Dec. 20, 2020

Chowchilla kidnapping // California // 42

Chowchilla kidnapping // California // 42

A whole entire bus, 26 kids, and their bus driver, Ed, disappeared in California in 1976. Three gunmen loaded on the bus and took it over, Resulting in one of the largest mass kidnappings in U.S. history. You won't want to miss this roller coaster of an episode!


James Shoenfeld said quote, "we needed multiple victims to get multiple millions and we picked children, because children are precious. {Fucking gross}

It's July 15, 1976 at around 4 P.M. Frank Edward Ray, who is usually referred to as, Ed Ray or Ed, but never Mr. Ray, age 55, was a bus driver for, Dairyland Elementary, and was driving 26 students home from a summer school class trip to the Chowchilla fairgrounds swimming pool on, July 15th, 1976.
Some of the kids that rode this bus were actually grandkids of his former classmates because Ed had grown up and lived in this area his whole life.
Ed was basically the super cool bus driver that every kid remembers, or at least I had one that was like this. He was really humble, cared about the kids, just an awesome overall guy.
As Ed was driving the kids home, a white van pulled out in front of the bus. Ed being a great dude, asks if everything is okay, thinking they're maybe having engine trouble or something. This a bus full of kids ranging from ages 5 to 14,  ,so these are pretty young kids. As ed came to a stop, 3 armed men with pantyhose over their heads, dressed identically, jump onto the bus with sawed off shotguns. Their names are, Fredrick Woods age 24, and brothers Richard and James Shoenfeld, ages 22 and 24. The brothers tell Ed, quote, "shut up and get in the back of the bus".
Ed was doing his best to keep the kids calm and in a harsh voice was telling the kids to be quiet, sit down, and do what they say. They actually listened to this because Ed was such a gentle person, they weren't used to him having an aggressive tone towards them. The youngest kid on the bus sees, Woods, with pantyhose over his head, and (ima break your hearts here, or at least mine all over) And asks him if he was the Easter Bunny. I really cant even wrap my mind around this... the innocence of those kids and these a-holes are stuffing guns in their faces. CHILDRENS FACES. That's terrifying as an adult, I can't fathom what it would be like as a kid.

The gunman drove the bus into a dry riverbed and hid it behind tree brush. There they had another two vans that had been stashed and waiting and for them. They unloaded Ed and the kids one by one into the two vans, which had painted windows so no one could see in or out, and then reinforced with wood paneling, making it so they had no air or ventilation. One gunman stood on each side of the door so no one tried to run and they forced each kid to jump from the bus into the vans so that no one left behind footprints. Larry Park, 6 at the time, later said quote, "walking toward it, the barrels on that gun, seemed like they were getting so big that they would just swallow me up."
Ed went with one group, and the other group was all kids. They drove these vans around for 11 freaking hours. 11 hours with 26 kids, who get no bathroom breaks, no water, food, anything. Shoved in the back of a pitch dark van, scared out of their minds.
Jennifer and Jeff, siblings, were separated at this point, and Jennifer remembers repeating to her friends over and over that she just wanted Jeff.
Some of these poor kids were throwing up not only from heat, fear, but also motion sickness. Some had gone to the bathroom on themselves with no other choice, others were clinging to each other for dear life, having no idea when this would all be over. Remember, this is the middle of July in California, the back of those vans had no air or water, the heat, mixed with the smell, had to have been unbearable. Instead of panicking, like a lot of us would, Ed stays calm asf, he does his best to keep the kids in his van calm. He would talk to them, ask how everyone was doing, and sings songs like, Boogies Nights, Love Will Keep Us Together, and If you're happy and you know it clap your hands, but they changed the lyrics to, quote, "if you're sad and you know it."

By the time the 11 hours were over, the vans had been driven 100 miles from Chowchilla, and had arrived in Livermore, California, in a rock quarry.
The kidnappers open up the van doors, grab ed, and shut the door. Then silence. Then theyd open up the door again, grab the closet kid, and shut the doors again. Michael Marshall, who is another hero in this story, scooted Monica Ardery, who was 5 of that time, to the back of the van and took her place,  as they were the last two left, he wanted to make sure he was taken first because he had no idea where they were taking everyone, what they were doing to them, and if they were even alive, and he couldnt bear the thought of them taking her. He said it was a really hard thing to do because he actually had to pry her hands off of his, she didnt want to let go.
Each of the kids was forced to give the kidnappers their name, their age, and a piece of clothing. Once removed from the van, the kids climbed down a ladder into a moving truck that had actully been buried in the ground. The whole truck trailer was 12 feet under the ground except for the hole on top of it. Inside it was 8feet by 16 feet, it had a wall of dirty mattresses, toilets made out of the wheel wells, 2 ventilation fans, boxes of cereal, peanut butter, a few loaves of bread, and some water.  This was very minimal, just enough for each kid to to eat and drink a little.

