Chowchilla bus kidnapping survivor Jodi Heffington’s lifelong fight to keep her captors behind bars

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Produced by Chris Young Ritzen, George Osterkamp, Mead Stone and Gary Winter

In August 2022, after 46 years, the last of three men convicted of kidnapping 26 children and their bus driver was paroled from a prison in California. 

It was one of the largest kidnappings in U.S. history. A school bus with 26 children was stopped by three armed gunmen as they headed home from the Dairyland Elementary School in the small California town of Chowchilla.

The men were wearing pantyhose over their faces.

“And then this man came up with a stocking over his head with a gun and said, “Open the door,’” said survivor Jodi Heffington, who was 10 at the time. Heffington relived the ordeal publicly for the first time in an interview with “48 Hours,” and shared emotional details of her life after.

“Where their eyes were, it was like, it almost looked hollow,” recalled survivor Larry Park, just 6 years old at the time. “It was like looking at death.”

The children and their school bus driver were transferred to vans and were driven for nearly 12 unbearable hours before being buried alive inside a truck trailer underground — held hostage in the dark for another 16 hours before they made a harrowing escape.

WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?

Just outside Chowchilla on July 15, 1976, the frightening journey began.

Jennifer Brown Hyde | Survivor: We start driving down the road …

Larry Park | Survivor: I’m wondering how it was going to feel to die.

Larry Park: I was too scared to move.

Twenty-six terrified children – some as young as 5 – were staring down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun. Three masked men had hijacked the Dairyland Elementary school bus. One had the shotgun, one drove the bus, and one followed behind in the white van they’d used to block the road.

Jodi Heffington | Survivor: It’s a hard thing to explain, ’cause I never been around guns.  You only seen bad guys in the movies with stockings on, you know, so I knew it wasn’t good.   

Jennifer Brown Hyde: Edward … kept telling his kids just be quiet, sit down, do what they say. … Edward was speaking in a harsh tone, and that normally was not the Edward that we knew and loved.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: Eventually, the bus went off the road, down into a dry riverbed. 

Larry Park: Into this big grove of bamboo that were taller, actually, than the bus.

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The kidnappers drove the hijacked school bus into a dry riverbed and hid it in tree brush.

Alameda County D.A’s Office


Jennifer Brown Hyde: And then as I looked out one of the side windows, I saw that there was another van that was parked there …

AUDIO: JENNIFER BROWN, AGE 9: …They parked the bus.  And there was another green — there was a green van down there waiting for us.

Even at the age of 9, little Jennifer Brown seemed to know the horror that day should be documented.  She later made this recording with her mom:

AUDIO: JENNIFER BROWN, AGE 9: And those two guys standing from the bus door to the van door with guns with pantyhose over the head so we wouldn’t run out. … and then, see, they pulled the van right up to the bus door.

The kidnappers herded the stunned children from the bus into those two vans. 

Jennifer Brown Hyde: We had to jump from the bus to the van.

AUDIO: JENNIFER BROWN, AGE 9: So they wouldn’t see any feet prints.

Jodi Heffington: When it was my turn to get on the van … he stopped me. He held a shotgun to my stomach. And I said, “I was doing what you said.” And I had to stand there with this gun in my gut until that one van drove away and they backed the second van up. It felt like forever. I thought he was going to shoot me. I actually did. 

Jennifer, Larry and the rest of the children followed Jodi into the second van, along with the bus driver, Ed Ray.  Then the kidnappers closed the doors. 

Jennifer Hyde: It was pitch dark.

The vans had been converted into makeshift jail cells by installing wood paneling and even painting the windows.  No one could see in or out.

The kidnappers sped off with the children caged in those mobile prisons. 

Jennifer Brown Hyde: And I felt like I was an animal going to the slaughterhouse.

Around that time, Jennifer’s mom, Joan Brown, came home from work and the house was empty.

Joan Brown: The children were not there.  No peanut butter on the counter, no chairs out there, well … they just weren’t there.

As one hour turned to two, worried parents began helping the police retrace the school buses route, crisscrossing dozens of rural roads.       

Joan Brown: Where were those children?  Twenty-six of them and a bus driver?  Nowhere. 

And then, just before sunset, a police pilot spotted the big bus about seven miles outside Chowchilla, hidden in the dry riverbed. 

