Frederick Woods buried 26 children and their bus driver alive in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnappings. Picture: Supplied
Frederick Woods buried 26 children and their bus driver alive in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnappings. Picture: Supplied

Man who buried 26 kids alive seeks parole

Frederick Woods, the mastermind behind the 1976 Chowchilla kidnappings, is seeking parole at the age of 67.

Woods, along with brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, stopped a bus carrying children from Dairyland Elementary School in California on their way back from an excursion to the local swimming pool, kidnapping them.

Some of the 26 children and their bus driver who were buried alive in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnappings. Picture: Supplied
Some of the 26 children and their bus driver who were buried alive in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnappings. Picture: Supplied

Inspired by the 1971 movie Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, the three armed men put pantyhose over their heads and ordered bus driver Frank Ray to the back of the bus.

The children, aged between five and 14, were driven around for 11 hours, with many soiling themselves out of fear.

Some of the 26 children who were buried alive in Chowchilla. Picture: Supplied
Some of the 26 children who were buried alive in Chowchilla. Picture: Supplied

The older children reportedly led sing-a-longs to help comfort the younger children before they were ordered into a buried trailer at a quarry, four metres below the ground.

The children were made to give their names and a piece of clothing before climbing into the trailer at which point the men started shovelling dirt on top and sealed the hatch by placing two 45-kilogram industrial batteries on top.

The trailer in which 26 children and a bus driver were buried alive. Picture: AP
The trailer in which 26 children and a bus driver were buried alive. Picture: AP

The kidnappers, who were all from wealthy families, planned to ask for $US5 million in ransom for the hostages.

Led by Mr Ray the bus driver, the children piled mattresses inside the trailer on top of each other and used wooden slates to dislodge the plate on top of the roof and knock off the batteries on top of the hatch.

Surviving 16 hours buried underground, Mr Ray and the children walked to a guard's station on the quarry and police were called.

Frederick Woods (centre), and James Schoenfeld, left, and Richard Schoenfeld right buried 26 kids alive in the Chowchilla kidnappings in 1976. Picture: Supplied
Frederick Woods (centre), and James Schoenfeld, left, and Richard Schoenfeld right buried 26 kids alive in the Chowchilla kidnappings in 1976. Picture: Supplied

Woods fled to Canada but was arrested after police discovered the buried trailer was registered to him and the Schoenfeld brothers were also arrested in California.

All men were sentenced to life but in 2012 Richard Schoenfeld was given parole. In 2015, his brother James was also let out of prison.

Chowchilla kidnapper Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012. Picture: Supplied
Chowchilla kidnapper Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012. Picture: Supplied

 

Chowchilla kidnapper James Schoenfeld was paroled in 2015. Picture: Supplied
Chowchilla kidnapper James Schoenfeld was paroled in 2015. Picture: Supplied

Woods however has been denied supervised release 18 times with a panel saying he has been a "troublesome inmate".

At Woods' parole hearing in 2012, victim Jennifer Brown Hyde gave a heartbreaking account of what life had been like for the kidnapping victims.

"I wrote that they buried me alive, they stole my childhood and caused me immense emotional pain over the years. It affected my life, my parents' lives and my children's lives," she said.

"For me, it's having to deal with hatred and anger toward other human beings, and that's a struggle that almost 40 years later I still have to deal with.

"Until recently I slept with a night light. I have anxiety attacks when I'm in a confined space," she revealed. "I'm fortunate I'm not incarcerated or hooked on drugs, which is how some of the kids dealt with it. I'm as OK as a broken person can be."

Frederick Woods buried 26 children and their bus driver alive in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnappings. Picture: Supplied
Frederick Woods buried 26 children and their bus driver alive in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnappings. Picture: Supplied

Many of the children still suffer from post traumatic shock disorder.

The bus driver, Mr Ray, died in 2012, however February 26, was named Edward Ray Day in the town of Chowchilla.