Last of the Chowchilla kidnappers to be released

Woods wins parole


Frederick Woods, 70, the last of three men convicted of hijacking a school bus full of children in what one prosecutor called “the largest mass kidnapping in U.S. history,” is being given his release by the state’s parole board.


Woods with his accomplices, Richard and James Schoenfeld, kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver Ed Ray near Chowchilla on Thursday, July 15, 1976. The kidnappers drove Ray and the children around for 11 hours.


Finally, about 3:30 Friday morning they reached their destination, an old, abandoned quarry outside Livermore. The kidnappers made their prey crawl down into a buried trailer and then covered the access hole with heavy truck batteries.


After the victims escaped, Woods and the Schoenfelds were arrested, tried, and found guilty. They were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.


In 1980, an appellate panel, which included Judge William Newsom, father of California Governor Gavin Newsom, reduced the men’s life sentences giving them a chance at parole. Judge Newsom pushed for their release in 2011, after he retired, noting that no one was seriously injured physically during the kidnapping.


In 2012, an appeals court ordered Richard Schoenfeld released from prison, and in 2015, then-Gov. Jerry Brown paroled James Schoenfeld. Woods, however, remained in prison after being accused of engaging in “financial related-misconduct in prison.”


Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the board to reconsider its decision to parole Woods after two commissioners recommended his release. The board, however, affirmed its decision. The governor couldn’t block Woods’ release because he’s not convicted of murder and could only urge the parole board to take a closer look.


Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno opposed Woods’ parole, saying after the decision that she was angry and frustrated “because justice has been mocked in Madera County” and she fears for the state of society “if you can kidnap a busload of school children, abandon them buried alive and still get out of prison after committing that crime and spending your time in prison flouting the law.”


Woods remains temporarily incarcerated in San Luis Obispo. Due to safety and security concerns, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not disclose a person’s release date.