SAN FRANCISCO—Fred Woods and brothers Richard and Jim Schoenfeld captured the nation’s attention in 1976 when they used guns and nylon masks to commandeer a Chowchilla school bus and buried the 26 children and driver in a truck underground.
It wasn’t long, however, before the kidnappers fell asleep long enough for their captives to escape without any serious injuries. The men—all in their mid-20s—were soon arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The case has now taken an even more unusual turn, with the judges, prosecutors and investigators who sent the men to prison rallying in support of their push for parole.
“They were just dumb, rich kids and they paid a
hell of a price for what they did,” said Dale Fore, who served as lead investigator on the case for the Madera County Sheriff’s Department.
Fore was among a group of supporters who attended a news conference Wednesday to draw attention to the case at San Francisco Civic Center, near the state Supreme Court building.
“I might not be the most popular guy when I get back home,” Fore said, acknowledging that no victims have publicly supported parole for the three men. “But what is right is right. How much time do you want out of these guys?”
Retired Court of Appeal Justice William Newsom, who overturned the three men’s original sentence of life in prison without parole, noted that nobody was injured in the kidnapping. “That’s a major factor,” he said. “I think it’s a gross injustice.”