Birthday: April 18, 1965
Died At Age: 24
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Steven Gregory Stayner
Born in: Merced, California, United States
Famous as: Kidnap Victim
Spouse/Ex-: Jody Edmondson (m. 1985–1989)
father: Delbert Stayner
mother: Kay Stayner
siblings: Cary Stayner, Cory Stayner
children: Ashley Stayner, Steven Stayner Jr.
Died on: September 17, 1989
Cause of Death: Accident
U.S. State: California
Steven Stayner was an American kidnap victim who was abducted at the age of seven from Merced, California by child molester Kenneth Parnell and his accomplice Ervin Edward Murphy. His captor convinced him that his parents had legally handed him over to him, which probably played a significant role in the boy's inability to take advantage of opportunities to escape despite being free to go out. As he entered puberty, Parnell, who often sexually abused him, even tried to use him as an accomplice in kidnapping other younger boys. However, all those attempts failed, as according to Stayner, he intentionally sabotaged many of those attempts. After Parnell successfully abducted a five-year-old Timothy White, Stayner determined to return him to his parents and escaped with him. While Parnell was arrested and was awarded prison sentence, Murphy, who claimed that he did not know anything about sexual abuse, was given less severe punishment.
Childhood & Early Life
Steven Gregory Stayner was born on April 18, 1965 in Merced, California, to Delbert and Kay Stayner. He was third of five children of his parents and had an elder brother Cary and three sisters.
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At the age of seven, Steven Stayner was kidnapped on the afternoon of December 4, 1972 by Kenneth Parnell, who had previously been convicted for sodomizing a young boy and for armed robbery in Utah. For the abduction, he enlisted the help of naïve and simple-minded Ervin Edward Murphy by pretending to be an aspiring minister who needed a young boy to "raise him in a religious-type deal".
Murphy, who was instructed to distribute gospel tracts to school boys, approached Steven Stayner, claiming to be a church representative and asked him if his mother would be willing to donate anything to the church. Young Stayner replied that his mother would donate, following which Murphy asked for his address and offered to accompany him to his house, to which he agreed.
Soon after, Parnell reached there, driving a white Buick, which Stayner got into willingly, along with Murphy, but instead of his home, he was taken to a cabin in nearby Catheys Valley. Parnell, a sex offender, molested him the very first night, and began raping him thirteen days later, on December 17, 1972.
Throughout the first week, Stayner repeatedly told Parnell that he wanted to go home, to which, Parnell told him that he had been granted legal custody of him by his parents. He also convinced the little boy that his parents could not afford raising so many children and as such did not want him anymore.
Parnell created a new identity for Stayner, giving him the new name, Dennis Gregory Parnell, but retained his original middle name and his original date of birth. He was not kept in captivity, and in the following years, was enrolled into a number of schools where Parnell identified himself as his father.
Parnell shifted from one place to another for work, often took Stayner with him, but later sometimes left him alone and unguarded. However, the young boy could not take advantage of those opportunities as he was reportedly unaware how to summon help.
Stayner had a relaxed upbringing as his captor not only allowed him to roam freely wherever he wished to go, but also allowed him to start drinking at a very early age. During this time, he had grown very fond of his pet dog Queenie, a Manchester Terrier; Parnell’s mother has given the dog to Parnell.
Parnell had been with a woman named Barbara Mathias for a period of one and half years, during which they reportedly forced Stayner into sexual activities at least nine times. Mathias also helped Parnell in the abduction of another boy who was in the Santa Rosa Boys' Club with Stayner, but the attempt was unsuccessful.
On February 14, 1980, Parnell employed Randall Sean Poorman, a teenage friend of Stayner, to abduct a five-year-old Timothy "Timmy" White in Ukiah, California. Realizing how the young boy would suffer at the hands of his captor, Stayner decided to return Timmy to his parents.
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On March 1, 1980, two weeks after Timothy White was abducted, as Parnell went on duty at his night security job, Steven Stayner left the house with Timmy and hitchhiked a ride to Ukiah. After he failed to find Timmy's parents, he decided to lead the young boy into the police station to get help, as he was not attempting an escape for himself.
Fortunately, the police spotted him as well and detained both of them, following which he revealed his identity and narrated his own story. The next day, on March 2nd, both the boys were reunited with their respective families and Parnell was arrested.
In 1981, Parnell was tried and convicted of kidnapping both White and Stayner in two separate trials and was sentenced to seven years in jail, even though he was released on parole after five years. However, he was not charged for sexual assault as the prosecutors believed they were 'protecting' Stayner from the social stigma of male sexual abuse.
Personal Life & Legacy
Returning home, Steven Stayner felt that his parents were still treating him as their seven-year-old child, and had trouble adjusting as he no more had the freedom to smoke, drink, or do whatever he wanted. He was mocked at school, which caused him to drop out, and after he began drinking more often, he was kicked out of his parental house.
He married 17-year-old Jody Edmondson in 1985 and together, they had two children, Ashley and Steven, Jr. While he still blamed himself for his abduction, starting a family helped him cope with his past, and he began interacting with child abduction groups and provided advice to children on the topic.
In early 1989, he helped in the production of a miniseries on his life, 'I Know My First Name is Steven', which was initially broadcast on NBC in May that year. Mike Echols, who wrote the manuscript for the series, later published a book with the same title in 1991.
During this time, he was working at Pizza Hut and later joined 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'. On September 17, 1989, he succumbed to head injuries after being involved in a car accident while returning home from work in his motorcycle. At his funeral on September 20, a 14-year-old Timmy White was one of the pallbearers.
In 1999, a proposal to name a park after him was rejected as the officials feared that 'Stayner Park' may point to his brother Cary, who had just confessed to killing four women in Yosemite. After Timothy White, who had become a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Deputy, died from pulmonary embolism in 2010, a statue of Stayner and White was built in Applegate Park in Merced, California.
The title of the TV series and the book on Steven Stayner, 'I Know My First Name is Steven', was inspired by a line in his official police statement given after being rescued. He also had a small, speechless role in the TV series as one of two policemen who escort his 14-year-old self to his onscreen parents.