Care Worker's Tip Led to Arrest of Child Molester

Times Staff Writer

The arrest of one of California's most notorious child molesters occurred after a Berkeley home health worker told police the elderly man she was caring for asked her to help him buy a 4-year-old boy, authorities said.

Due to prior offenses, Kenneth Parnell, 71, who was arrested Friday, faces the possibility of life in prison under California's three-strikes law, said Clint Ojala, an investigator with the Alameda County district attorney's office.

The health worker, whose name was not released, befriended Parnell while making regular medical visits to his tiny Berkeley apartment, Ojala said.

Parnell, who uses a wheelchair and walker, served five years in state prison during the 1980s for the kidnap of a 7-year-old boy in 1972 and a 5-year-old boy seven years later. The first child, Steven Stayner, was sexually molested numerous times before escaping in 1980 with the younger boy, who had been kidnapped two weeks earlier. The ordeal was later turned into a TV movie, "I Know My First Name is Steven."

Last week, Parnell told the health worker he would pay her $500 if she could find a 4-year-old African American boy for him.

"One day she was over at his house, and he just said, 'I have 500 bucks and I'm willing to spend it on a kid,' " Ojala said. "Later, he said the child had to be black and has to be 4 years old. It's like this guy was ordering food."

The woman went to the Berkeley Police Department, where Parnell was registered as a serious sex offender. She wore a wire for subsequent visits and police taped her phone calls with Parnell. He told the woman to bring the child and his birth certificate to his house Friday after dark, Ojala said.

Authorities arrested Parnell after he gave the woman $100 for a birth certificate, which was fake, Ojala said. Police found toddler's clothing, children's videos and adult pornography in his apartment, Ojala said.

A Berkeley police spokeswoman would not say why Parnell wanted the child. But he allegedly told the woman he also would be interested in buying a young girl if the first deal worked out, Ojala said.

"It's disgusting," Ojala said. "We just thank God this lady got involved."

Parnell, who is being held at a local jail in lieu of $150,000 bail, was booked on a number of offenses, including conspiracy to commit child stealing and solicitation to commit a felony.

Parnell was sentenced to three years in prison in 1951 for sexually molesting an 8-year-old Bakersfield boy. He also spent time in a Utah prison in the 1960s for robbery and grand larceny. He was sentenced to eight years and eight months in California prison for abducting the two boys but was released in 1985 after serving five years.

Although Stayner said Parnell had regularly abused him sexually, child-abuse charges against Parnell were dropped in 1981 when a state appeals court ruled the statute of limitations had expired.

Delbert Stayner, the father of Steven Stayner, told Associated Press on Saturday that Parnell should have never been released after being convicted of kidnapping his son.

"He should've gotten life when he took Stevie all those years ago," Stayner said.

Steven Stayner was killed in a motorcycle accident near Merced in 1989 at age 24.

Last year, his older brother, Cary Stayner, was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing four women in Yosemite National Park.

Parnell had to register with police yearly, and the Alameda County sex crimes task force made regular visits to his apartment.

Beverly Slapin, who lives a block away, said she and others warned new residents about Parnell.

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