California · Madera

‘Evil’: Final member of 1976 Chowchilla bus kidnapping paroled

The last of three men convicted of hijacking a school bus full of California children for an attempted $5 million ransom in 1976 in what a prosecutor called “the largest mass kidnapping in U.S. history” is being released by the state’s parole board.

Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the board to reconsider its decision to parole Frederick Woods, 70, on Tuesday after two commissioners recommended his release in March when previous panels had denied him parole 17 times. But the board affirmed that decision. The governor couldn’t block Woods’ release because he’s not convicted of murder, and could only urge the parole board to take a closer look.

Woods and his two accomplices, brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, were from wealthy San Francisco Bay Area families when they kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver near Chowchilla, about 125 miles southeast of San Francisco.

The three buried the children, ages 5 to 14, along with their bus driver in an old moving van east of San Francisco with little ventilation, light, water, food or bathroom supplies. The victims were able to dig their way out more than a day later.

Jennifer Brown Hyde, who was 9 at the time, recalled “the lifetime effects of being buried alive and being driven around in a van for 11 hours with no food, water or a bathroom in over 100-degree weather.”

“His mind is still evil and he is out to get what he wants,” she told the board. “I want him to serve life in prison, just as I served a lifetime of dealing with the PTSD due to his sense of entitlement.”

She said Wednesday that her family is disappointed, but it is “time to close this chapter and continue living the blessed life I have been given.” She praised her fellow hostages as “true survivors and not victims.”

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.