Chowchilla school bus kidnapper gets initial approval for parole

A second Chowchilla school bus kidnapper may go free: James Schoenfeld gets initial approval for parole

James Schoenfeld, one of three men who kidnapped a busload of schoolchildren from Chowchilla, Calif., in 1976, received initial approval for parole Wednesday, state corrections officials said.

Schoenfeld, his brother and another man forced 26 children and the bus driver to climb into a moving van that had been buried in a rock quarry 100 miles away, and planned to demand $5 million in ransom. 

The captives managed to escape after being entombed at the quarry for 16 hours.

Wednesday's development “only begins a six-month process to determine whether or not he will go free,” said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

It marked the 20th time Schoenfeld, 63, has been considered for parole. Sessa said he did not know why the outcome was different this time.

The children kidnapped by Schoenfeld, his brother Richard and Frederick N. Woods, ranged in age from 5 to 14.

The three men all were in their 20s at the time and came from wealthy families. Both Schoenfeld brothers were Eagle Scouts.

They had sustained losses on a real estate project and were hoping to make some easy money by demanding millions of dollars in ransom.

The three men were convicted in the kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison.

Richard Schoenfeld was released on parole in 2012. Woods remains incarcerated.

Wednesday’s decision to approve James Schoenfeld for parole was made by a two-member panel of the state Board of Parole Hearings, Sessa said. Next, he said, the board’s legal staff will review the decision. If approved, the governor will make an independent decision.

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Times staff writers Diana Marcum and Ryan Parker contributed to this report.

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