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On July 15, 1976, kidnappers abducted 26 children, ages 5-14, and their school bus driver in Chowchilla, California. The kidnapped victims were eventually transported from Chowchilla, California in Madera County to a quarry in Livermore, California and loaded into a buried moving box truck. After about 16 hours, they were able to dig themselves out and escaped unharmed. The quarry owner's son and his accomplices were quickly arrested.

Kidnapping and escape[edit]

On July 15, 1976, twenty-six children and their bus driver were kidnapped in Chowchilla, California by armed men blocking the highway around 4 p.m. The students, who were attending Dairyland Elementary School for summer school were being dropped off on their way back from a field trip at the Chowchilla fairgrounds' swimming pool. The young captives and their bus driver were loaded into two vans and driven to a rock quarry in Livermore, California, then imprisoned in a buried box truck. The kidnappers hid the bus in a drainage slough and drove the children and bus driver around in two vans for 11 hours, eventually taking them to a quarry in Livermore, California. There they were imprisoned inside a buried moving van containing a small amount of food and water and a number of mattresses.

After many hours, bus driver Frank Edward "Ed" Ray and the children stacked the mattresses, enabling some of them to reach the opening at the top of the truck, which had been covered with a metal plate and weighed down with two 100–pound industrial batteries. They wedged the lid open with a stick, Ray moved the batteries, and they removed the remainder of the debris blocking the entrance. After 16 hours underground, they emerged and walked to the quarry's guard shack. All were in good condition.

Investigation and arrests[edit]

The buried truck was registered to the quarry owner's son, Frederick Newhall Woods IV, and under hypnosis the bus driver was able to remember the license number of one of the vans. Woods and his accomplices, Richard and James Schoenfeld, were arrested as they attempted to flee to Canada.

The kidnappers had been unable to deliver their ransom demand because phone lines were tied up by families searching for their children. A draft ransom note was also found. Some details of the crime corresponded to details in "The Day the Children Vanished", a story written by Hugh Pentecost and published in Alfred Hitchcock's Daring Detectives (1969).[1] A copy of this book was in the Chowchilla public library, and police theorized it had been the kidnappers' inspiration.[2]

All three were sentenced to life in prison.[3] Richard Schoenfeld was released in 2012.[4] James Schoenfeld was granted parole in 2015 without a parole date being set.[5][6][7] Frederick Woods was granted parole in 2015.[8][9]


Frank Edward "Ed" Ray (February 26, 1921 – May 17, 2012) received a California School Employees Association citation for outstanding community service.[10] Before he died in 2012,[11] he was visited by many of the schoolchildren whom he had helped save.[12]

A study found that the kidnapped children suffered from panic attacks, nightmares involving kidnappings and death, and personality changes; many developed fears of such things as "cars, the dark, the wind, the kitchen, mice, dogs and hippies,"[13] and one shot a Japanese tourist with a BB gun when the tourist's car broke down in front of his home.[14] Many of the children continued to report symptoms of trauma at least 25 years after the kidnapping, including substance abuse and depression, and a number have been imprisoned for "doing something controlling to somebody else."[15]

In popular culture[edit]

The Chowchilla kidnappings were featured on episode 7 of season 2 of the program House of Horrors: Kidnapped, which airs on the American cable network Investigation Discovery.[16] The episode, "Buried Alive," first aired on April 21, 2015, and was told from the point of view of Michael Marshall, who at age 14 was the oldest of the children on the bus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alfred Hitchcock; Arthur Shilstone (1969) ''Alfred Hitchcock's Daring Detectives, Random House, New York ISBN 978-0-39481-490-2
  2. ^ "CRIME: Escape from an Earthen Cell". Time. July 26, 1976. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  3. ^ MacGowan, Douglas. "The Chowchilla Kidnapping". crimelibrary. Retrieved March 16, 2014. 
  4. ^ Hurd, Rick; Green, Jason (22 June 2012). "Paroled Chowchilla school bus kidnapper living in Mountain View". San Jose Mercury News (MediaNews Group). Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "California kidnapper who ‘buried alive’ schoolchildren, bus driver in 1976 wins release from prison" (April 2, 2015) New York Daily News
  6. ^ "Chowchilla kidnapper granted parole at 20th hearing" (April 1, 2015) The Fresno Bee
  7. ^ "CALIFORNIA BRIEFING; SAN LUIS OBISPO; Parole granted in 1976 kidnapping" (April 2, 2015) Los Angeles Times, p. B4
  8. ^ "Parole Denied To 1 Of 3 Chowchilla Bus Kidnappers". CBS San Francisco. November 28, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Man Who Kidnapped Busload Of Kids Wins Initial Parole Approval" (April 2, 2015) Huffington Post
  10. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (May 18, 2012). Ray, Bus Driver During Kidnapping, Dies at 91. New York Times
  11. ^ Associated Press (May 18, 2012). Chowchilla kidnapping bus driver Frank Ray dies. San Francisco Chronicle
  12. ^ Smith, Joshua Emerson (May 17, 2012). Ed Ray, Chowchilla bus driver in 1976 kidnapping, dies. Merced Sun-Star
  13. ^ "Study Finds Trauma In Kidnap Victims". Merced Sun-Star (The Associated Press). January 20, 1981. 
  14. ^ Linda Witt (July 20, 1986). "A DECADE-OLD CRIME HOLDS A SMALL TOWN HOSTAGE". Chicago Tribune (TEMPO; Pg. 1; ZONE: C). 
  15. ^ Charles Osgood, anchor; John Blackstone, reporter (July 29, 2001). "Innocence lost; the Chowchilla kidnap victims 25 years later, and what they taught us about childhood trauma". CBS News Transcripts (CBS Sunday Morning). 
  16. ^ "House of Horrors: Kidnapped: "Buried Alive" (TV Episode)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2015-04-22. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_Chowchilla_kidnapping — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
28 videos foundNext > 

