Last man in prison for Chowchilla bus kidnapping in 1976 to be released, officials confirm

ABC30 talked to Larry Park, who was just 7 years old at the time of the kidnapping.

Alyssa Flores Image
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Frederick Newhall Woods, the mastermind of the Chowchilla bus kidnapping in 1976 and the last of the kidnappers in prison, has been granted parole.

CHOWCHILLA, Calif. (KFSN) -- It was a crime that captured the nation.

A Chowchilla bus with 26 kids 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 in 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 box truck in a rock quarry up north near Livermore.

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

All three brothers were arrested and sentenced to life in prison.

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 was granted parole.

Prosecutors considered Woods to be the mastermind of the crime.

ABC30 talked to Larry Park, who was just 7 years old at the time of the kidnapping. He admits to still being traumatized by the incident and says he battled addiction for most of his life.

"There's hardly a day that goes by that I don't think about that incident," he says.

The trauma led to schizophrenia and addiction for Park, but now decades later, he has 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 says she fought for Woods to stay 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 the jail or prison," Moreno says.

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.

"Kidnapping was all about the money. When they arrested him he was busy selling the rights to the movie to some agent out of Hollywood. He has always been about the money. And these kids got in between him and money and whatever he had to do to get the money he would have done to those kids, including bury them alive," Moreno says.

Some of those who advocated for him in his final parole hearing were unlikely supporters. Larry Park was among them.

"You come to a point that you realize that this hatred and this resentment and bitterness that I have been holding onto my entire life for all three of those 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 took part in the parole hearing were confident Woods wasn't ready to be released.

"Whatever he has to do to get more money, he will do. Whoever is in his way - you better watch out," Moreno says.