Crime

Were some victims paid to support parole attempts by Chowchilla bus kidnappers?

This is a Fresno Bee file photo by Ralph Thronebery of the Dairyland Unified School District school bus, better known as the Chowchilla School Bus. This photo was published on July 16, 1976 after the bus had been dumped. The 26 kidnap victims and their bus driver were later rescued from a van buried in a Livermore quarry.
This is a Fresno Bee file photo by Ralph Thronebery of the Dairyland Unified School District school bus, better known as the Chowchilla School Bus. This photo was published on July 16, 1976 after the bus had been dumped. The 26 kidnap victims and their bus driver were later rescued from a van buried in a Livermore quarry. Fresno Bee file

Madera County District Attorney David Linn began investigating Thursday whether victims were paid to support parole applications for three men who hijacked a school bus full of Chowchilla children nearly four decades ago.

Linn said he asked his investigators to look into allegations made by other survivors. They are among 26 children kidnapped along with their school bus driver near Chowchilla in 1976.

The allegations have periodically surfaced in parole hearings for the three. They have always been denied – as they were again Thursday by an attorney for the three kidnappers.

Linn said he wants to know why some victims switched to supporting the release of Frederick Woods in November after they previously were opposed. Woods was denied parole, but brothers James and Richard Schoenfeld were previously released.

“It appeared to me that some people who had previously been opposed to letting Mr. Woods out of state prison had now all of a sudden become in favor of letting Mr. Woods out of state prison,” Linn said. “I just suspect that some form of negotiations may be going on.”

He noted that one survivor traveled halfway across the country to testify for Woods at his last hearing, while other victims have said they were offered money to support the kidnappers’ parole.

“If there’s money changing hands for testimony, I find that totally inappropriate,” Linn said. “It’s one of those things where a prosecutor’s gut says it’s probably illegal. … They could sway the parole board.”

The syndicated TV program “Inside Edition” first reported on Linn’s investigation.

The allegations were immediately denied by Gary Dubcoff, an attorney representing the three men.

“Suffice it to say that no victim has been paid anything to support the parole of any of the Chowchilla kidnappers, and all anyone has to do to confirm that fact is to ask them,” Dubcoff said.

He said he didn’t want to comment at length to avoid dignifying allegations from individuals “who I personally know to be liars.”

A transcript of the April 1, 2015, parole hearing for James Schoenfeld shows the issue surfaced then, when survivor Rebecca Reynolds Dailey told parole commissioners that neither she nor her sisters had “been bribed.” She said she supported his release so he could take care of his aging mother and because it would give her family closure.

The issue was raised during Woods’ parole hearing in November by Jill Klinge, an Alameda County assistant senior deputy district attorney, and again Dailey denied receiving any money.

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