Last man jailed for 1976 Chowchilla bus abduction will be released, officials confirm

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Last man jailed for 1976 Chowchilla bus abduction will be released, officials confirm
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CHOWCHILLA, Calif. (KFSN) — It was a crime that captured the nation.

A Chowchilla bus with 26 children and a driver on board, ambushed by three armed kidnappers who buried them alive.

46 years later, two of the three convicted kidnappers have been released.

And now, the day many have dreaded for decades – the third co-conspirator has also been granted parole.

On July 15, 1976, as a bus driver and 26 children were traveling on the bus, a van suddenly appeared and blocked the road.

Frederick Newhall Woods IV, 24, and brothers James Schoenfeld, 24, and Richard Schoenfeld, 22, held them captive in a box truck at a rock quarry north near Livermore.

The men planned to demand a ransom for their return, but the children and their driver escaped hours later.

The three brothers were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In June 2012, at age 57, Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole and released from prison. Three years later, his older brother James was released.

On Wednesday, officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Fred Woods had been granted parole.

Prosecutors considered Woods to be the mastermind of the crime.

ABC30 spoke to Larry Park, who was only 7 at the time of the abduction. He admits to still being traumatized by the incident and says he struggled with addiction for most of his life.

“Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about this incident,” he said.

The trauma led to schizophrenia and addiction for Park, but now, decades later, he’s chosen forgiveness.

“It is possible to forgive and it is possible to find peace,” he says.

Woods was granted parole after appearing before a parole board 17 times.

Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno said she fought to keep Woods behind bars.

“Has he demonstrated that he has been rehabilitated? And he hasn’t. As recently as 2019, he was disciplined for running businesses out of jail or prison,” Moreno said.

But after his parole was reviewed this week, the decision became official. Woods will soon be released from California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.

“The kidnapping was about the money. When they arrested him, he was busy selling the rights to the movie to a Hollywood agent. It was always about the money. And those kids got into it. between him and the money and everything he had to do to get the money he would have made to those kids, including burying them alive,” Moreno says.

Some of those who defended him at his final parole hearing were unlikely supporters. Larry Park was among them.

“You come to a point where you realize that this hatred and resentment and bitterness that I’ve held all my life for these three men – Fred, Richard and James – I just want them to find some peace and comfort and have a good life,” Park says.

DA Moreno and other kidnapping survivors who participated in the parole hearing were convinced that Woods was not ready for release.

“Anything he has to do to make more money, he’ll do it. Anyone who gets in his way, you better watch out,” Moreno said.

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