Sacramento, CA – A kidnapper who was originally sentenced to life in prison for abducting 26 children and burying them alive was recommended for parole late last week.
Frederick Newhall Woods, 70, was one of three suspects who carried out what has been referred to as the largest kidnapping in U.S. history, CBS News reported.
The armed trio hijacked a school bus in Chowchilla, California on July 15, 1976, with the driver and 26 children on board.
The kids ranged in age from five to 14, CBS News reported.
They were on their way home from Dairyland Elementary School when the terrifying incident occurred, CBS News reported.
Woods and his accomplices, Richard Schoenfeld and James Schoenfeld, loaded the children and school bus driver Ed Ray into vans and hauled them to an underground truck trailer buried in a quarry after driving them around for 12 hours, then locked them inside, according to investigators.
The kidnappers demanded a $5 million ransom in exchange for the hostages’ safe release, CBS News reported.
Approximately 16 hours after the victims were buried alive, Ray and some of the older kids were able to dig their way out of their underground prison while the kidnappers were asleep, according to FOX News.
The hostages all escaped together.
None of them suffered severe physical injuries, but several have spent a lifetime dealing with psychological injuries, CBS News reported.
Woods and the Schoenfelds, all of whom came from families of notable wealth, were apprehended about two weeks later.
They were all initially sentenced to life in prison without parole, but their sentences were later overturned by an appeals court and they were given the possibility of parole, CBS News reported.
One of the judges on the appeal panel was the late Judge William Newsom, father of current California Governor Gavin Newsom.
William Newsom became an outspoken advocate of the three convicted kidnappers after his retirement and brushed the terrifying abduction off as a “stunt” that had “no vicious aspect to it,” according to CBS News.
James Schoenfeld was released from prison in 2015, and Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole in 2012, FOX News reported.
Woods’ parole requests have been denied 17 times.
Just days before his 2019 parole attempt, prison officials found him guilty of conducting unauthorized business activities from prison, CBS News reported at the time.
Investigators said Woods had been running at least three businesses as an inmate, to include a Christmas tree farm, a Lake Tahoe gold mine, and a used car business.
His parole was denied.
Being incarcerated for the past four decades didn’t stop Woods from marrying three different times, CBS News reported.
He also used his trust fund to purchase a $1.5-million-dollar ocean-view mansion, and previously sold his family’s Martha’s Vineyard property for $550,000, according to the news outlet.
Woods has sold several vehicles while behind bars, but held on to the two vans he used to transport the victims, CBS News reported.
His former employee, Michael Bianchi, said Woods told him he planned to sell the vans for a high profit in the future by cashing on their notoriety.
Woods settled a civil suit filed by 25 of the surviving victims in 2016 for undisclosed amounts.
The payouts were described as “enough to pay for some serious therapy — but not enough to buy a house,” one of the victims told CBS News.
The convicted kidnapper tried a new tactic during his parole hearing late last week.
“I’ve had empathy for the victims which I didn’t have then,” he said, according to CBS News. “I’ve had a character change since then.”
“I was 24 years old,” Woods reasoned. “Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act.”
Many of his victims asked the parole board to deny his request, but two survivors spoke in favor of his release.
The two-member panel ultimately agreed to recommend Woods be allowed to walk out of prison, CBS News reported.
In order for Woods to be granted parole, he must also gain the approval of the full parole board, the board’s legal division, and the governor.