the man considered the mastermind of the plan, Frederick Woods, who was granted parole last August.

The Chowchilla kidnapping victims were held captive in an underground box truck in a rock quarry

Ep 54: The Chowchilla Bus Kidnapping 1•Ed (bus driver) and some of the children 2•Richard, James, & Frederick- suspects 3•The truck trailer victims were kept in 4•inside the truck trailer#truecrime #truecrimepodcast #chowchillakidnapping #kidnapped #abducted #survivors

In the summer of 1976 three young masked men hijacked a Dairyland Elementary school bus full of children in the small town of Chowchilla, California. The case is considered one of the largest kidnappings in the history of the United States.

On July 16, 26 children aged between five and 14, along with their bus driver Ed Ray, were returning home from summer school when they were taken hostage at gunpoint on their way back. The kidnappers then put all 27 hostages in two locked and dark vans as they drove for 11 hours in the blazing heat. They covered over 100 miles before taking them out of the vans one by one. The victims were not allowed any bathroom or water breaks.

Three masked gunmen kidnapped 26 children off a school bus in Chowchilla, California.Decades later, the survivors talk about the horrifying details of their experience.

They finally arrived at a quarry nearly 100 miles away in Livermore, California, sometime around 3.30 am. The captors then buried them alive in an underground box truck.

All the hostages made a daring escape, led by the bus driver and some of the students. They used mattresses, stacking them high enough for them to reach a metal plate in the roof, which was blocked by a large truck battery and dirt. They dug their way through the dirt and escaped 16 hours later.

One of the kidnappers in the Chowchilla case was the rock quarry owner's son


Investigators tracked down the kidnappers in about two weeks' time, eventually arresting Frederick Woods, the rock quarry owner's son, his partner from a used car business, James Schoenfeld, and James' younger brother, Richard.

As per CBS News, a document with the "plan" of the kidnapping, a draft of a ransom note, and a list of all the names of the victims found in their possession along with their fingerprints were used to convict all three men.

At first, they were each given 27 sentences of seven years to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the Chowchilla kidnapping case. However, in 1980, an appeals panel reversed these sentences and declared that the men were eligible for parole given that they did not cause any of the victims any serious bodily injuries.

Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole and discharged from prison in June 2012 at the age of 57, and his older brother James was released three years later. Very recently in August 2022, Frederick Wood, the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping, was also granted parole, a move that was heavily disputed by most of the Chowchilla kidnapping survivors.

CBS 48 Hours' Remembering the Chowchilla Kidnapping airs on Saturday at 10 pm ET.

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Edited by Adelle Fernandes
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