Americas,  Phoebe,  United States

The Yosemite Killer and the Abducted Boy (Part Two)


So, in part one (, we looked at the horrific crimes of Cary Stayner, currently awaiting execution on California’s death row, pending a decision on Proposition 66, to move forward with the death penalty. In this second part we will be looking at the tragic twist in the tale.

Cary Stayner was the child of Delbert and Kay Stayner. One of five siblings, we are now going to focus on his younger brother Steven. Born in April 1965, Steven was the apple of his parents’ eye. Cary often later stated that he was their favourite and that subsequent events to be described here, caused to alienate him somewhat, and perhaps contributed to his later crimes. One witness at the time during the search for the victims, overheard Cary grumble “Why didn’t the FBI look this hard for my brother?” He went so far as to have his brother’s traumatic experience lodged during his trial as a factor in his own behavior possibly causing a form of insanity, despite stating that his violent fantasies began long before the events I am about to discuss.

On December 4th, 1972, seven-year-old Steven Stayner was walking down the street near to his family home on his way home from school, when he was approached by Ervin Edward Murphy, a rather simple-minded, naïve employee of nearby Yosemite National Park. Murphy claimed to be a church representative, handing out religious tracts to young boys, and seeking donations to the Church he claimed to work for. He approached Steven and asked if he felt his mother would be willing to make a donation. Steven was an open, fairly trusting boy and knew his mother had a generous heart and a respectable faith in God. She was a lapsed member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, who had converted to Catholicism some years previously. Steven agreed to take the man to his house to meet with his mother.

A car pulled up thereafter and Murphy invited the young boy in, taking a seat himself. The car was driven by Kenneth Parnell, a colleague of Murphy’s at the Park. Unknown to Steven, Parnell was also a notorious paedophile with a conviction for sex offences with a young boy going back to 1951 for which he received a four year jail sentence. Parnell had coerced Murphy by passing himself off as an aspiring Church minister, stating that he wanted to take a young boy and raise him as his own son in a religious manner. Steven recalls feeling very confused when the car did not take him home as planned but instead drove him to Parnell’s home, a cabin in Catheys Valley. It would later be revealed that this cabin was situated only a few hundred feet from Kay Stayner’s father’s home.

Parnell told the young boy that his parents could not afford to keep all their children and that he had been granted custody by a judge. He said Steven’s parents no longer wanted him. It was enough to subdue the scared little boy. Early the next morning, Parnell committed what would be the first of a sustained series of sexual attacks, beginning with molestation and quickly escalating to rape within a matter of days, on the young boy, which would ultimately last several years.

Over the following years, Steven was given a new identity, Denis, although his middle name and birthday were kept as his own. He attended school locally, although house moves were frequent and covered distances of up to 200 miles, and was encouraged to call Parnell “Dad” and Murphy, a consistent presence, was “Uncle Murphy”. Parnell on occasion attempted to employ Steven into assisting with the abduction of other boys; however, despite his own peculiar situation, Steven knew his experiences were somehow wrong, and deliberately botched these further kidnap attempts out of some instinctive need to protect the potential victims from the abuse he suffered.

Eventually, and as Steven hit puberty, Parnell grew tired of Steven inept abilities to procure him a new “toy”, and his physical desire for the boy was waning as he approached maturity. Out of desperation, Parnell enlisted the help of one of Steven’s peers, a minor by the name of Randall Sean Poorman, and between them on February 14th, 1980, they cruised the neighborhood of Ukiah, until they spotted five-year-old Timothy “Timmy” White, playing out front of his parent’s home. They approached the boy and tried to get him into the waiting car. Timmy refused and attempted to escape into his home; Poorman shoved him against a chain link fence before the pair dragged him kicking and screaming into the car and drove away.

That night as missing child alerts flew around, posters were put up and police authorities began a search for the missing five-year-old, Parnell dyed the little boy’s white blond hair dark and told him his new name was Tommy. Over the next few days, he passed the boy off as Steven’s younger brother. Timmy remained severely upset and distressed, crying often and asking for his parents. Steven did everything to protect the boy, not wanting him to suffer in the same way he himself had.

