California map with Merced marked
In the late 1960s, Merced, California
, was a safe town. It watched from the sidelines as neighboring areas were terrorized by the infamous crimes of the Manson Family and the Zodiac Killer.
Merced, nestled near Yosemite Park, was described by its residents as peaceful and a good place to raise a family. Parents believed their kids were safe walking and playing in their neighborhoods.
When the new decade dawned, the parents would be proven wrong.
Del and Kay Stayner raised their family in a residential area of Merced, where the kids enjoyed the normal ups and downs of their typical small-town childhood. But all of their childhoods were about to be torn apart.
On December 4, 1972
, stout and balding Kenneth Parnell, a worker in Yosemite Park
, told a friend and co-worker named Murphy that they were going into Merced
on a mission. Murphy wasnt one to ask a lot of questions, so the two made their way out of the remote forest and toward civilization.
In Merced that afternoon, seven-year-old Steven Stayner was walking home from school. Often he would walk with his friends or siblings, but on this winter afternoon he was walking alone when he was approached by a man who asked young Steven some general questions about religion. Unlike other children Murphy had approached, Steven stopped and talked with him for a minute, and listened patiently while Murphy told the boy that he was soliciting donations for his church.
Steven Stayner, before
When Murphy asked if Stevens parents might want to make a contribution, Steven told him that his mother might be interested. Murphy told Steven that he would give him a ride home in his friends car, which was waiting nearby. Initially, Steven told Murphy "it's just a little ways, I can walk," but eventually was persuaded to get into the car, where Parnell was waiting behind the wheel.