The Truth About The Kidnapping Of Steven Stayner

On the afternoon of December 4, 1972, 7-year-old Steven Stayner was walking home from school in Merced, California, when he was approached by a man passing out religious pamphlets. As reported by The Famous People, the man, who was later identified as Ervin Edward Murphy, said he was a representative of a local church and was seeking donations for his parish.

According to The Famous People, Murphy offered to walk Stayner home, as he wanted to ask his mother for a donation. The boy agreed and gave the man his address. However, as they were walking toward Stayner's home, they were approached by another man, who was driving a white Buick.

The second man, who was later identified as Kenneth Parnell, offered to give Murphy and Stayner a ride. ABC News reports it was a "sleety, wintery day," and Stayner willingly followed Murphy into Parnell's car, as he expected the man to take him home. Unfortunately, the entire incident was part of an elaborate plan to kidnap the boy.

Prior to his kidnapping of Stayner, The Famous People reports Parnell had at least two criminal convictions, including armed robbery and the sexual abuse of a young boy. However, he was convicted in Utah and was not known as a criminal in California. At the time of Stayner's kidnapping, Parnell was employed at the Yosemite Lodge, which according to ABC News, was approximately two hours away from Merced.

Steven Stayner was told his parents did not want him

While working at the Yosemite Lodge, Kenneth Parnell befriended his coworker Ervin Murphy. Although Parnell was a convicted child predator, Murphy was described as "simple-minded," and somewhat naive. As reported by The Famous People, Parnell convinced Murphy that he was an "aspiring minister" who needed to find a young boy, who he planned to "raise ... in a religious-type deal."

According to ABC News, Parnell stopped to make a call from a payphone shortly after Murphy and Steven Stayner got into his car. When he returned, he told the boy that he called his parents and they said they did not want him anymore. The Famous People reports Parnell then took the boy to a remote cabin near Catheys Valley, California.

Parnell began sexually abusing Stayner almost immediately. He also began manipulating the boy into believing his parents did not want him anymore, as they could not afford to financially support him. As reported by The Famous People, Parnell eventually convinced Stayner that his parents relinquished their rights and that he was granted full legal custody.

When Stayner failed to return home from school, his parents contacted authorities immediately. The Merced Police Department launched an extensive investigation and search effort. Unfortunately, ABC News reports authorities were eventually forced to admit "there was just nothing there." Steven's parents were devastated by their son's disappearance and the lack of witnesses or any evidence in the case.

Steven Stayner attended school under a new name

As reported by ABC News, Kenneth Parnell treated Steven Stayner like a son. However, his sexual abuse of the boy never stopped. Former reporter Ted Rowlands said, "Stayner had a new father figure ... who by day, was his father, and by night, was his rapist."

After convincing the boy his parents did not want him anymore, he changed his name to Dennis Parnell. However, he allowed him to keep the middle name "Gregory" and his original birthdate. According to The Famous People, Parnell also enrolled Stayner in school.

Over the years, Parnell had numerous jobs and he and Stayner moved often. However, he always enrolled the boy in school and often allowed Stayner freedoms that a kidnapper would not traditionally grant a captor. Stayner had a pet dog named Queenie, with whom he formed a close bond, and was permitted to begin drinking and smoking at a young age.

In addition to believing his parents no longer wanted him, The Famous People reports Stayner was simply unsure how to get out of the situation he was in. Instead, he tried to make the best of it.

As reported by ABC News, Lori Duke, who went to school with Stayner, but knew him as Dennis Parnell, said, "He had a great personality. He was spunky. You could see that he wanted to play and be with kids and be normal."

Steven Stayner saved another boy from Kenneth Parnell

As Steven Stayner got older, Kenneth Parnell began planning to kidnap another, younger, boy. As reported by The Famous People, Parnell dated a woman named Barbara Mathias for a period of time. In addition to participating in the abuse of Stayner, she attempted to help Parnell kidnap a boy who was a member of the Santa Rosa Boys' Club. Thankfully, they were unable to follow through with the kidnapping attempt.

On several occasions, Parnell encouraged Stayner to help him lure another boy into the home. However, Crime Investigation reports Stayner sabotaged Parnell's efforts, as he did not want another boy to suffer through the abuse he had endured. Unfortunately, Parnell eventually convinced another teenage boy, named Randall Sean Poorman, to help him kidnap 5-year-old Timothy White.

Stayner was terribly concerned about White's welfare and immediately began planning to get the 5-year-old away from Parnell and return him home to his parents. As Parnell was working the night shift, Stayner fled the home with White in the middle of the night. 

According to Crime Investigation, the boys hitchhiked more than 40 miles to reach Ukiah, California, where White was abducted from. However, Timothy could not remember his address, so Stayner took him to a police station instead. Although Stayner told the younger boy to go inside by himself and tell the officers he had been kidnapped, White refused to leave Stayner's side.

Steven Stayner returned home 7 years after he was kidnapped

The officers soon realized that both of the boys had actually been kidnapped, and the one identifying himself as Dennis Parnell was actually Steven Stayner. As reported by The Famous People, both boys were reunited with their parents on May 2, 1980. At the time, Stayner had been missing for more than seven years. According to The Press Democrat, Kay Stayner said she "never did lose [her] hope" of finding her missing son.

Kenneth Parnell was ultimately convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy to steal a child. He was sentenced to a total of 25 years in prison. Parnell died in 2008 while incarcerated.

The Famous People reports Stayner had a difficult time adjusting to returning to his parents' home. As he never had any rules, he rebelled when his parents forbade him from drinking alcohol and smoking. It was also difficult for his parents to adjust to having a teenager after remembering their son as a 7-year-old boy. Stayner eventually began drinking more heavily, dropped out of high school, and left his parents' home.

In 1985, at the age of 20, Stayner married 17-year-old Jody Edmondson. According to The Famous People, the couple eventually had two children, named Ashley and Steven, Jr. In addition to assisting in the production of a miniseries based on his experience, Stayner became an advocate for preventing child abduction and helping victims of abuse. He also joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Steven Stayner was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was 24 years old

On September 16, 1989, Steven Stayner was riding his motorcycle home from work when a car suddenly pulled out of a driveway onto the highway. As reported by People, Stayner struck the driver's side of the car at a high rate of speed. As he was not wearing a helmet, he suffered massive head trauma, which led to his death less than one hour after the accident occurred.

The devastation of losing their son twice within 10 years was excruciating for Steven Stayner's parents. However, his brother Cary also suffered throughout the entire ordeal. In an interview with SFGate, Michael Kollman, who was a longtime neighbor of the Stayner family, said, "I think it must have really affected Cary," said Michael Kollman. "When Steven came home, Cary was kind of put on the back shelf. He was in the background always."

Following his brother's death, History reports Cary worked as a handyman at a lodge near Yosemite National Park. According to SFGate, his friends and coworkers described him as being impulsive and prone to seemingly abrupt and violent fits of rage. On July 24, 1999, Cary confessed to killing four women, who had all been guests at the lodge where he was employed. Cary's defense team argued that he suffered from mental illness, in part from the trauma he suffered when Steven was kidnapped. However, he was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death.