Kenneth Eugene Parnell, born on September 26, 1931, rose to infamy as an American sex offender, convicted kidnapper, and child rapist. He gained notoriety for the abduction of two young boys in Merced, California: Steven Stayner, who was 7 years old at the time, and Timothy White, who was 5 years old.
In the year 1972, a mere three weeks prior to the joyous festivities of Christmas, the fate of 7-year-old Steven Stayner underwent an irrevocable transformation. His existence, once serenely ensconced in the suburban enclave of Merced, California, was altered one mundane Monday while he journeyed home from school.
It was upon this fateful day that a stranger from the state of Texas abducted him, a stranger who would hold him in captivity for an agonizing seven years.
In the 1950s, Parnell had already been incarcerated for perpetrating the heinous act of child violation and impersonating a law enforcement official. Subsequently, he secured a position at a resort nestled within Yosemite National Park, where he endeavored to convince Ervin Edward Murphy to join him in a career within the ministry.
In the year 1972, he successfully swayed Murphy to assist in the abduction of a young boy.
On the 4th of December, the abductors cunningly lured Stayner into Parnell’s vehicle, masquerading as Good Samaritans offering him a ride home.
Once ensnared in captivity, Stayner was subjected to egregious acts of sexual assault within an isolated cabin situated in the secluded confines of Catheys Valley. Despite opportunities to flee, Stayner elected to attend local schools under a pseudonym, a decision fueled by his terror of escape attempts.
As the passage of time wore on, Parnell directed him to partake in the abduction of another individual, a directive issued as Parnell could no longer sustain his nefarious objectives alone.
The Abduction of Steven Stayner
Steven Gregory Stayner, born on April 18, 1965, in Merced, California, assumed the mantle of the eldest sibling among four. He shared kinship with a younger sibling named Cary, as well as three sisters.
Although nurtured within almond groves and peach orchards by Delbert and Kay Stayner, his upbringing unfolded in the rustic agrarian expanse of Merced.
Situated two hours’ journey from Merced, Kenneth Eugene Parnell occupied a post at Yosemite Lodge during the period of his criminal endeavors.
By the year 1972, he had already commenced devising a scheme to abduct a juvenile, enlisting the support of Ervin Murphy in his quest to identify a child to “raise with piety.” On December 4th, Parnell and Murphy ventured to Merced in a pristine Buick, ostensibly distributing religious literature to youngsters, concealing their true motives.
To enact their stratagem, Murphy approached Stayner, posing as a church representative and inquiring about potential family donations.
The young boy affirmed the presence of such donations and consented to accompany Murphy. Upon reaching their destination, Parnell informed Stayner that his parents had renounced their parental claims.
Parnell subsequently paused at a highway payphone along the 140 route, simulating a call to Stayner’s parents, only to return with news that they disavowed any intention of reclamation.
Upon realizing Stayner’s failure to return home from school, his parents expediently notified the Merced Police Department.
Despite concerted efforts, the authorities found themselves impotent in locating the absent child. On December 17th, Stayner was consigned to Parnell’s cabin, wherein he suffered the initial instance of what would become a series of abhorrent sexual abuses.
Even as Steven Stayner remained ensnared in captivity, Parnell’s maltreatment of him escalated. In addition to enduring unrelenting sexual exploitation, Stayner was misled by Parnell to believe his parents were financially incapable of caring for all their offspring.
He was informed that Parnell now held legal custody and that he would henceforth be known as “Dennis Gregory Parnell,” while retaining his middle name.
While Catheys Valley in Mariposa County lay a short distance from Merced, investigators grappled fruitlessly for leads, confronting an abyss of uncertainty in their quest. Simultaneously, Parnell enshrined Stayner within Steele Lane Elementary School, casting himself as the boy’s paternal figure, a mere fortnight following his vanishing.
Despite experiencing a modicum of expanded mobility, Stayner remained a vulnerable young child, bereft of the capacity to conceptualize escape from his grim confines.
Parnell orchestrated a succession of relocations, including locales such as Santa Rosa in Sonoma County and Comptche in Mendocino County, each serving as a prison where Stayner endured abuse not solely from Parnell, but also from others.
In the midst of acclimating to his new life and grappling with alcoholism, Stayner received a Manchester Terrier from Parnell, a canine companion he named Queenie.
Parnell’s behavior remained unaltered, culminating in his invitation to Barbara Mathias to cohabitate with them. This arrangement enabled Mathias to subject the 11-year-old Stayner to maltreatment with impunity.
As Stayner matured, Parnell’s perverse cravings impelled him to seek a younger victim. He beseeched Stayner to assist him in this pursuit, though the young boy steadfastly refused to comply.
However, Parnell’s depravity reached its zenith on February 14, 1980, as he exploited Stayner and his fellow classmate Randall Sean Poorman to abduct a five-year-old girl, an innocent whom he subsequently ended the life of.
Parnell’s Captive Cabin
After seven protracted years, Steven Stayner emerged as a fugitive from his captor’s grasp.
A fortnight had passed since the abduction of Timothy White from the thoroughfares of Ukiah in Mendocino County when the anguished cries of the young boy stirred Stayner to action. Despite the latitude he was granted by Parnell to move about, Stayner resolved to defy his captor and facilitate Timothy’s escape.
On the 1st of March, 1980, the most dreaded scenario for the kidnapper, Parnell, transpired. Two of his victims, including Stayner, fled the confines of the cabin during his stint as a security guard.
Stayner managed to hitch a ride with White for 40 miles, ultimately returning him to Ukiah. Although he cooperated fully with the authorities, he initially grappled with articulating the ordeal.
“I know my first name is Steven,” he uttered.
Kenneth Eugene Parnell, having abducted seven-year-old Steven Stayner, endeavored to raise him as his own progeny, inflicting unspeakable torment upon him for a span of seven years. It was only through the combined efforts of Steven and another kidnapped boy that they managed to elude their captor’s clutches.