Richard Schoenfeld, 58, one of three men convicted of hijacking a Chowchilla… (Associated Press )
Thirty-six years ago, three men kidnapped a bus full of schoolchildren for ransom before entombing them in a San Joaquin Valley rock quarry.
The 1976 crime has become part of California lore — and many of those in the small town of Chowchilla, where it happened, thought those responsible would stay behind bars for life. But later this month, one of the three kidnappers will be a free man.
A spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said last week that Richard Schoenfeld's release became necessary after the state Supreme Court decided not to intercede in a lower court's judgment requiring the kidnapper's immediate release.
Schoenfeld, the youngest of the three kidnappers, went to prison at age 22. He, his brother and another young man — all from wealthy families — seized a school bus carrying 26 children and their driver and buried them. It was the largest kidnapping for ransom in U.S. history.
The kidnappers made each victim climb down a ladder into a moving van equipped with two air tubes. Along one wall were dirty mattresses and containers of water. The men then poured dirt over the van.
Despite spending about 16 hours underground, all of the victims survived. In recent years, word that Schoenfeld might be granted parole disturbed many in Chowchilla.
For security reasons, authorities declined to say when or where Schoenfeld, 58, would be released, other than that it would be this month. He has been serving his time at a state prison in San Luis Obispo, along with his two accomplices.