More than four decades since they were abducted and buried alive, the survivors of the Chowchilla kidnappings will publicly relive the agonizing moment in an upcoming TV show.
In an episode of CBS' 48 Hours: Live To Tell, airing tonight, Saturday, October 12, details will be provided about the horrifying crime that shocked the nation.
On July 15, 1976, Frederick Woods and brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld executed their "Dirty Harry" inspired plan and kidnapped a group of 26 summer school students along with their bus driver Frank Edwards Ray in the small town of Chowchilla, California.
Ray was driving the Dairyland Elementary School kids back from a trip to the swimming pool, when the three men, armed with pantyhose pulled over their heads, blocked the road and ordered everyone off the bus and onto two vans.
After being driven around for 11 hours in complete darkness, they arrived at their destination: a rock quarry near Livermore. There, they were forced to climb into a van that was buried more than 12 feet below the ground. The captors then shoveled dirt over the roof of the van before placing two industrial batteries on top. They intended on holding the kids for a ransom of $5 million.
The children were screaming and frightened after being buried alive.
Marshall, one of the oldest children in the group, proclaimed he wouldn't die without a fight, springing Ray into action.
The bus driver devised a plan for their escape. They stacked the mattresses on top of each other and used slats that eventually helped get rid of both the plate and the batteries used to enclose them.
Fortunately, the villains were taking a nap and hadn't even called in the ransom demand, when their victims, who'd been locked up for 16 hours, freed themselves.
They walked to the quarry's guard station near the Shadow Cliffs East Bay National Park, where authorities were called and inquiries about the whereabouts of the missing children were finally answered.
At the scene of the crime, police discovered the truck was registered to the mastermind, Woods, the son of the quarry owner. The unused ransom note was also found.
The Schoenfeld brothers went into hiding in California before turning themselves in, while Woods, who fled to Vancouver, was eventually arrested. All three of the men pled guilty to kidnapping charges and were sentenced to life in prison.
However, the brothers have been released on parole. Though Richard was the only one to express remorse for their actions, James has provided an explanation behind the kidnappings: financial debts.
“We needed multiple victims to get multiple millions, and we picked children because children are precious,” he said.
“They state would be willing to pay ransom for them. And they don’t fight back. They’re vulnerable. They will mind.”
Woods, who envisioned the entire scheme as a movie, has been fighting to secure his own parole but was recently unsuccessful for the 19th time.
At his 2012 hearing, survivors detailed the effects of the abduction on their lives.
“I wrote that they buried me alive, they stole my childhood and caused me immense emotional pain over the years. It affected my life, my parents’ lives and my children’s lives,” Hyde Brown revealed.
“For me, it’s having to deal with hatred and anger toward other human beings, and that’s a struggle that almost 40 years later I still have to deal with.”
“I’m fortunate I’m not incarcerated or hooked on drugs, which is how some of the kids dealt with it. I’m as OK as a broken person can be,” she added.
Larry Park, on the contrary, fell into a world of addiction as a teenager. He’s now nine years sober and was able to find peace after encountering Richard in 2012 after he was paroled.
It is currently believed Woods is running several businesses during his detainment as lawsuits have been made by him and against him.
His next parole suitability hearing is scheduled for 2024, when he will be 72.