Sheriff Ed Bates | Madera County, California: You would only see it from the air.

Madera County Sheriff Ed Bates rushed to the scene. His deputies had already found the bus empty.  The children and their driver gone. 

The tire impressions found in the sand led straight to the front door of the bus.

Sheriff Ed Bates: Obviously someone had backed their vehicle up to the doors of the bus.

Sheriff Bates was convinced the children of Chowchilla had become the victims of a brazen and bizarre, mass kidnapping. 

Sheriff Ed Bates: I called the governor.  I said, “I need some help down here.”

Sheriff Ed Bates: I had the parents all assembled there in the fire station. … Well, you could just look at their faces, and the anxiety and the fear was there.

Sheriff Ed Bates: I told them, I called the FBI. … And all of a sudden, I have 30 FBI agents there.

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The stunned children were herded from their bus into two vans. They were forced to jump from the bus to the vans so that they would not leave behind any footprints.

Alameda County D.A.’s Office


As Sheriff Bates continued to widen the investigation, the children continued to suffer inside the sweltering, pitch-black vans. 

Jodi Heffington: We’d bang on where the drivers panel would be —like, “let us out, let us out” … and they would just say “shut up”. 

Jennifer Brown Hyde:  And we drove what seemed like for hours upon hours upon hours.

Larry Park: And I remember that I kept falling asleep … and coming back awake. … I would dream … about being – [takes a long pause] — I would dream about being up in the forest where my family would go camping.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: We all tried to comfort each other.

AUDIO: JENNIFER BROWN, AGE 9: And a few of my little friends that are 5 and 6, they came over and started laying on me and crying. And I told them be brave because it’s going to be alright …

Then, the vans started to slow down. The kids could feel it pulling off the road, lurching from side to side on rough terrain, before coming to a stop – after nearly 12 unbearable hours. 

Larry Park: They opened up the door and they took Ed Ray out first.  They shut the doors back. And then there was nothing. There was no sound.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: And I remember they would just grab the first kid that was inside the door … They opened the door and they grabbed somebody else.

Larry Park:  And they just kept doing that. They would open up the door …

Jodi Heffington: They’d take the next kid out. And they would close the doors. But when they opened the doors you don’t see them. I thought they were basically killing us each one at a time. 

Jennifer Brown Hyde … and I kept scooting to the back of the van, and I thought maybe if I hide in the corner, they won’t come for me.

But they did.

“THE HOLE”

Jennifer Brown Hyde: I didn’t know if it was in the desert, at the beach. In the side of a mountain? I had no idea where we were. I didn’t even know if we were in California.

After almost 12 hours in darkness, 10-year-old Jodi Heffington was the last to be taken out of the first van.

Jodi Heffington: Being the last one … you don’t know what’s going to happen because you don’t see nobody else. …What happened to them? If you didn’t kill them, where are they at? They had flashlights kind of like shining in their faces. And then one shining on your face. And they said, “What’s your name?” And I actually — I have a little bit of a smart-ass in me. And I said, “Puddin Tang — ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.” I was pissed and I was scared at the same time. They said, “if you don’t tell us your name, you’re never going to see your mom and dad again, do you understand?” … And they took all my belongings … And then they said, “you’re going to go down in this hole right here.

The hole led to an old truck trailer buried underground. Ed Ray and the children from the first van were there.

Larry Park: There was a table set up in the back. It was surrounded with jugs of drinking water …

Jodi Heffington: On some of the mattresses, they had some cereal, a loaf of bread and some peanut butter.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: … in the wheel wells, they had cut holes in ’em for toilets. We could hear fans. So, we knew that there was some sort of ventilation. 

Interior of the hole
Bus driver Ed Ray and the children were taken out of the van, one by one, and sent down into a hole inside an old truck trailer buried 12 feet underground.  

James Palmer / AP


Michael Marshall, 14, was still in the other van with some of the youngest children.

Michael Marshall | Survivor: The kids got a hold of me and were holding onto me. And … just scared out of their – you know, we were all – just scared out of our wits. 

As they did before, the kidnappers removed the children one by one. Michael and the youngest, 5-year-old Monica Ardery, were the last ones left in the van. 

Michael Marshall: It was just me and her.

Not knowing what had happened to the other children or if they were even alive, Michael says he couldn’t bear to hand Monica over to the kidnappers. So, when they opened the doors again, he went first.

