One of three men who kidnapped a busload of Chowchilla schoolchildren in 1976 was found fit for parole Wednesday by a two-member panel of the state Board of Parole Hearings, the Fresno Bee reported.
This was the 20th time the board considered releasing the man, James Schoenfeld, 63, who is imprisoned at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, the Bee said. The ruling will go through an internal review that could take up to four months before a recommended parole date is sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.
The three kidnappers were from families in Atherton and Portola Valley. James Schoenfeld and his younger brother, Richard Schoenfeld, were from Atherton, and Frederick Woods was from Portola Valley.
Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012. Frederick Woods could have a parole hearing this fall.
The Schoenfeld brothers and Mr. Woods were in their early to mid-20s when they ambushed a busload of schoolchildren on July 15, 1976, from Dairyland Union School in Chowchilla, a small farm community about 35 miles northwest of Fresno in Madera County.
The men left the bus camouflaged in a creek bed and drove the children and bus driver, Ed Ray, to the California Rock and Gravel Quarry in Livermore.
The kidnappers sealed their victims in a large van that had been buried in a cave at the quarry and fitted out to keep the children and driver hostage.
The kidnappers then demanded a $5 million ransom for the return of the 26 children and the driver.
The hostages escaped from the buried van more than 24 hours after they were first kidnapped when Mr. Ray and the two oldest children piled mattresses to the top of the van and forced their way out.
The three men received life sentences after pleading guilty in Alameda County Superior Court in 1977 to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom.
● Related story: Chowchilla kidnapper may be released (Almanac, March 7, 2012)