Parents and locals are very distraught and confused because how the hell does an entire bus full of 26 kids completely vanish?
Jennifer and Jeff's mom ,Joan Brown, arrived home and the kids weren't there. At first she thought they were playing a trick on her, but then She said, quote", "No peanut butter on the counter, no chairs out, they just... weren't there"  {CHILLS}  She recalls later that day, praying to God that if he brought them back... but she had to stop because she realized there was nothing she could offer in exchange for her children.
After searching for hours, just before sunset, a pilot spotted the bus, about 7 miles outside of Chowchilla, down in the dried up riverbed.
The county sheriff, Ed Bates, rushes to the scene only to find out that his deputies had already discovered the bus was completely empty.

The kidnappers tossed a roll of toilet paper down the hole, said they'd be back for them, closed the opening with a manhole cover and started tossing dirt on top. Some of the kids are full blown panicking again, they're screaming, crying, holding each others hands, they are so full of fear at this point that one of them even fainted. Keep in mind what they've already been thru, not only are they scared out of their minds, they haven't eaten or drank anything in 11 hours and had been in nonstop heat. Now they're stuck in a dark hole in the ground, listening to the dirt fall as they're being buried alive.
The gunman then put two industrial truck batteries on top of the manhole cover to hold it shut.
Ed and Marshall look for an escape in every corner, wall, or crevice. They tried standing under the manhole and pushing, but nothing happened. Ed decided itd be best for everyone if they got a little rest. While they were trying to rest, it would be silence, until one kid would start crying, then everyone would start up again.
Marshall said, the thing that made him cry the most was not being able to say goodbye to his mom, because he was so certain he was going to die.
One of the kids kept kicking blocks out from under pillars, causing the ceiling and sides of the tractor to start bowing and caving in.
This really scared the kids because dust was falling around them and they weren't sure how long it'd hold or how long they'd be there, and a lot of kids at this point, convinced themselves they were gonna die. It's hard for kids to grasp the concept of time, especially without being able to see if it was dark or light outside, so this basically felt like eternity to them.

Ed, some of the older kids, and Michael Marshal, started to stack mattresses on top of each other, under the hole. {Leverage} They took turns trying to push it, but it wouldn't move. They were at this for HOURS, only pausing to dump water on themselves to try to cool down a bit or to wash blood away from the cuts on their hands. Everyone was cheering Marshall on, trying to keep him encouraged. When they suddenly see movement, everyone was shouting at him to keep going, but because it was so heavy, he was only able to move it enough to, with the help of Ed, wriggle thru the hole. He ends up in a box that the kidnappers had built over the top of the manhole cover. The box is just big enough for him to stand up, he pounds on the sides as hard as he can,  since nothing happens, he just starts digging. And he doesn't stop. This poor 14 year old digs until he's exhausted, but then, finally, a single ray of sunlight comes in.
Now they have no idea what's waiting for them outside of this hole. They're disoriented, exhausted, have barley slept, ate, or drank anything, they're dehydrated, and they don't know if the gunman are standing there waiting, if there's traps on the outside, they're completely clueless. Remember they arrived here in the middle of the night so even the shirt time they were being transferred to the underground jail, so they didn't see any surroundings.
Larry Park, keep in mind this kid is only 6, being the brave soul that he is, CRAWLS OUT FIRST. I can not believe the bravery of these kids.

Alright, now I'm going to pause on that for a minute and explain why the heck this is all happening to begin with.
This was a plan that had been in the making for 18 months. James later explained that the reason they chose to do this is because despite coming from very wealthy families, they had all dug themselves into financial holes that they couldn't get back out of.
The plan was demand 5 million dollars in return for the kids.
Now they were actually unable to call the ransom in, due to the media, parents, families, and friends trying to find the kids, phonelines to the police department were actually completely jammed. So, instead of making a plan, they decided, this would be a perfect time to nap.
This is nuts to me because the rest of their plans were so thought out. (18 months)

As the kids and Ed climbed out of the hole, the realization comes that they have no idea where the heck they are, they have no idea how far away they are, because remember, they drove them around for 11 hours, and they don't see any cars or buildings in site, just a whole lot of sand and trees. They don't even know if they are in the state anymore.
The time was approximately 8 p.m. and they had been underground for 16 hours.
They had no choice but to start walking, but soon after, they hear equipment, like machinery, heavy equipment noises, so they followed it. When they got there, there was a bunch of men with hardhats on, they walked up to the kids confused, and Edward said, quote, "we are from Chowchilla and we're lost"

The police had to take pictures of each kid for evidence, then the brought them to the safest and closest place that could hold them all, which was, the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center, a local jail. Jennifer remembers seeing the prisons wire, like the fencing and what not, and she legit thought, great, they're taking us to jail now ( like these poor babies did something wrong.)
They all got to have apples and soda, while waiting to be examined by a doctor. Then finally 4 hours later, they're ready to take the kids home, so they sadly, load them onto another bus (can you imagine going thru all of that to just be thrown onto another damn bus)

Don't forget the kidnappers went home and passed out because the idiots couldn't call in the ransom. Guess what these fuckers woke up to??
The news reports informing everyone that all the kids and Ed had escaped safely!!!! HOWS THAT FOR A SLAP IN THE FACE.