Michael Marshall: I had to take her hands from mine and rip —and tear them apart, say it would be OK. And go with them and leave her. … That was hard.

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“I remember it just went dark. … And then you just hear the material getting thrown on us … we were being buried alive,” said survivor Michael Marshall.

CBS News


Michael Marshall: As soon as I got on that ladder and took a step down … and I heard the rest of the kids say, “It’s Mike. … It’s Mikey. Michael.” And I realized that everybody was alive.

And to his relief, not long after, Monica came climbing down the ladder. They were all together again.

Michael Marshall: We’re OK. We’re OK. We’re OK. So right now, so far, we’re alright.

But the sense of relief was short-lived.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: Before I knew it, the ladder was gone. They threw a roll of toilet paper down and said, “We’ll be back for you.” And that was it.

The kidnappers then covered the opening with a manhole cover.

Michael Marshall: I remember it just went dark. … And then you just hear the material (moves his hands in a digging motion) getting thrown on us … we were being buried alive.

They were buried 12 feet underground.

Jodi Heffington: I just remember looking up at that hole. I wanted to stay close. I wanted to be like right there. Because that was the way out.

Larry Park: Ed Ray and Mike Marshall they looked at every corner, every wall … for an escape route. They got underneath the manhole cover and pushed up on it. And they couldn’t move it. So, Ed Ray determined that it was time for everyone to get some rest.

The minutes and hours ticked by.

Michael Marshall: … It would be silent and then somebody would bust out crying and the hole would just erupt. Everybody’s crying.

Michael Marshall: The thing that made me cry was not being able to say goodbye to my mom. … And I’m remembering the last time that I saw her [gets emotional] and wishing I could have told her goodbye.

CBS NEWS REPORT: Throughout much of this day, parents and other family of the missing children came to the command post set up in downtown Chowchilla to try desperately to fathom some reason out of this madness. Carol Marshall’s 14-year-old son Mike was another on the bus.

REPORTER: Any chance at all this could be a terrible hoax or joke that someone is playing?

CAROL MARSHALL: I imagine there is a chance. I hope that’s all it is.

This was one of the largest kidnappings in U.S. history.

CBS NEWS REPORTSo far there’s been no word from any abductors …  

Sheriff Ed Bates: Two heavily-laden [sic] vehicles had taken 26 children and their bus driver. That’s not easy to do. And how did they control them? And what did they do with them?

As investigators intensified their search, Jennifer and Jeff’s mom Joan waited by the phone hoping to hear news about her children.

Joan Brown:  I remember later that day, praying and saying to God that if you bring them back … I will promise you that I will — and then I stopped because there was nothing I can offer in exchange for my children.

They had been in the hole for almost 12 hours and the conditions were deteriorating.

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Jennifer Brown Hyde was 9 at the time of the kidnapping. “My little brain started to grasp the concept of we may really not go home.”

CBS News


Jennifer Brown Hyde: We had eaten the food. … The fans on the ventilators stopped.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: My little brain started to grasp the concept of we may really not go home.

Larry Park: There was this one boy. … And he kept kicking blocks out from underneath the 4×4 pillars. And so, the roof of the van was starting to cave in. The seams were breaking. Dust was flowing through. And I remember children just screaming and crying. … The sides of the van were bowing in. … I knew that I was going to die. I knew it.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: We thought, and they said —  the older kids and Edward —  if we’re going to die, were going to die trying to get out of here.

THE ESCAPE

Jennifer Brown Hyde | Survivor: As a young kid, you don’t have a lot of sense of time. … There was no sunlight. So, you couldn’t tell if it was day or night. … We were out of food, we were out of water, the roof was caving in…. It just was a desperate situation.

Jodi Heffington | Survivor: Everybody got the mattresses and stacked them up as high as we could go.

Larry Park | Survivor: … right underneath the manhole cover.

Jodi Heffington: People started standing on each other’s shoulders. … I was a very tall girl and very strong, so they stood on my shoulders when they didn’t stand on Edward’s. 

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The children tried to stay calm as the minutes and hours ticked by. After being in the hole for almost 12 hours, conditions started to deteriorate. The roof started to cave in, and they were running out of food.

Alameda County D.A.’s Office


They took turns pushing up on the manhole cover.

