One of three men who kidnapped a busload of Chowchilla schoolchildren in 1976 and buried them in a Livermore quarry has been released from state prison after serving more than 35 years behind bars.
Richard Schoenfeld, 57, was released to an undisclosed location from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo on Wednesday night, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Luis Patino said.
A state parole panel last year upheld a ruling that granted parole to Schoenfeld, but set a release date of November 2021. However, the First District Court of Appeal ruled in March that he must be released immediately. State prosecutors appealed that ruling, but on Thursday the California Supreme Court declined to review the matter, paving the way for Schoenfeld’s release.
Schoenfeld, his brother James and Frederick Woods ambushed a busload of schoolchildren from Dairyland Union School in Chowchilla, a Madera County farm community, on July 15, 1976.
The men left the bus in a creek bed and drove the children and bus driver to the California Rock and Gravel Quarry in Livermore. They sealed their victims in a van that had been buried in a cave and fitted to keep the children and driver hostage. The kidnappers, all from wealthy families in Atherton and Portola Valley, then demanded a $5 million ransom. The hostages escaped little more than a day after they were first kidnapped when 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 to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom.
But an appellate court ruled in 1980 that they were eligible for parole, finding that the victims didn’t suffer any bodily harm.