Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lost Boy

Troubling Behavior

With effort, Steven could focus on the few brighter times of his long captivity, and later recalled playing softball, riding bikes with friends, and enjoying the particularly rustic outdoors that often accompanied Parnell's choices of remote houses. Steven later claimed that Parnell sometimes spoiled him, probably to keep Steven from running away or telling others the truth.

Steven Stayner with Parnell
Steven Stayner with Parnell
Naturally, however, there were signs of deep distress in a young boy in those circumstances, as Steven also remembered using drugs and alcohol (often supplied by Parnell) as early as elementary school. Additionally, Steven had some minor scrapes with the law including shoplifting and using a BB gun to shoot out some windows of a nearby school.

Some of his teachers were puzzled by this darker side. His fourth grade teacher later testified that Steven didn't have many friends, and that "there was an attitude about him ...a tightening of his body. It was almost anger [that] emanated from him."

But school administrators generally ignored red flags such as Steven's sometimes troubling behavior and the lack of all of his early school records. Ironically, Steven attended some of the same schools that had previously received a "missing child" flyer distributed by Del and Kay after Steven's disappearance, but nobody made the connection or fully realized the horrors Steven suffered at Parnells hands.

Although he initially denied it after reuniting with his family, Steven later testified that he had suffered from repeated sexual abuses by Parnell "about once every two weeks" throughout his captivity.

The months of sexual abuse lengthened into years and, as Newsweek summarized it in 1984, Parnell "gradually demoralized [Steven] into self-willing captivity."

For several years, Steven walked the tightrope between trying to feel affection for Parnell, the only parent he now had, and the terrible fears caused by repeated abuses. He sank into a deep denial about the horrors of his life and never told anyone about his real past.

Steven was also terrified of Parnells anger and tried not to make his father upset and quickly learned that by obeying him, Steven could avoid the severe beatings Parnell used as punishment.

In his early teenage years, however, Steven's strong facade started to crack: once, at a party with some friends, Steven became drunk and began crying uncontrollably and made allusions to his true identity and past. Additionally, Steven began to covertly disobey Parnell, especially when it began to involve additional kidnappings. Steven later told police that during his captivity, Parnell had tried to get his help in kidnapping other small children, but Steven would deliberately "mess things up."

Perhaps tiring of Steven's failures in obtaining a new addition to his family, Parnell turned his attention to another possible accomplice: a 14-year-old friend of Steven's named Randall.

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