I'm gonna pause on the story for just a second here and tell you a few quotes from some of the kids that were involved.

Jennifer says she remembers the feeling of being in the back of the vans, quote, "And I felt like I was an animal going to the slaughterhouse" She also stated, quote, "it was a desperate situation, we thought we were gonna die trying to get out of there"
Larry Park said quote, I've never been in darkness like that before, like the dark was touching me, like i was inhaling darkness. He also said, as he sat in that darkness, he was quote, "wondering what it would feel to die"

Once they brought the kids back to where they could be reunited with their parents, the Media was EVERYWHERE
They swarmed the poor kids and tried to ask them a bunch of questions. Michael Marshal remembers someone asking how he was and taking pictures of him, but a man carried him off the bus and stuck him in his moms arms, he said, quote, "Hi, mom" and he fell asleep on her shoulder right then and there because he finally felt safe again.

Unfortunately, the kidnappers were at large and the poor kids were traumatized by not only what had happened, but also that the kidnappers would come back for them. These poor babies were having awful nightmares and Parents reported having to comfort their screaming children in the middle of the night for months after.

Police worked to dig up the truck that was buried to try to look for clues or anything that would help them understand the who and why. They discovered this truck had actually been buried there months prior. They started looking for anyone who had keys to this particular quarry as you had to have one to be able to have access to this land. And BOOM, who has access? Fred woods, who was the son of the owner of the quarry.
Security guards told investigators, that they had seen 3 men digging months before the kidnapping
Can we just take a minute here, if you see people digging a fucking hole in the middle of no where, please dear god, CALL IT IN.
Anyway, Woods had a record, and that included a grand theft auto charge from just a few years prior, but he and his friends that were involved got off with a slap on the wrist, a fine, and probation.
Investigators checked out surveillance in the area and started to piece stuff together.

They search the Woods residence and there, they find exactly what they need. They recover one of the guns that they used during the kidnappings and a document that was labeled, "Plan" and literally has their entire plan written out on it. The draft of the plan only asked for 2.5 million, but they were planning on asking for $5 million, which today would be about 23 million.
They had been planning this out over a year and a half stretch.

After arrest warrants were issued, Fred and James peaced out, and Richard turned himself in. Richard seems to be the only one that showed any type of remorse for what they'd done.
James ran all over the Western United States but was eventually captured and Woods was arrested by the, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In order to help confirm and identify they kidnappers for sure, they had the men line up, and say things that they consistently said while it was all going down, things like, How are you kids doing? Be quiet! and get to the back of the bus!

When questioned as to why tf someone would commit this awful crime,
Now here's where that super gross quote from the beginning comes in, now that you've heard the story, I want to read it one more time.
James Shoenfeld said quote, "we needed multiple victims to get multiple millions and we picked children, because children are precious. The state would be willing to pay for them, and they don't fight back."
Though all 3 men came from wealthy backgrounds, all of them had ran up their debt to a point of no return, so this was their fucking solution.

16 months later, some of the kids, including Jennifer and Marshal, FACED THE 3 MEN IN COURT
They did this so they could testify that they not only caused mass amounts of harm mentally, but the kids had been physically hurt too.
Jennifer says she remembers giving her dad her gum, because if she kept it, she would have spit it at them {so sweet}
She answered all the questions and walked out with her head held high as she refused to let them see her cry again.
Sheriff, Ed Bates, thinks that Fred Woods was in charge of the whole plan and just persuaded the brothers into it.
All 3 kidnappers were accused of 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom and robbery. But refused to plead guilty to the eight counts of bodily harm. Prosecution dropped 18 counts of armed robbery, and all 3 pled guilty to only 3 counts of kidnapping and bodily harm. This would send all of them to prison for life, without the possibility of parole on February 17, 1978.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end there.
4 years after the incident, the kidnappers lawyers appealed the testimonies of finding bodily harm, and the stupid ass court overturned it. Though, they did acknowledge the horrific events, it was stated that the injuries suffered did NOT rise to the level of bodily harm under the law.
(I don't really care, this is kids we are talking about, ANY harm would have been sufficient enough for me.
But, this left Woods and the brothers to being resentenced to life with possibility of parole.
{Judge Newsom, was on this board when this happened and after he retired, he became an advocate for the kidnappers and basically blamed it on them being young and stupid and it was a quote, "stunt" that had "no vicious aspect to it"
What. the. fuck.

