26 children and their school bus driver were kidnapped and buried alive in California

Mugshots of Frederick Woods, and the Schoenfeld brothers
Frederick Woods (left) and the Schoenfeld brothers were sentenced to life in prison. Pic credit: Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

On Thursday, July 15, 1976, school bus driver Frank Edward “Ed” Ray was transporting 26 children in Chowchilla, California, when three men hijacked their vehicle in what became one of the most notorious and bizarre mass kidnappings in US history.

The kidnappers were Frederick Woods and brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld; the three men were all in their 20s and from wealthy families in the Bay Area. Despite their family wealth Woods and one of the Schoenfeld brothers claimed to be badly in debt.

The criminal trio believed the children would be easy targets and that their parents and the state would be eager to pay for their return. The hoped to demand $5 million for the children’s release.

Woods and the Schoenfeld brothers held a gun on Ed Ray as they drove them around for approximately 11-hours before burying them in a quarry at Livermore, CA.

The quarry, owned by Woods’s father, contained a buried moving truck that the captives were forced to climb inside. They were supplied with mattresses and a small amount of food.

Ray and the children dug themselves out

Ray and the children managed to stack the mattresses so they could reach the opening at the top of the truck. The hatch had been weighted down with a sheet of metal and some industrial batteries.

But after about sixteen hours, Ray and the oldest boy, 14-year-old Michael Marshall, managed to wedge the hatch open, and all the hostages were able to escape.

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Driver Ed Ray was hailed a hero.

The kidnappers had been unable to place their Brandon demands with the Chowchilla police department because, almost comically, the phone lines had been tied up with media outlets and concerned parents inquiring about the children.

When Woods and Schoenfeld heard that the children had escaped, they went on the lam. Woods had become an instant suspect as he was one of few people who had access to the quarry.

Two weeks later, Woods was apprehended across the border in British Columbia, and om the same day, the police collared James Schoenfeld at Menlo Park, CA. His brother had turned himself in a few days earlier.

The three men were given life sentences with the possibility of parole. Richard and James Schoenfeld were paroled in 2012 and 2015, respectively, while remains in prison today.

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