"I said to myself as soon as the bus stopped: 'What have I got myself into?' Then you rationalize. You see them and you rationalize all your...problems will be over in 24 hours."
Frederick "Fred" Newhall Woods IV, Richard "Rick" Schoenfeld, and James "Jim" Schoenfeld were a trio of abductors infamous for hijacking a school bus full of children and holding them for ransom.
Born sometime in the 1960s, Frederick, Richard, and James all came from privileged backgrounds, having lived in wealthy neighborhoods in the San Francisco area. Richard and James's father worked as a podiatrist, while Frederick's father was a businessman who owned and managed a multitude of businesses, including a rock quarry located in Livermore, California. At some point in their early lives, Richard and James became acquainted with Frederick, working on cars and talking about movies with another friend. Exposure to and discussions of crime and action films such as Dirty Harry and The French Connection allegedly led to the three musing over the prospect of "perfect crimes" and whether or not it was possible they could be committed. According to James Schoenfeld, the three believed while they were in their early 20s that their parents had become disappointed in them and that they were spending the money they had way too quickly. Fearing of embarrassment from asking their parents for financial support, they agreed to get themselves some money. Frederick, Richard, and James, drawing from their discussions over perfect crimes, decided to get the money they needed by holding hostages for ransom. According to James, they initially weren't serious about actually committing such a crime, but as time passed by, they began to consider it. The three eventually formulated a scheme to hijack a school bus, hide all of the passengers somewhere safe, demand a $5 million ransom from the state of California, retrieve the money, and then release the hostages unharmed, all within twenty-four hours. It was later observed that elements of the abduction seem similar to a scenario depicted in The Day the Children Vanished, a story written by Hugh Pentecost that was published in the 1969 fiction anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Daring Detectives; since there was a copy of the book in the Chowchilla library, it was assumed that the Pentecost story was the inspiration for the mass abduction.
The Mass AbductionOn July 15, 1976, Frederick, Richard, and James put their scheme into motion. Stopping their white van in the middle of the lonely, rural Avenue 21 in Chowchilla, California, under the pretense that it had broken down, they waited until a school bus they set their sights on, which was driven by 55-year-old Frank Edward "Ed" Ray, stopped to investigate. At this point, the positions Frederick, Richard, and James took during the initial abduction are unknown. One of the three boarded the bus, masked, armed with a shotgun, and carrying nylon stocking, boarded the bus when Ray opened the door, having already noticed his items and hoping to engage in a peaceful negotiation. He immediately forced Ray to get up from his seat and moved him to the back of the bus while the other two jumped out of their van and boarded the bus as well, taking control of the schoolchildren riding inside. One of the three drove the bus, another watched Ray and the children, and the third followed behind in their van. Stopping over at a drainage slough, half of the passengers were forced into the van, which drove off before a second white van arrived sometime later, taking the remainder of the hostages. For about eleven hours, the hostages were all driven approximately 100 miles from Chowchilla to Livermore, where they were forced into a van that they buried deep in dirt back in December 1975. When the day was about to come to a close, worried parents contacted the school, which initially assumed that the bus had broken down in the road. However, once this was proven to be wrong, local police and the county sheriff was called in to investigate, determining that the bus disappeared after successfully making its first three stops.
By 7:30 p.m., an all-points bulletin was broadcast while numerous people, including the parents of the missing children, initiated a widespread search. Sometime after 8:00 p.m., the school bus was discovered in the drainage slough, covered in bamboo and brush, but with no sign of Ray or the children. On the early hours of July 16, news of Ray and the children's disappearances became nationwide, and reporters flocked to Chowchilla to cover the story. At the time, memories of the Patty Hearst abduction and the October 1969 threat by the Zodiac Killer to target a school bus for a massacre were still fresh on people's minds. Meanwhile, in the buried van, after spending about twelve hours inside, the hostages decided to try and make an escape after feelings of claustrophobia began to take reign. Ray and some of the older boys stacked in a pile a total of fourteen mattresses that were in the van, reaching the hole where they all managed to go through when forced inside. However, they found that there was a metal lid on top of the hole, which was heavy and immovable. Wedging a wooden beam through a small gap between the hole and the metal lid, they were able to move the lid, allowing Ray to reach up and pull down a heavy industrial battery that was used to weigh down the lid. After knocking down another battery from the lid, Ray and the boys cleared out dirt and debris until they made a hole large enough for one of the smaller boys to fit through. When the boy climbed through the hole and alerted that there was no one present, Ray helped the rest of the children out of the van before climbing out himself. They all then staggered towards a rock quarry (which happened to encompass the area where they were buried), where they were found by two workers who, ironically, heard of them in the radio news. At about 4:00 a.m. on July 17, approximately 36 hours after Frederick, Richard, and James hijacked their school bus, Ray and the children reunited with their families.
At the time of the hostages' captivity, Frederick, Richard, and James had previously tried to call in their ransom, but without success due to, ironically, the flooding calls from reporters, law enforcement agencies, and tipsters. On the morning of July 17, they learned that their hostages had escaped the buried van. Frederick and James panicked and fled northward in a car, while Richard decided to return home to confess to committing the mass abduction to his parents. Meanwhile, investigators determined that the buried van, which they managed to bring up from the ground, belonged to Frederick. That, plus the fact that Frederick's father owned the rock quarry where the hostages were discovered, placed suspicion on him. Upon discovering that he and James were missing, police launched a manhunt for them and also placed a tight watch on Richard, whom they also suspected. At this point, Frederick and James, having passed through the Bay Area, decided to split up and head into Canada separately. On the evening of July 17, Frederick managed to enter Canada and settled himself in a Vancouver hotel. The next evening, James arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border in Idaho and tried to get in, using a false story, but was denied entry, and he instead went to Spokane, Washington. On July 19, he attempted to get into Canada again, but this time, border guards discovered a pistol that belonged to Frederick, which James wasn't aware of being in his car. However, he was merely denied entry again, and James went back to Idaho, where he abandoned the car in Coeur d'Alene the next day and purchased a truck that he drove back to Washington. On July 23, news broke that Richard had confessed to committing the mass abduction and was now being held on $1 million bail, news that was heard by both Frederick and James. In response, James drove back to the Bay Area, unsure of what to do, while Frederick wrote a letter to a friend, but the friend turned the letter in to the FBI. On July 29, fourteen days after the mass abduction, Frederick and James were both arrested when they were recognized by several civilians.
