As the 40th anniversary of the Chowchilla bus kidnapping nears, two of the three kidnappers are out of prison and leading quiet lives in the Bay Area. The third kidnapper remains in prison.
Brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld and Fred Woods commandeered a Dairyland Elementary school bus on July 15, 1976, holding 26 children and bus driver Ed Ray captive for 16 hours before they broke out of a van buried in a Livermore quarry.
The 40th anniversary of the notorious kidnapping is Friday, but the Schoenfelds have given no media interviews. They spoke only reluctantly to a friend about their lives today and agreed to have the limited comments shared in The Bee.
The brothers would not extensively comment on their lives, but gave a glimpse of what they’ve been doing since they were paroled.
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The Schoenfelds say they are doing well on the outside after each spent more than 35 years in prison. Richard successfully completed a three-year parole after he was released in June 2012. James was paroled in August 2015.
Woods remains in prison at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
Both James, 64, and Richard, 62, live with their 93-year-old mother, who suffered a debilitating stroke several years ago. Richard now serves as her full-time caregiver, allowing her to remain at home instead of going into assisted living. James is doing architectural drafting work, a skill he learned in prison.
“We’re just thankful to be able to help our mother this way,” Richard said. “She made many sacrifices for us over the years.” Their father died in 2001.
Much has changed since the Schoenfelds were in prison, especially in the area of technology. They admit they’ve experienced challenges adjusting to the present day. But they’ve taken it in stride with some humor. “My smartphone is smarter than me,” James said.