Steven Gregory Stayner was kidnapped by Kenneth Parnell when he was seven years old. He was held captive for seven years.
Steven was born on April 18, 1965 to Delbert and Kay Stayner in Merced, California. Steven had three sisters and a brother. His brother would later become a serial killer.
On December 4, 1972, Kenneth Parnell confronted Steven Stayner as the boy was walking home from school. Parnell asked Steven if his mother might make a donation to his church. Parnell then offered him a ride home. Parnell drove past Steven's home, but Parnell ignored Steven's concern. Parnell took Steven to his cabin, where he molested Steven that first night.
Parnell told people that Stayner was his son, calling him "Dennis Gregory Parnell." "Dennis" and Parnell moved frequently around California, with Stayner attending various schools as a result. Parnell allowed Steven to begin smoking at a young age. Parnell repeatedly molested the boy, starting with oral sex and moving onto sodomy.
Parnell also babysat for the parents of one of Steven's friends, Kenny. Kenny's mother, Barbara, who was always fighting with her alcoholic husband Bob, eventually moved in with Parnell and "Dennis". One evening, "Dennis" was invited into bed with Parnell and Barbara, and the nine-year-old boy was forced to have sex with her. Eventually, Parnell and Barbara separated. As Steven grew older, Parnell allowed him to start drinking alcohol.
Steven began growing older, and thus became less "attractive" to the pedophilic Parnell. So, Parnell began to look for a younger child to kidnap. On February 14, 1980, Parnell and Sean Poorman, one of Steven's high school buddies, kidnapped five-year-old Timmy White in Ukiah, California. Motivated in part by the young boy's distress, Steven decided to escape with him, intending to return the boy to his parents and then escape himself (Steven believed that Parnell had legal custody of him).
On March 1, 1980, while Parnell was away at his night security job, Steven left with Timmy and hitchhiked into Ukiah. Unable to locate Timmy's home address, he decided to have Timmy walk into the police department to ask for help, before escaping himself. Before he could successfully escape, the police spotted the two boys and took them into custody. Steven immediately identified Timmy White and then revealed his own true identity and story.
By daybreak on March 2, 1980, Parnell had been arrested on suspicion of abducting both boys. After the police checked into Parnell's background they found a previous sodomy conviction from 1951. Both children were reunited with their families that day.
In 1981, Parnell was tried and convicted of kidnapping Timmy and Steven in two separate trials. He was sentenced to seven years but was paroled after serving five years. Parnell was not charged with the numerous sexual assaults on Steven Stayner and other boys, as most occurred outside the jurisdiction of the Merced county prosecutor or were by then outside the statute of limitations. The Mendocino County prosecutors, acting almost entirely alone, decided not to prosecute the sexual assaults that occurred in their jurisdiction.
Edward Ervin Murphy and Sean Poorman, who had helped abduct Timmy White, were convicted of lesser charges. Both claimed they knew nothing of the sexual assaults on Steven. Barbara was never arrested.
Parnell's prison sentence for the abduction of Steven and Timmy was considerably less than the seven years he had kept Steven prisoner. Steven's kidnapping and its aftermath prompted California lawmakers to change state laws to allow consecutive prison terms in similar abduction cases.
Steven Stayner married Jody Edmondson on June 13, 1985, and they went on to have two children, a son and daughter.
In early 1989, a television miniseries based on his experience, I Know My First Name is Steven (also known as The Missing Years), was produced. Steven, taking a leave of absence from his job, acted as an advisor for the production company (Lorimar-Telepictures) and had a non-speaking part, playing one of the two policemen who escort 14-year-old Steven (played by Corin "Corky" Nemec) through the crowds to his waiting family, on his return to his Merced home. The production was based on a manuscript by Mike Echols, who had researched the story and interviewed Stayner and Parnell, among others.
The title for the film and book are taken from the first paragraph of Steven's written Police statement, given during the early hours of 2 March 1980 in Ukiah. It reads (note the incorrect spelling of his family name);
"My name is Steven Stainer. I am fourteen years of age. I don't know my true birthdate,
but I use April 18, 1965. I know my first name is Steven, I'm pretty sure my last is Stainer,
and if I have a middle name, I don't know it."
On September 16, 1989, just before 5:00pm PDT while riding home after his shift at Pizza Hut, his motorcycle was involved in a collision with a car that pulled out into traffic. Steven received head injuries that were to prove fatal; he died at the Merced Community Medical Center at 5:35pm. He was driving without a license (suspended for a third time due to excessive traffic violations) and without his helmet, which had been stolen a few days before. Over 500 people attended his funeral, including then-14-year-old Timmy White, who helped carry Steven's coffin into the church.
In 2004, Kenneth Parnell, then age seventy-two, was convicted of trying the previous year to persuade a woman to procure for him a young boy for five hundred dollars. Although Stayner was dead, a written statement he had made before his death was used as evidence in Parnell's 2004 trial. Timmy White was also subpoenaed to testify in the trial. Kenneth Parnell died of natural causes on January 21, 2008, in a California medical facility, while serving a 25-years-to-life sentence.
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