He kidnapped 27 folks from a college bus and helped bury them alive. Now a sufferer is surprised that he could quickly stroll free | CNN

2022-04-02 13:31:51


After Fred Woods and two accomplices kidnapped dozens of California kids from a college bus in 1976 and trapped them underground, they have been sentenced to as much as 27 life sentences with out the potential of parole.

Quick ahead 46 years, and Woods is now on the point of getting paroled.

Relying on whom you ask, that epilogue to the most important mass kidnapping in US historical past is both lengthy overdue for a person filled with regret or a supply of renewed trauma for victims who have been buried alive.

It doesn’t take a lot to set off panic assaults for Lynda Carrejo Labendeira: the sight of a white shifting van; building lights; a small room that reminds her of being trapped.

As a fourth-grader at Dairyland Elementary Faculty in Chowchilla, she, 25 different kids and their driver have been snatched from their college bus by three armed males in a plot to get $5 million in ransom.

The school bus where 27 people were kidnapped has been kept at Bright's Museum in Le Grand, California.

The children, ages 5 to 14, and their bus driver have been pushed about 100 miles to a distant quarry close to Livermore, California. With just some building lights illuminating the darkish quarry, the abductors ordered their 27 victims into what seemed like an enormous grave – a white shifting van buried 6 ft underground.

One after the other, the kids climbed down a ladder and into the van, which was lined underneath a number of ft of dust. After the final pupil entered, the abductors eliminated the ladder.

For 16 hours, the kids waited for rescue or dying. The youthful ones cried helplessly. The older ones tried to consolation them. All of them buried in a “coffin,” Labendeira stated, with the stench of vomit and filth intensified by the searing California warmth.

The kidnapping victims had to use a box with a hole as a toilet.

Labendeira remembers each element of the horror. Within the 46 years since, she’s tried to keep away from a traditional full night time of sleep.

“I’d not enable myself to enter a deeper sleep as a result of I didn’t wish to have that dream,” stated Labendeira, now in her mid-50s.

“A lot of my life, folks marvel how I ever sleep – if I ever sleep. Nicely, I’ve all the time tried not to enter the deeper REM sleep. Certain, there are occasions that I’ve. And I’ve all the time tried to wake myself at any time when I begin a nasty dream.”

The true-life nightmare ended because of the ingenuity of the bus driver, Edward Ray, and a few of the college students who deliberate a daring escape whereas the abductors have been outdoors.

The hostages stacked mattresses that have been within the shifting truck excessive sufficient to assist them attain a metallic plate within the roof. However the plate was lined with an enormous truck battery and a pile of dust.

Workers unearth the buried moving van after the weight of dirt had crushed the top.

Ray and a number of other of the older boys struggled to open the highest.

“Edward’s digging up and out, Mike’s digging, Jeff’s digging, Robert’s digging,” Labendeira recalled.

Finally, they cleared sufficient house to flee. The youngsters – some climbing up on one another’s shoulders – fled whereas the abductors slept. The suspects have been all taken into custody inside days of the kidnapping.

For the remainder of her childhood, Labendeira took a little bit of solace considering the three kidnappers – brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld and Fred Woods – would doubtless spend the remainder of their lives behind bars.

James Schoenfeld, Fred Woods and Richard Schoenfeld (left to right) were initially sentenced to up to 27 concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole before that decision was overturned.

Every was given 27 sentences of seven years to life in jail – with out the potential of parole.

However in 1980, an appeals panel overturned the unique sentences, saying the lads had triggered no critical bodily damage and due to this fact ought to have the prospect for parole.

Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012. His brother James was launched in 2015.

And on March 25, two parole commissioners beneficial parole for Woods. The panel’s determination remains to be topic to evaluate by the Board of Parole Hearings’ chief counsel, who might refer the case for evaluate and a vote by the total board. A listening to panel member might additionally refer the case to the total board.

If neither occurs inside 4 months, the choice turns into ultimate, and the governor will get 30 days to evaluate it. In homicide circumstances, the governor can reverse or modify a parole grant. However in circumstances just like the Chowchilla kidnappings, he might solely refer a parole grant again to the total board for evaluate.

When Labendeira discovered Woods might quickly stroll free, “I used to be in a state of shock,” she stated. “I used to be not anticipating that.”

Lynda Carrejo Labendeira said she still suffers from flashbacks and panic attacks.

Labendeira stated she has attended each parole listening to since Richard Schoenfeld was launched – together with hearings for James Schoenfeld and Fred Woods.

At Woods’ most up-to-date listening to, the 70-year-old stated he was deeply remorseful for the phobia and trauma he inflicted as a 24-year-old.

However these phrases don’t absolve him from the horror that victims nonetheless grapple with many years later, Labendeira stated.

“It didn’t change the act. It didn’t change the result. It didn’t change the years earlier than,” she stated. “It didn’t change all of the reminiscences of what occurred. The reminiscences by no means go away.”

Fred Woods, Richard Schoenfeld and James Schoenfeld

Frederick Newhall Woods has been behind bars since he was 24. Now 70, he’s missed most life alternatives and misplaced each of his mother and father whereas he was imprisoned.

Nobody denies his crime was heinous. However “he’s not a monster,” Woods’ lawyer Dominique Banos stated.

“He isn’t the identical individual. He doesn’t assume the identical manner that he did when he was 24,” she stated.

Over the previous a number of many years, Woods has mirrored on his crime, labored as a prisoner in pest management and brought courses, together with programs on empathy and sufferer influence, his lawyer stated.

“He’s all the time felt regret for what he did,” Banos stated.

There are a couple of doable causes Woods has stayed in jail years longer than his accomplices.

Woods has been perceived because the ringleader of the kidnapping scheme, stated Banos, who took on his case in 2017. He’s additionally had some nonviolent infractions whereas in jail, comparable to having unauthorized cell telephones.

However Woods is now not a risk to society, his lawyer stated, and the kidnapping victims needn’t concern for his or her security.

Chowchilla mass kidnapping victims dug their way out while the kidnappers slept.

“Rick Schoenfeld was the primary to be launched (in 2012), and he’s led a really quiet life,” Banos stated. “He hasn’t dedicated any hurt to anybody. James Schoenfeld was launched in 2015, and it’s the identical factor.”

As for her personal consumer, “there’s actually not far more you are able to do to point out he’s a modified individual,” Banos stated.

“He’s spent 46 years in jail … and has not damage a fly,” she stated. “It doesn’t make any sense for him to be in there any longer.”

Labendeira disagrees. She’s been serving a life sentence of traumatic reminiscences since she was 10 years outdated and believes kidnappers ought to full life sentences.

“In case your little one was kidnapped and buried alive, how lengthy is lengthy sufficient?” she stated. “How lengthy is lengthy sufficient for 26 kids on a college bus to be kidnapped and buried alive?”

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