A 70-year-old man who's been imprisoned for 45 years for an infamous 1976 kidnapping inspired by the movie Dirty Harry has just been granted parole after 18 tries.
Frederick Newhall Woods is the last of three kidnappers left in prison for the 1976 Chowchilla school bus kidnapping in which 26 schoolkids ages 5 to 14, and their bus driver, were abducted and eventually forced into a moving truck that was buried underground in a Livermore quarry — with some food, mattresses, and ventilation. They intended to demand $5 million in ransom, but in true, botched-crime fashion, they couldn't get through to the Chowchilla Police Department — the lines were too tied up that day with media calls about the missing kids.
The driver and the kids would ultimately escape within 16 hours, digging their way out of the truck while their captors were sleeping — and obviously the story, with its inspiration coming from a final sequence in 1971's Dirty Harry in which a serial killer hijacks a school bus,
Woods and his co-conspirators, Richard and James Schoenfeld, ended up pleading guilty to the crime and each would receive 27 life sentences. Those sentences were later over turned, and in the last decade, both Schoenfelds were released from prison, but not Woods, until now. As CNN reports, he had his parole hearing Friday at the San Luis Obispo Men's Colony prison, after first becoming eligible for parole in 1982. This was his 18th parole hearing.
Woods was 24 at the time of the crime, and the son of the owner of the quarry. Investigators quickly figured out that he was one of the only people with access enough to have buried the box truck in the quarry prior to the kidnapping. Woods was also running his own trucking, auto-painting, and wrecking business at the time.
As the Associated Press reported when Woods was denied parole in 2015, there were multiple reasons why he remained in prison after his two friends were released, and they included testimony from the victims, and a continued minimization of the crime when speaking to the Parole Board. He also had been caught with contraband porn and a cellphone while in prison.
In 2012, when asked why he'd masterminded the kidnapping when he was already doing well for himself, financially, at age 24, Woods reportedly said, "I just, you know, got greedy."
One of the victims, Lynda Carrejo Labendeira, was 10 years old and in fourth grade when the kidnapping occurred. Labendeira has spoken multiple times at parole hearings for Woods, and she told CNN in 2015 that forty years behind bars wasn't enough for the trauma the kidnappers inflicted.
"It was buried into the earth. It was like a tomb,” Carrejo Labendeira said. “It was like a coffin. It was like a giant coffin for all of us." Carrejo Labendeira says she is still, unexplainably panicked whenever she sees white vans, because the kidnappers initially stopped the bus by blocking its way down a rural road with their van.
Jennifer Brown Hyde, another victim who was nine at the time of the kidnapping, told CNN, "It’s not normal for someone who’s almost 50 years old to be afraid of the dark." And, she added, her own kids had to suffer the secondary impacts of her trauma. "If you have a very overprotective parent, which would be myself, your children don’t get to lead a normal life – get on a bus, go on a field trip, stay the night with a friend. And that’s been very difficult."