So now these kids who have been completely traumatized by this whole ordeal, could only feel semi safe for a few years, face these awful men in court, just to live with the possibility of them being released. It's not just living with it either, its reliving the trauma every single time one of men came up for parole. For all 3 combined, there has been about 60 parole hearings so far.
In June 2012, Richard was the first to be granted parole, after 36 years.
And 3 years later, James was paroled.
Neither have returned to prison or gotten in trouble since.
Woods on the other hand, he's still rotting away behind bars, and has repeatedly been caught with cell phones and porn.
He's run multiple businesses behind bars, including; a Christmas tree farm, a gold mine, and a car business, which were discovered when a, worker's compensation lawsuit was filed against him, due to one of his workers getting seriously injured on the job, and needing surgery, but Woods refused to pay.
He inherited a trust fund from his parents worth 100 million, though his lawyer disputed the amount and claims its not even close to that. He somehow was married 3 times while behind bars, and for some stupid fucking reason, bought a mansion 30 mins from the prison, which has been appraised at 1.5million.
In 2016, his trust fund was used to settle a civil suit, which was filed by the victims of the kidnappings. The settlement was paid to the 25 kids who were still alive, but it is an untold amount. One survivor said afterwards that it was basically enough to get them into some hardcore therapy, but not enough money to buy a house or anything major like that.
In his car business, he actually still owns the two vans that were used in the kidnappings, because he thinks he can make a ton of money of them due to them being used in such a notorious incident.

In 2019, he appealed for parole and again was denied, he will be eligible to appeal again in just 3 short years, in 2024.

Many of these kids involved, wondered what their lives would have been like, had they not been kidnapped. Some suffered from major anger issues, that who knows if they would have been there had this not happened.

Larry Park had issues growing up, that turned into rage, by 21 he was using meth, smoking crack, doing acid, and was horribly angry.
And Marshall, he became a rodeo cowboy who said he went to bed drunk when he was 18 and woke up when he was 48.
Both men were able to get sober and start letting themselves heal.
Larry owns a handyman business and is a volunteer Pastor at the local church.
He was 9 years sober when this article was written.
He said he was lying in bed one night and just decided to ask, God, to help him forgive the kidnappers, AND HE DID.
He shook the hands of all 3 men and told them he forgave them and there is even a picture of Larry standing next to Richard, WITH HIS ARM AROUND HIM.
Michael Marshall had been sober 8 years when this article was written, and says he owes it all to his family and his dog, Blue, who he rescued when he was just a year old and in turn, says Blue rescues him every day.
The thing about Marshall too, is that he's not even focused on his trauma necessarily, but the fact that they put his parents thru what they did, that's what he cant forgive.
Jennifer Brown said up until recently, she wasn't able to sleep without a nightlight BUT she wants people to know, quote, "that the little girl that was kidnapped and buried alive, has managed to live a wonderful life."

5 weeks after the kidnappings, all 26 of the kids, and Ed, were sent on a trip to, Disneyland!!!!
As a quick side note, Ed did end up driving busses after this ordeal again, he didn't quit.
Ed received a California School Employees Association citation for outstanding community service
Every February 26th in Chowchilla is Edward Ray Day.
But, This was hard for him to accept because he was so damn humble, he was actually embarrassed by the attention.
Robert Goulet was a very popular singer in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, he released an album called, Timeless, and it had a song in Ed's honor, called, The Ballad of Chowchilla Ray.

Ed passed away on Thursday, May 17th, 2012, and the age of 91, but he kept in contact with each of the 26 kids, and some of them even visited him up until right before he passed.

On February 26th, 2015, which would have been Ed's birthday, City Council in Chowchilla renamed the cities largest park, The Edward Ray Park. A huge amount of people from the community showed up, including members of his family.

This remains one of the largest kidnappings in U.S. history.

Ed Ray-55
Lisa Ardery-9
Monica Ardery-5
Lisa Barletta-12
Jeffrey Brown-10
Jennifer Brown-9
Irene Carrejo-12
Julia Carrejo- 7
Linda Carrejo-8
Stella Carrejo-6
Darla Daniels-9
Johnny Esatbrook-8
Andres Gonzales-8
Roberto Gonzales-11
Joide Heffington-10
Sherry Hinesley-7
Mike Marshall-14
Jody Matheny-10
Andrea Park-8
Larry Park-6
Barbara Parker-8
Becky Reynolds-9
Judy Reynolds-13
Angela Robinson-10
Michelle Robinson-11
Cindy Van Hoff-7
Laura Yazzie-8