After two weeks of being unable to comfort the child, Steven resolved to return him to his parents. He waited until Parnell left one night for his shift as a security guard, before taking the little boy and leaving the house in the remote backwoods. Carrying Timmy on his back, Steven walked for some distance, before the pair were stopped and offered a lift to Ukiah by a passing trucker. However, upon reaching Timmy’s neighbourhood, the little boy was unable to remember his address and didn’t recognise any of the streets, so the two were taken to a local Police Station. Steven attempted to usher the little boy inside, hoping that he might be recognised by the officers and reunited with his family. His own plans as to what he was going to do next, were never revealed.

The police spotted the pair and initially were suspicious of the older boy, so detained them both. It quickly became apparent who Timmy was, but as a result of systematic brain-washing over a long period of time, and his own young age at his abduction, identifying Steven proved to be a lot harder. When questioned, he stated “I know my first name is Steven” and offered his birthday as April, and felt his family name may have been Staner or similar. With these piecemeal details and gentle questioning, it became apparent that Steven too was an abducted child. Trawling through missing children reports going back several years, officers eventually identified “Dennis Parnell” as missing Steven Stayner. It was now March 2nd 1980 and Steven had been missing for over seven years.

Cary Stayner was travelling home after spending time camping with some friends in the National Park when he heard the news on the radio that Steven had been found. He rushed home and was in time to greet his long-lost missing brother; the family had never given up hope that Steven would return to them one day. Timmy was also reunited with his family. Steven was hailed as a hero for keeping him safe and returning him to his home. Parnell was arrested that day.

Initially Steven did not report the sexual violence he had experienced at Parnell’s hands, however it soon became apparent, with investigations into Parnell’s background and criminal history, that the man was a convicted child molester, and at that point it was revealed just exactly the nature of the ongoing abuse Steven had received, and saved little Timmy from enduring. Archives do not reveal whether Parnell made any attempt to molest Timothy White during his 16 days of captivity. However, when the case came to trial, Parnell was charged with two counts of kidnapping, and being found guilty, was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. Five for the abduction of Timothy White, and two for the abduction of Steven Stayner. The sexual abuse and rapes were not listed in charges due to being outside jurisdiction and the statute of limitations of the counties involved. The authorities also felt that by drawing attention to it, they were burdening Steven with the label of sexually damaged goods. Barbara Matthias, a sometime girlfriend of Parnell’s was mentioned during the trial as having lived with Steven and Parnell for a period of around 18 months about two years after his abduction. She engaged in sexual activity with Steven when he was nine years old on several occasions with Parnell. Matthias later claimed she was unaware Steven had been abducted, yet admitted helping in a failed attempt to lure another boy into the car during 1975. Barbara Matthias was never charged with any crimes. Poorman and Murphy served light sentences on lesser charges, Steven having testified to their kindness despite their involvement in the abductions. California abduction laws were later changed following Steven’s and Timmy’s ordeals, based on their experiences to allow consecutive prison terms for multiple offences.

Parnell was released after serving just five years. Cary Stayner, initially overjoyed at having his little brother home, soon felt more estranged than ever, after seven years of being pushed away by his parents, and witnessing their grief over losing their younger son, he now had to watch from the sidelines as Steven’s story became the focus of first national and then international interest. Book deals were signed, films were proposed and a TV mini-series was planned. Almost daily there were news segments, and interviews. Eventually, Cary was to move out. Steven also had trouble settling back into his role within the family and his previous life. During his captivity, his freedoms had been unusual for a boy his age. He had been allowed to drink and smoke, including marijuana; he came and went as he wanted.

Now he was home again, the Stayners were confused when Steven didn’t fit into the 14-year-old niche they had mapped out for him. In their minds, he was still a seven-year-old boy and yet, as he said himself, he was pretty much a grown man, if not in years, in experience. His father refused all but the briefest of therapies for him, his abuse was not discussed. Delbert would shrug off suggestions of help with the outlook that Steven was dealing with his trauma adequately without outside help. He was wrong. Despite the rudimentary measures placed to prevent stigmatizing Steven’s abuse, following his return to High School, he became the target of cruel name-calling and bullying. His peers taunted him as gay, and accused him of allowing the rapes to happen. He soon dropped out.

