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Man Who Kidnapped 26 Children and Buried Them Alive Seeks Parole for the 18th Time

Published: March 29, 2022
1970s students board a traditional yellow school bus outside a school building. Frederick Newhall Woods, one of three men convicted of kidnapping 26 children and burying them alive is seeking parole for the 18th time. (Photo by R. Krubner/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

Frederick Newhall Woods, one of three men convicted for a 1976 kidnapping that resulted in 26 children being buried alive, is seeking parole for the 18th time and the parole board is recommending his release. 

In what has been described as the biggest kidnapping in U.S. history, Woods, along with two other gunmen, hijacked a school bus full of children in Chowchilla, California, on July 15 1976. The men then transported the children and the bus driver via vans more than 12 hours away from their destination and buried them alive in an underground truck trailer, CBS News reported. 

The kidnappers then attempted to demand $5 million in ransom, however when they tried to call to make their demand, the phone lines were jammed with anxious parents’ phone calls and press inquiries from around the world, and they couldn’t get through. 

The children and driver, Ed Ray, managed to escape the trailer after approximately 16 hours by digging their way out while their kidnappers were sleeping. 

Woods has gone before the parole board in an attempt to secure his freedom a total of 18 times since his conviction. During his most recent parole board hearing he was granted a recommendation for release by a panel of two commissioners. 

The recommendation still needs to be approved by the full parole board, the board’s legal division and Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

While none of the victims sustained any life-threatening injuries, many detailed the psychological trauma they have endured in the years since the incident in a “48 Hours” special which aired in 2019. 

“I’m 50 years old, and I can have an anxiety attack over getting in the car with my husband,” Jennifer Brown Hyde, one of the victims, told Fox News host Claudia Cowan during a segment entitled, “Nightmare in Chowchilla.”

Woods and his accomplices were arrested around two weeks following the incident and sentenced to life without parole before an appeals court overturned the decision and granted the men eligibility for parole.

Both of Wood’s accomplices, Richard Schoenfeld and James Schoenfeld were granted parole in 2012 and 2015 respectively. 

On Friday, March 25, Woods, now 70 years old,  attended a parole hearing that was held entirely on video due to COVID-19 measures. His attorney, Dominique Banos, told the court that Woods has not faced any disciplinary action since his last parole hearing in 2019. 

Prior to that, Woods had been disciplined for running an unauthorized gold mine and Christmas tree farm from prison. 

While it is not illegal to run a business from prison in California, it does require authorization from the prison warden, something Woods failed to obtain. 

Woods is the descendant of two prominent California families, the Newhalls and the Woods, and he is reportedly heir to a vast family fortune. He shares a trust fund, set up by his parents, with a single sister who is institutionalized with Down syndrome.  

“In one court filing, the trust fund he inherited was described as ‘over $100 million,’ a number his lawyer Dominique Banos of Los Angeles dismissed as ‘nothing anywhere near that,’” CBS News reported. 

At the hearing, Woods read an apology for his crimes saying, “I’ve had empathy for the victims which I didn’t have then. I’ve had a character change since then.”

“I was 24 years old. Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act,” he said.