Michael Marshall: … And I’m giving it everything I got, and all the kids are cheering me on. You know, “Come on Mike, you can do it. You can do it.” And then all of a sudden, they said, “It moved, it moved.”

But they were far from being free. The kidnappers had put truck batteries and dirt on top of the manhole cover and had constructed a wooden box around it. Once the manhole cover was moved, that box was just big enough for Michael to stand in. 

AUDIO: MICHAEL MARSHALL, AGE 14:  Edward squeezes me through this half-foot hole.

Like Jennifer, Michael Marshall made a recording about his experience.

AUDIO: MICHAEL MARSHALL, AGE 14I get on top of it and I start pounding on this box. Start hitting and pounding, hitting and pounding.

Larry Park: He dug until he was exhausted and then he kept on digging. There was no quit in him.

AUDIO: MICHAEL MARSHALL, AGE 14None of us knew if when we got out, they were just going to be standing there with shotguns at our head and stuff, so we were kind of … pretty scared.

Larry Park: Then suddenly this ray of sunlight [cries, then pauses]. This ray of sunlight came down into the opening. And it was catching the dust. And the dust particles looked like a bunch of shooting stars. … There was this airflow that came out of the van and I knew we were free. I need a minute. [Gets up from his chair, overcome with emotion.]

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Michael Marshall, 14 and bus driver Ed Ray piled up mattresses that were left in the hole — and after 16 hours in darkness managed to dig their way to safety. 

Michael Marshall


Michael Marshall [sighs, then pauses]: The air and the light it was beaming coming through …

Larry Park: Mike Marshall, actually, brave person that he is, crawled out of the hole first.

Michael Marshall: And I stuck my head out and … I didn’t see anybody. … I could see we were in the hills …

Jodi Heffington: He said “the coast is clear.” And so we started taking the little ones and putting them up there. And Mike grabbed them. …That part was kind of scary too because we’re out now. … We don’t know who’s out here.

It was approximately 8 p.m. on July 16. They had been in the hole for nearly 16 hours.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: We all just scurried like a bunch of little mice. … We saw conveyor belts and excavators … It looked like “The Flintstones.” … And all these men with hard hats on came to us and looked at us like, “who are you?”

The kidnappers had buried them in a rock quarry in Livermore, California, 100 miles away from Chowchilla. When police arrived, as evidence, they took photos of every child.

Jodi Heffington: An Alameda County jail bus came. (Sarcastically laughs) It was like, “yeah, they put us back on a bus.”

Then they transported them to the closest place that could hold them — the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center — a local jail.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: I remember going in — in the bus and you could see the prison wire. … And you thought well, “they’re taking us into jail.”

Jennifer Brown Hyde: They took us into what looked like classrooms. … They brought us apples and soda.

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At the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center, the children were given apples and soda, and examined by doctors. Jennifer Brown, 9, is pictured at center.

Alameda County D.A.’s Office


AUDIO: JENNIFER BROWN, AGE 9: They had these coveralls. … And all these little kids go into ’em and we had to roll the pants about 10 feet. And we rolled the arms up and we were all sitting there — some of ’em didn’t roll our arms up and we sitting there flapping our arms. We said, “Hey we can fly!?”

Over the next few hours, Ed Ray and the children were examined by doctors. They were also questioned by police.

Jodi Heffington: Each one of us was interrogated by ourselves to tell our story.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: How do you describe somebody that has pantyhose over their face? 

Chowchilla students after escape
Finally, approximately four hours after escaping, the children boarded yet another bus – this time, to go home.

Alameda County D.A.’s Office


After four hours of questioning, they were finally allowed to go home.

Michael Marshall: They put us on a Greyhound … escorted us back to Chowchilla.

Larry Park: It was time for mom and dad. I just wanted my mom and dad.

It had been almost 36 hours since their traumatic ordeal began.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: The scene was like a mob scene … news cameras and TV lights.

AUDIO: JENNIFER BROWN, AGE 9: Everybody stated saying, “are you all right Jennifer” and all this stuff and I said “Yeah. I’m fine.” Then whenever we got into this room, I found my mom and my dad.


AUDIO: MICHAEL MARSHALL, AGE 14: We pulled up to Chowchilla and I was asleep. … So, when I got off the bus everybody started taking pictures of me saying, “Hi Mike, how you doing? What was the pit like?”