Chowchilla Kidnapping news footage

Chowchilla kidnapping news film footage from 1976.

They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping (1993)

No CopyRight infringement intended. For promotional purposes only. All rights reserved to their respective owners.* Please buy the DVDs if you like it!

They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping (1993)

No CopyRight infringement intended. For promotional purposes only. All rights reserved to their respective owners.* Please buy the DVDs if you like it!

KFSN 6pm Newscast, July 16, 1976

Weekend newscast from the then-CBS affiliate (now ABC O&O) in Fresno, CA. The lead story was the Chowchilla kidnappings case. Commercials are included.

Chowchilla Kidnapper Mountain View Parole | Voices Around Town 6.29.12 | MV Voice

Are Mountain View area residents nervous about one of the Chowchilla kidnappers moving to Mountain View? Each week the Voice heads to downtown ...

Edward Ray Park in Chowchilla

The city of Chowchilla renamed a park on Feb. 26 for Edward Ray, a bus driver who in 1976 helped save 26 kidnapped children. The park was dedicated on ...

Man Who Helped Kidnap Busload of Kids Could Get Parole

One of three men who kidnapped a busload of school children more than three decades ago and left them in a van hidden in a quarry could soon be paroled if ...

Held for Ransom 1976

Christian movie from Ken Anderson Films. Based on a true story about the kidnapping of Eunice Kronholm in Minnesota.. Written and directed by Bruce Lood, ...

Mike Hartman's farewell speech from KSEE24 NBC Fresno after

After 52 years in the TV news biz, Mike Hartman is retiring. Most recently he served as KSEE 24's managing editor. As a journalist, one of his most notable s...

Kid's Kidnap Babies! (Day 669)

In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, ...

28 videos foundNext > 

12 news items

Huffington Post
Fri, 18 May 2012 09:36:44 -0700

FRESNO, Calif. -- The nation called Ed Ray a hero when he led a terrified group of children to safety after they were kidnapped aboard their school bus and held underground for ransom in the summer of 1976. But the unassuming bus driver from a dusty ...
Fox News
Fri, 03 Aug 2012 11:56:15 -0700

It seemed like a normal school day as 26 children and the bus driver made their way made their way back from school in Chowchilla, California. However for the bus driver and children, July 15, 1976 turned into a nightmare very quickly. The small ...
Los Angeles Times
Tue, 05 Apr 2011 17:12:48 -0700

California's parole board Tuesday upheld an earlier decision that deemed one of three men responsible for kidnapping 26 Chowchilla schoolchildren and their school bus driver in 1976 suitable for parole. But Richard Schoenfeld, now 56, would not be ...
Daily Mail
Sat, 16 Jun 2012 12:07:04 -0700

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Friday that it would release Richard Schoenfeld, one of the masterminds behind the thwarted 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping, later this month at an undetermined location.
OCRegister (subscription)
Tue, 03 Dec 2013 15:08:32 -0800

He wrote about Patty Hearst, César Chávez and, in a story he discussed extensively with New U staffers, the 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping of 26 children and their adult driver from a school bus. It feels weird to be writing about Bell. I'm a reporter for ...
Tue, 22 May 2012 14:04:36 -0700

On Tuesday, family and loved ones in Chowchilla, Calif., remember a school bus driver who many consider an American hero. Thirty-six years ago, Ed Ray was driving his regular school bus route when it was hijacked. Everyone aboard was driven 100 miles, ...
The Almanac Online
Wed, 30 Apr 2014 16:17:02 -0700

Near the corner of Alpine and Portola roads in Portola Valley, there sits an unoccupied estate that dates from 1867. Upon its 79 acres are a rundown mansion, a rundown garage, a rundown cottage, a rundown barn, and estate grounds that, while not ...
The Almanac Online
Thu, 31 Jan 2013 18:41:33 -0800

There were also clippings of the famous 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping on the bulletin board, according to the Almanac article, in which Richard and James Schoenfeld of Woodside and Fred Woods of Atherton hijacked a bus full of children and left it ...

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