Steven did, however, make ongoing attempts at adjusting into a normal life. He married young, to seventeen-year-old Jody Edmonton, and soon became the father of two small children, a daughter Ashley and a son, Steven Jr. He gave talks to schoolchildren about being aware of strangers. Despite small estrangements in his marriage, he continued to work at normal family life, returning to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and took employment.

On the afternoon of September 17th, 1989 at the age of 24, Steven was making his way home from his shift at the Pizza Hut on a motorbike that he had purchased with some of the money paid out from the rights to his story and its release as the TV Mini-series, when he was hit by a car driven by a migrant worker exiting a junction onto the highway, along which he was travelling. Steven was not licensed to ride the bike, nor was he wearing a helmet, his having been stolen some two months previously. Steven was taken to the local hospital where he died a short time later of head injuries.

News of his death caused a further outpouring of emotion from the nation, and from his family and others involved in his life. It was claimed that after hearing the news, Kenneth Parnell cried for the first time in many years, the last time being when he himself had been molested as a thirteen-year-old by a boarder at his mother’s lodging house. Cary Stayner, now living with his Uncle Jesse (Jerry?) who would be violently murdered the following year was devastated by the news, having never managed to develop the relationship he perhaps craved with his brother that others took for granted. He would later claim Steven’s trauma and the impact on the family unit led to his own violent behavior, culminating in the murders of four women in 1999 in the Yosemite Park area, coincidentally the location of the majority of his brother’s captivity, for which he currently awaits the death penalty. Delbert grieved openly for his son, however was able to come to terms with the tragedy in a more healthy way, stating words to the effect that “Steven has gone, this time we know where, and we know he isn’t coming back” Kay however was deeply affected by the news of her son’s death. Her daughter Jody later said that Steven was never really theirs, they only borrowed him for a short time. He was Steven as a little boy trapped inside Dennis, a man. He was only getting his life on track as Steven, when they lost him for good.

Timothy White, by now a fourteen-year-old held out that Steven was his savior, and guardian angel during his brief abduction. Following his death, Timmy acted as pall-bearer at Steven’s funeral. He too would later travel and give interviews about their experiences, and warn children of the dangers of strangers. In a cruel twist, in April 2010, now aged 35, and married with two small children of his own, Timothy White suffered a pulmonary embolism, and died. He was working at the time as a Los Angeles Deputy Sherriff.

In 2004, White had cause to be called to give evidence at a new trial for Kenneth Parnell. Following a previous stroke, Parnell was now paralysed and housebound. He had a carer and had asked her to procure a young boy for him. He offered her money. Knowing his past, his carer reported the request to the police who enlisted the carer’s help in a sting operation. Parnell gave her a list of requirements, that the boy must be small, with a clean rectum – confirming the intention that Parnell intended to rape the boy – and a birth certificate was purchased. Parnell told her he intended to raise the boy as his own, as he did with Steven and White. He wanted a family. When the police moved in to arrest Parnell, they found framed portraits of Steven and Timmy, with a blank space for son number three – his intended victim. They also found sexual aids indicative of prospective sodomy, and child pornography. Kenneth Parnell was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment on the “three strikes” mandate.

Timothy White gave evidence at Parnell’s trial, and Steven Stayner’s testament from Parnell’s earlier trial was also read out as part of the proceedings. White also came face to face with Randall Poorman that day, for the first time since his abduction. The two men hugged – White having forgiven the older man for his role in the kidnapping. He believed Poorman to be a victim of Parnell’s evil manipulation as much as he was. Parnell died in 2008 whilst in prison, of natural causes. Delbert Stayner passed away in 2013.

In 1999 a proposition was put forward to rename several local parks in the Merced area to honour outstanding citizens of the city. The Stayners suggested that one park could be called Stayner Park, in memory of Steven. Their request was denied as it was felt the name could have negative connotations as a result of their other son Cary’s recent conviction for multiple murders. Statues in Applegate and Ukiah later honoured Steven, one depicting him leading Timmy by the hand to freedom, dedicated as a beacon of hope for all abducted children, that they would return.