Jodi Heffington: They just let us off the bus with all these people … And you didn’t know where your parents were (emotional).  

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Survivor Larry Park, 6, after being reunited with his parents. “I finally felt safe again,” he said.

AP Photo


Larry Park: This man carried me off the bus. And he put me in my mom’s arms, and I said, “Hi mom,” and fell asleep on her shoulder. …. I felt like I was finally safe [emotional].

Jodi Heffington: Nothing was ever the same. Nothing was ever the same after that. (emotional)

Joan Brown: We had no idea what our kids had been through. None whatsoever. 

HAROLD DOW | CBS NEWS: How does it feel to be a big movie star?

JENNIFER BROWN, AGE 9: I don’t know. I’ve never been a movie star before.

CBS NEW REPORT: For 9- year-old Jennifer Brown, the experience has allowed her to still see the world with compassion. 

HAROLD DOW | CBS NEWS: Why do you suppose that they would do something like that?

JENNIFER BROWN: I don’t know. They didn’t have enough love.

Joan Brown: She had horrible nightmares. … she would run screaming into our bedroom, and she wasn’t even awake … And she would tell us later that she dreamt that they were lined up and shot.

Larry Park: One night … I was dreaming that I …. was falling down this hole and I was trying to get out. … I started screaming for my mom. Mom came in. … And all I could do was cry. And all she could do was hold me. There was nothing more that could be done.

THE KIDNAPPERS

In the days following the kids escape, investigators searched the rock quarry and the van that had been their underground tomb hoping they would find clues that would lead them to the kidnappers.

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“Today in this rock quarry, they unearthed the truck that was prison and very nearly a tomb for 26 children and their school bus driver. Unearthing the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of all this is much harder,” reported Richard Threlkeld for CBS News.

Alameda County D.A’s Office


Prosecutor Jill Klinge | Alameda County: They looked to see who would have keys to the quarry. … In order to have access to bury this moving container undetected, you would have to have access.  Fred Woods had keys to that quarry.

Frederick Newhall Woods, 24, the son of the owner of the quarry, immediately became a person of interest.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: …Then they looked at the ledger, surveillance tapes and started to put it all together at that point.

Security guards told investigators they had seen three young men digging a large hole in the quarry months before the kidnapping. One of them they said was Fred Woods.

And Woods had a record.  Two years earlier, he had been charged with grand theft auto. Arrested with him were two of his friends – James Schoenfeld, Fred’s partner in a used car business, and James’s younger brother, Richard. All three were from wealthy families who lived in San Francisco’s nicest suburbs. They escaped with a fine and probation. 

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: They’re young. … They’re wealthy. I think it added a component of fascination to the story because it was so unlikely that three men such as these would commit such an atrocious crime.

Investigators executed a warrant to search Fred Woods’ father’s estate. 

RICHARD THRELKELD | CBS NEWS: For the last two days, the Woods estate has looked like an armed camp, dozens of officers looking for anything.

What they found there was a treasure trove of evidence.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: We were able to recover one of the guns that was used during this kidnapping.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: This crime was planned out for a year-and-a-half in intricate detail.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: You actually have a document labeled “plan.”  And it sets out … the way they were going to commit the kidnapping and then they on the right-hand side put … how they would compensate or deal with what could go wrong.

They also recovered a draft of a ransom note.    

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: The draft of the ransom note says $2.5 million, but in actuality, they were going to ask for $5 million from the State of California. 

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Investigators executed a warrant to search Fred Woods’ father’s estate and found a treasure trove of evidence – including the kjdnappers’ detailed plan and this draft of a ransom note.

Alameda County D.A.’s Office


But the kidnappers were never able to deliver their demand.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: They tried to call the Chowchilla Police Department. Because of the number of calls that were coming in worldwide … the phone lines were jammed. They couldn’t get through. So, they took a nap.  And by the time they woke up, they saw on the news that the kids had been found. So, they were never able to request the ransom. 

RICHARD THRELKELD | CBS NEWS: And so the search is on nationwide for these three men …

Arrest warrants were issued. Richard Schoenfeld turned himself in. Fred Woods and James Schoenfeld fled California, but not for long.

