Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lost Boy


In no time Steven could tell that Parnell was not driving toward his house, but he didn't panic. As a seven-year-old boy, he probably was enjoying the adventure of the ride through the mountains surrounding Yosemite Park while the darkness of a cold evening settled in.

Yosemite Park, late evening
Yosemite Park, late evening

Parnell brought Steven to his cabin near Yosemite. As Parnell talked quietly with Murphy, Steven began playing with the toys Parnell had earlier set out for whatever boy he would grab from the streets of Merced that day. To keep the boy from becoming worried or anxious to return home, Parnell lied and told Steven that he had called his mother, Kay, and she said it was okay for Steven to stay over for awhile. Steven didn't have the maturity or experience to doubt him, so he went back to playing.

Back in Merced, when Steven hadn't returned home and darkness fell, Kay and Del became concerned about their middle child and began asking neighbors if they'd seen him. After a couple of hours of searching, they called police and contacted their friends and family to help with the search. By a tragic coincidence, Kay's father lived in a cabin a few hundred feet from Parnell's. Del went to tell his father-in-law about Steven's disappearance, not knowing that his son was easily within the sound of voice.

Unknown to Del and Kay, December 4th was just the beginning of what would become their Herculean effort to find Steven. The following years would see countless letters and "missing child" flyers sent out by Del and Kay in an effort to find their lost boy.

Back at Parnell's remote cabin, as the days away from his family grew into weeks, Steven wanted to return home. He told Parnell that he was afraid that his parents would be angry about how long he'd been gone. He asked Parnell several times to take him home, but Parnell refused each time.

In the short time Steven had stayed with him, Parnell had learned about the boy's family life, including the fact that Steven had been punished by his parents the day before his abduction for some minor misbehavior. Using that information, and wanting the boy to stop asking to go back to Merced, Parnell finally told Steven that he had contacted his parents, and Del and Kay had said that they didn't want him back.

Steven became upset and confused. Parnell soon cemented this lie by telling Steven that he had gone to a judge and received full legal custody of the boy. Parnell proudly told young Steven that he was to call Parnell "Dad" and that from that day forward Steven would be known as "Dennis Parnell."

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