On August 4, Frederick, Richard, and James went to court in Chowchilla, where Frederick, Richard, and James pleaded innocent to more than 40 felony charges. The trial was then delayed as it was relayed from Chowchilla's Madera County to Alameda County. Finally, on July 25, 1977, the three pleaded guilty to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom without inflicting injury. The guilty plea was controversial, with the prosecution arguing that bodily harm was indeed inflicted upon the hostages, but only psychologically. Nevertheless, the three were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, although the prevention of parole was later overturned in 1981. Once the trial ended, Chowchilla fell out of the media spotlight, save for the visit by reporters on the anniversary of the mass abduction. In 1993, a made-for-TV movie based on a book written about the crime was made, and Frederick sued the filmmakers, feeling that the character portrayed in the movie was extremely biased, but the lawsuit was eventually dismissed. The possibility of parole for Frederick, Richard, and James stirred controversy, with Ray and some of the hostages stating that they should be kept in prison, while other hostages, sheriff's officers, and the judge that presided over the case and passed down the sentence stated that they should be released from jail. On October 30, 2008, after being denied parole twenty times, Richard was deemed suitable for parole by the California Board on Parole Hearings an was released on June 20, 2012, presently living with his mother in a condominium in Mountain View, California. His parole stirred great controversy from the hostages. On November 28, 2012, Frederick was denied parole for the thirteenth time and will not be eligible for parole again until 2015. On August 7, 2015, James was paroled.
Six months after the mass abduction, Bay Area psychiatrist Lenore Terr had gone to Chowchilla to help with a noted rise in nightmares and phobias that were being experienced by the children; Terr conducted interviews with all but one of the children, also performing follow-up interviews three to four years afterward. Over the course of her studies, she noted that numerous traits and facts about the children, including that a majority of the children, upon recollection, did not name the time they spent in the vans or the hours they spent being buried underground as the worst of their experiences; they also remembered that the highest degree of terror occurred at any time whenever their location was changed: from the school bus and into the small vans, from those vans and into the hole at the top of the buried van, and even from their placement onto the buses taking them home after their ordeal ended. Terr also found that many of the children had developed a strong fear of strangers, even if they were in safe public areas with numerous passerby, and even refusing to answer the front door. She concluded, about three years later, that they were traumatized by the ordeal, resulting in panic attacks, nightmares of abductions that led to their deaths, and personality changes. Twenty of the children feared of being abducted again, and twenty-one were afraid of "cars, the dark, the wind, the kitchen, mice, dogs and hippies". Eighteen months after the mass abduction, one of the older male victims shot a Japanese tourist with a BB gun when the tourist's car broke down in front of his home. Many of the children continued to report symptoms of trauma for at least twenty-five years after the hijacking, including substance abuse and depression. A number of them have even spent time in prison for "doing something controlling to somebody else".
Frederick, Richard, and James targeted a school bus full of children, all aged 5 to 14, whom they got to stop by pretending that their van broke down in the middle of the road. Once it did, they boarded the bus, wearing masks and armed with shotguns. They kept their captives by stuffing them into a van buried under a pile of dirt. Escape was further cut off by a metal lid that covered the top of the truck and was weighed down with two 100-pound industrial batteries.
- July 15-17, 1976: The school bus hijacking:
- Frank Edward "Ed" Ray, 55 (the driver)
- Lisa Ardery
- Monica Ardery
- Lisa Barletta
- Jeff Brown
- Jennifer Brown, 9
- Irene Carrejo
- Julie Carrejo
- Lynda Carrejo, 10
- Stella Carrejo
- Darla Daniels, 9
- Johnny Estabrook
- Andres Gonzales
- Robert Gonzales
- Jody Heffington, 10
- Sheryll Hinesley
- Mike Marshall
- Jody Matheny
- Andrea Park, 8
- Larry Park, 6
- Barbara Parker
- Judy Reynolds, 12
- Rebecca Reynolds, 10
- Angela Robison
- Michelle Robison
- Cindy Vanhoff
- Laura Yazzi, 5
On Criminal Minds
Frederick, Richard, and James all seemed to have been the basis on the Moore Brothers, whom the Reid and Blake compared them to. Both teams hijacked a school bus full of children, of which they managed to stop by pretending they had vehicle failure (which was mentioned by Reid). It also appears that the fact that Richard and James were both brothers, which seems to be further alluded through the Moores.
- Wikipedia's article on the mass abduction
- TruTV Crime Library articles on the mass abduction
- Section on the Chowchilla city website that describes the mass abduction
- KSK.com article on the mass abduction
- Pleasant on Weekly article on the mass abduction
- San Francisco Chronicle article on the mass abduction and the aftermath
- Google News article on several survivors of the mass abduction
- CBS News article on several survivors of the mass abduction
- CBS Press Express article that mentions survivors of the mass abduction
- ABC News article on several survivors of the mass abduction
- Daily Mail article on several survivors of the mass abduction
- Los Angeles Times article on the abductors' trial
- KSBY article on James's parole
- ↑ TruTV states that they were in their early- to mid-20s at the time of the mass abduction, which would place their approximate time of birth at around that decade