HAROLD DOW | CBS NEWS: James Schoenfeld was captured at dawn today. Police say he ran hard, all over the Western United States, but he did not run well. … Frederick Woods was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police this afternoon, just across the Washington State border in Vancouver. 

Jodi Heffington: I remember being physically ill when I actually saw them. … After that you kind of did have a sense of (takes a deep breath) … you can breathe.  …They’re behind bars. 

So, what drove these young men, seemingly well off, to kidnap young children for money?  James Schoenfeld eventually told police, despite their parents’ wealth, he and Fred Woods were in serious debt.  

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The kidnappers, from left, Fred Woods, James Schoenfeld, center, and his younger brother Richard Schoenfeld

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office


He would later tell the parole board: “We needed multiple victims to get multiple millions, and we picked children because children are precious. The state would be willing to pay ransom for them.  And they don’t fight back.”

Sheriff Ed Bates: I think that the two Schoenfelds did it just on pure persuasion by Fred Woods. Fred Woods … in my own personal opinion, and I have a master’s degree, I think he was a sociopath. Some might call him a psychopath.  

With the overwhelming evidence against them, Woods and the Schoenfelds pleaded guilty to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom and robbery. But they refused to plead guilty to the eight counts of bodily harm. Those charges would send them to prison for life without the possibility of parole. So, 16 months after their abduction, Jennifer, Michael and some of the other children faced the kidnappers in court.

Jodi Heffington: You’re in this little box … and they’re there looking at you, just glaring at you and staring you down.

They testified that in addition to the emotional trauma, they had suffered physical wounds like cuts and bruises.

Jodi Heffington: And I looked over at them and I just broke down. …That was the first time I cried. … So, they allowed my father to come sit by me and that made me feel a lot safer.

Jennifer Brown Hyde:  And the kidnappers were sitting to my left at a table. … I remember giving my dad my gum because I told him I was going to spit my gum at ’em. 

REPORTER AT COURTHOUSE: You say they would give you this funny look. What did that make you feel?

JENNIFER BROWN: Scared. 

Jennifer Brown Hyde: I did my testimony.  I answered my questions.  And I left that courtroom with my head held high. And there was no way that I was going to let them see me cry.

WALTER CRONKITE | CBS EVENING NEWS ANCHOR: A California judge today imposed mandatory life prison sentences without parole on those three young men who kidnapped 26 Chowchilla school children …

Joan Brown: Life in prison without the possibility of parole. That was all we needed. That’s what we needed.

Jennifer Brown Hyde:  I remember thinking they are going to jail … they’re not going to do this to anybody else. And that’s all that I need to know.

With the kidnappers sentenced to prison for the rest of their lives, the survivors thought their nightmare was finally over. But it was just beginning.

THE SURVIVORS

Just five weeks after being buried alive, the gutsy children of Chowchilla and their bus driver Ed Ray were hailed as heroes. There was even a trip to Disneyland.

Larry Park: And everyone thought that was great because the good memories of Disneyland would overshadow the bad memories of the kidnapping.

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Many of the survivors of the Chowchilla kidnapping gathered for a photo at the Ed Ray Day celebration on August 22, 1976. Ray, the school bus driver, is pictured back row center next to Michael Marshall. 

Jennifer Brown Hyde


It wasn’t that simple.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: In a way you try to be normal.  But … when you’ve gone through something that’s so traumatic, it’s hard to go back and be a normal kid again.

Jodi Heffington: Sometimes it’s like life is an act.  You try to be good for everybody else so they don’t worry, but they worry anyway, so … I advise everybody else not to do it that way. 

The survivors struggled to move forward.  But just four years after the kidnappings – a critical turning point.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: The kidnappers’ lawyers appealed the finding of bodily harm. And the appellate court overturned it. And while acknowledging the horrific nature of the crime, stated that the injuries suffered did not rise to the level of bodily harm under the law. 

So, Fred Woods and the Schoenfeld brothers were resentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: They would get a parole hearing every one or two years.

Larry Park: I felt like I had been betrayed by the justice system.

Just six years after the kidnappings, the parade of parole hearings began.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: Every time one of the kidnappers came up for parole … it triggered all their fears and trauma …

The hearings took place inside the prison. 

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: They sit in the same room, and it’s not a large room, with the kidnapper.

Jodi Heffington: The first time, I was terrified.

For all three kidnappers, there have been more than 60 parole hearings to date. Jodi Heffington went to nearly all of them.

Jodi Heffington: It just seems like every three years I go. And I go three times, every time. … It’s excruciating and the aftermath is — never good.

Jodi and the other survivors watched helplessly as Richard Schoenfeld was the first to be granted parole in June 2012, 36 years after the kidnappings.  Three years later, James Schoenfeld was paroled, too.

Prosecutor Jill Klinge: As far as I know, they have not been in any kind of trouble.

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Fred Woods at his 15th parole hearing in 2018.

CBS News/George Osterkamp


The same could not be said for Fred Woods. He repeatedly broke prison rules. He was caught with pornography and cell phones.

AUDIO FROM 2018 PAROLE HEARING:  Hello. My name is Jodi Medrano. I was Jodi Heffington.

Jodi Heffington at parole hearing
Jodi Heffington, right, at a 2018 parole hearing for Fred Woods, went to almost all of the parole hearings for the three convicted kidnappers. 

George Osterkamp


In 2018, “48 Hours” was at Fred Woods’ 15th parole hearing and recorded audio of Jodi’s testimony.

AUDIO FROM 2018 PAROLE HEARING | JODI HEFFINGTON MEDRANO: To listen to him talk about his poor childhood … (sarcastically laughs) I don’t know if I want to laugh, cry, cuss him or what … Because where did my childhood go?

Jodi Heffington: Like I told him, Mr. Woods – you’re not a kidnapper, you’re a thief.  You’re a thief of lives.  Not just the kids that were in the bus.  But they stole our families’ lives, and what we all had before that.

After that hearing, Woods was again denied parole.

It was 28 hours of terror that will always be with Michael, Jennifer, Jodi and Larry — all who have managed to find ways to get on with living.

Larry Park: Healing continues if you allow it.

Larry Park, who spent his 20’s and 30’s abusing drugs, now owns a handyman business and volunteers as a pastor at a local church.  His nightmares have finally stopped.  And he is sober.

Larry Park: I have nine years sober.

His sobriety was motivated by an epiphany about the kidnappers.      

Larry Park: My resentment for them … was killing me. … One night … I was laying in bed … and I said, “God help me to forgive them.”

chowchilla-park-kidnapper.jpg
After years of anger and resentment, Larry Park. left,made peace, forgiving his kidnappers. Here he is pictured with Richard Schoenfeld, who was granted parole in June 2012, 36 years after the kidnappings.

Larry Park


Larry met the men, shook their hands, and did forgive them.  Here he is…with Richard Schoenfeld.

Larry Park: It changed my life. … Something washed over me. … And there was peace like I had never known.  And I knew that day that I would be OK.

Jennifer Brown Hyde – a wife, mother and executive assistant – says it took her decades before she could even sleep without a night-light.

Jennifer Brown Hyde: I’ve had family and church family … and co-workers that have piece by piece helped put me back together. … And I want people to know that that little girl that was kidnapped and buried alive has managed to live a wonderful life.

Michael Marshall had lost his way after the kidnapping.

Michael Marshall: I went to bed at 18 drunk and hung over and blacked out. And woke up about 48, you know, with a hangover, blurry.

He is sober and has found happiness as father and a long-distance trucker. He tries not to think about those kidnappers.

Michael Marshall: What they put my mom and dad through is something I cannot forgive.

Jodi Heffington
” Nothing was ever the same. Nothing was ever the same after that,” Jodi Heffington said of the 1976 kidnapping.

CBS News


Jodi Heffington never left the Chowchilla area. She opened her own hair salon and raised a son, but she struggled to find peace of mind.

Jodi Heffington: How that day affected me, has affected me every day in some way or another. … I think it made me not a good daughter, not a good sister, not a good aunt and especially not a good mother.  And probably not a good friend. … I try to be those things, but it seems like it, um, it just took something from me that I can’t ever get back. And I can’t tear it down — no matter how hard I try and no matter what I do. 

In January 2021, Jodi Heffington passed away. She was 55 years old.

Fourteen months after her death, Fred Woods went before the parole board for the 18th time. This time, he was granted parole.


Produced by Chris Young Ritzen and George Osterkamp. Gary Winter and Mead Stone are producer-editors. Jordan Kinsey and Hannah Vair are the associate producers. Joan Adelman is the editor. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

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