Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Chowchilla Kidnapping


Fred Woods
Fred Woods

After the trial, Chowchilla fell out of the media spotlight, which was just fine with many of the town's residents. Reporters would come by as an anniversary of the crime occurred, but by and large, the episode was not what the town wanted to be remembered for and the media had a hard time getting any statements or comments out of the natives.

A prosecutor during the trio's trial told the SF Chronicle years later that "people here just don't want to talk about it," adding that the media (whom he compared to an army invasion) had been so intense and intrusive to Chowchilla that reporters were still shied away from, years later.

Hollywood brought Chowchilla back into the spotlight in 1993 when Baugh and Morgan's book served as the basis for a TV-movie about the crime and its aftermath. One result of the movie, as reported by the School Transportation News web site, was that Fred sued over what he felt was a biased portrayal of himself in the movie. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Board of Prison Terms
Board of Prison Terms

July of 2006 will mark the 30th anniversary of the crime.

Over the past three decades, The Chronicle has kept in intermittent contact with not only the Chowchilla victims but also with the three kidnappers as they have progressed from young to middle-aged men who have spent the majority of their lives behind bars.

Ed Ray, recent
Ed Ray, recent

When asked about the possibility of his three captors being paroled, Ed told The Chronicle in 1996 "They ought to stay there. They did a damned dirty trick." One of the victims, who was less than 10 at the time she was kidnapped, told the same reporter "They left us to die, all 26 of us. You have to be sick to do something like that to children."

On the other end of the spectrum, however, The Chronicle has reported that unlikely people such as sheriff's officers and the judge who originally passed sentence on them, as well as some of the actual victims, have expressed their belief that it is time, if not past time, for the trio to be released.

One sheriff's lieutenant told the newspaper that he in no way believed that "they are a threat to society (and if all three were released), you wouldn't hear from (them) again."

James Schoenfeld, recent
James Schoenfeld, recent

All three have maintained nearly perfect prison records over the past thirty years.

In July of 2001, The Chronicle interviewed Rick and Jim at their Southern California prison. Expressing regret for their actions, the brothers stated that they have been contacted by some of their victims and have corresponded with them to do whatever they can to explain their previous injudicious actions and to help the victims cope with their shared past.

Jim assured The Chronicle reporter that the victims "have nothing to fear from us."

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