Man Convicted of Biggest Kidnapping in History & Burying Victims Alive Is Recommended for Parole in California


There’s a certain breed of liberal who believes no one should be sentenced to life behind bars if they didn’t commit murder. For those people, I’d like to introduce them — or re-introduce, as the case may be — to Frederick Woods.

In 1976, Woods was one of three men who hijacked a school bus in California as part of the largest mass kidnapping in California history. They then buried 26 children and a bus driver alive. They wanted $5 million in ransom, but were foiled when the driver and some of the older children dug their way out.

On Friday, CBS News reported, Woods learned his dream has come true: After committing one of the most heinous kidnappings of the 20th century, he’s been recommended for parole.

(The incident was just the latest outrage generated by California’s soft-on-crime approach to law enforcement. It’s one of the reasons people can’t stand to live in the state — something we’ve chronicled here at The Western Journal. We’ll continue to hold leftist politicians accountable for letting their residents live in fear due to progressive social engineering. You can help us by subscribing.)

And his crime was heinous, make no mistake about that. Woods, now 70 — along with accomplices Richard and James Schoenfeld — kidnapped the children, ages 5 to 14, on their way home from Dairyland Elementary School in Chowchilla, California.

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They’d planned the crime for over a year, according to NBC News, and had planned to extract $5 million in ransom from the California Board of Education. All three were from wealthy families in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Their captives were transferred to vans and subsequently driven for 12 hours in complete darkness. They were then buried, still alive, in an underground truck trailer at a gravel quarry. According to The New York Times, they had been inspired to do this by a plot element from the movie “Dirty Harry.”

However, when they tried to call the ransom demand in to authorities, the phone lines were jammed. Then their victims got themselves free. With bus driver Ed Ray and some of the older kids helping dig the group out, they escaped after 16 hours.

While the psychological scars endured, none of the children suffered life-threatening injuries.

Should this man have been in prison for life?

The three men were originally sentenced to life in prison without parole. An appeals court, however, overturned that decision and gave the defendants the potential to be paroled.

This has already led to the two accomplices being released, one in 2012 after an appeals court ordered him released and another in 2015, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown approved his parole.

However, Frederick Woods had been denied parole 16 times. That changed on Friday, when a panel found him suitable for parole during a hearing at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo County.

Woods told the panel that he “had empathy for the victims which I didn’t have then.”

“I’ve had a character change since then,” he said. “I was 24 years old. Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act.”

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It’s no mark of good character that he “fully take[s] responsibility for this heinous act,” since no one was apportioning any blame to the children he kidnapped. As for the rest of that statement, a 24-year-old who didn’t “fully understand the terror and trauma I caused” by kidnapping 26 children and burying them alive should be in jail for the rest of his life, regardless of when he comes to a complete understanding of what he did.

And it isn’t as if Woods’ time behind bars was without incident. He had previously faced discipline for running an unauthorized Christmas tree farm (?!) and a gold mine (?!?!) from behind bars, which doesn’t exactly speak to a soul of unmitigated contrition.

While two of the victims spoke in favor of his release, others spoke against it.

“He could have done much more,” said survivor Jennifer Brown Hyde, who told the panel her kidnapper hadn’t made amends and is “still a millionaire.”

“Even the settlement paid to some of us survivors was not sufficient. It was enough to pay for some therapy, but not enough to buy a house,” she said.

This eventually comes down to two views of criminal justice, one based on rehabilitation and the other based on punishment. California tends to be home to the former, which explains a lot about its crime rate.

CBS News described one of the judges who overturned Woods’ conviction, which would have put him behind bars without the possibility of parole, as “a strong believer in rehabilitation for felons.” After he retired, he became an advocate for the release of the three men, calling their act a youthful “stunt” with “no vicious aspect to it.”

This is how the strict-rehabilitation model looks at men like Woods. There’s “no vicious aspect” to what he did — except, of course, the fact that it was visited upon innocent children who had to spend the rest of their life remembering being buried underground in a sweltering truck. Why? Because a bunch of rich kids — low-rent Leopolds and Loebs, all of them — wanted to live out part of the plot to “Dirty Harry.”

As part of the social contract, we turn over our right to seek retribution when we’re the victim of a crime to the government — which, in turn, has the obligation to punish those who have done us harm commensurately.

Woods and the rest of the Chowchilla kidnappers abducted 26 children and one adult and buried them underground, angling for $5 million in ransom money. If that doesn’t merit a lifetime behind bars, there are few things that will. The fact California doesn’t realize this is indicative of the fact its justice system has broken faith with the people it’s supposed to protect.

From here, the case goes on to the full parole board and then the governor’s desk. At the very least, I wouldn’t count on the governor to stop this madness, however.

That judge who was “a strong believer in rehabilitation for felons” who became an advocate for the Chowchilla kidnappers when he retired because this was all just a youthful “stunt” with “no vicious aspect to it?” His name was William Newsom — father of Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom, naturally. Only in California.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture