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Notorious Kidnapper Who Buried Children In Rock Quarry In 1976 Wins Release From Prison

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One of three men who kidnapped a bus full of schoolchildren in 1976 before burying them inside a rock quarry for ransom will be released from prison later this month—much to the dismay of many locals.

Richard Schoenfeld, who was 22 at the time of the kidnapping, will be released thanks to an appeals court decision earlier this year, according to The Fresno Bee. Later this month the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation plans to release him.

Schoenfeld hatched a kidnap-for-ransom plan in the Central Valley town of Chowchilla with his brother John and and their friend Fred Woods—all the sons of wealthy men in the suburbs of San Francisco.

The trio pretended that their van broke down on the side of the road in July of 1976, prompting school bus driver Ed Ray to pull over. That's when the men kidnapped 26 children and driver at gunpoint. The kidnappers drove the children 100 miles to Livermore to a rock quarry and sealed the children and driver deep inside. They planned on asking for $5 million in ransom, but the driver and children managed to dig their way out of the quarry after 16 hours.

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When the men were convicted and sent to prison, few expected that the men would ever be released into society again. But The Fresno Bee reports that officials who originally put the Chowchilla kidnappers behind bars have joined with others trying to reform the parole system:

The cases of Schoenfeld and his accomplices - his brother John Schoenfeld and their friend Fred Woods - has become something of a cause celebre among lawyers, judges and others lobbying for reforms in the California parole system they view as too harsh. All three have good prison records and became eligible for release years ago, which has been opposed by many of the victims and some residents of Chowchilla.

Recently, the kidnapping was in the news again when Ed Ray, the cool-headed bus driver who led the children to safety, died last month at the age of 91.And yes, there is a made-for-TV movie about the case: "They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping."