Steven Stayner PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 28 August 2009 11:50 Gregory Stayner

Born: April 18, 1965, Merced, California

Died: September 16, 1989, Merced, California

Age: 24

Cause of death: Motorcycle accident

Notable because:  Abducted by pedophile Kenneth Parnell at age 7 and held captive until his escape at age 14. His brother became a convicted serial killer.

Steven  Stayner  was a Central California resident of the city and county of Merced, California, who was abducted at the age of seven and held until the age of 14, when he escaped and rescued another victim, Timmy White, in 1980. Nine years later, Stayner was struck while driving home from work on his motorcycle and died in 1989.

Steven was born the third of five children of Delbert and Kay Stayner in Merced, California. Steven had three sisters; his older brother is the convicted serial killer Cary Stayner.

On the afternoon of December 4, 1972, Steven Stayner was approached by Kenneth Parnell while walking home from school. Although Steven had been told not to speak to strangers, he thought the man was nice, and believing Parnell to be the pastor of a church, he thought it was safe. Steven accepted an offer of a ride home. Parnell took Steven to his cabin which, unknown to Steven, was located only several hundred feet from Steven's grandfather's residence.

Steven found several toys in the cabin, and told Parnell he was going to give them to his sisters and brother when he went home. After telling Parnell he wanted to go home many times, Parnell said he wasn't going to let him go back. Parnell's accomplice in the abduction was Edward Ervin Murphy, an employee of Yosemite National Park. Parnell molested Steven that first night.

Parnell began calling the boy Dennis Gregory Parnell, telling people that he was his son. "Dennis" and Parnell moved frequently around California, with Parnell enrolling him into a series of schools. He allowed Steven to begin smoking at a young age. One of the few positive aspects of Steven's life with Parnell was his dog, a Manchester Terrier whom Steven named Queenie. This dog had been given to Parnell by his mother, who was not aware of "Dennis's" existence during the period Steven was living with Parnell.

As Steven entered puberty, 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. This is likely due to the prosecutors' belief that they were "protecting" Steven because "rape and molestation victims" were seen as "damaged goods." They may also have felt they were respecting the Stayner parents' reluctance to discuss Parnell's crimes, because of the stigma of male sexual abuse. Murphy and 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. Steven remembered the kindness "Uncle" Murphy had shown him in his first week of captivity while they were both under the influence of Parnell's manipulation, and believed Murphy to be as much Parnell's victim as Steven and Timmy were.

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 married Jody Edmondson on June 13, 1985, and they went on to have two children, a son and daughter.

On September 16, 1989, Steven's motorcycle collided with a car that pulled into traffic from a side road. Steven received head injuries that proved fatal; he died at the Merced Community Medical Center shortly thereafter. He was driving without a license (suspended for a third time because of excessive traffic violations) or a helmet, which had been stolen days earlier. Over 500 people attended his funeral, including then-14-year-old Timmy White, who helped carry Steven's coffin into the church. Steven had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just before his death.

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 Nemec) through the crowds to his waiting family, on his return to his Merced home. Although pleased with the dramatization, Steven did complain that it depicted him as a somewhat "obnoxious, rude" person, especially toward his parents, something he refuted while publicizing the miniseries in the Spring of 1989. The two-part miniseries was first broadcast in the USA by NBC May 21-22, 1989. Screening rights were sold to a number of international television companies including the BBC, who screened the miniseries in mid-July of the following year; later still, it was released as a feature-length movie.

The production was based on a manuscript by Mike Echols, who had researched the story and interviewed Stayner and Parnell, among others. After the premiere of I Know My First Name is Steven, which won four Emmy Award nominations, including one for Corin Nemec, Mike Echols published his book I Know My First Name is Steven in 1991. In the epilogue to his book, Echols describes how he infiltrated NAMBLA.

In 1999, much to the disgust of the Stayner family, Mike Echols wrote an additional chapter, about Cary Stayner, at the request of his publisher who then re-published the book.

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 March 2, 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."

Ten years after Steven's death, the city of Merced asked its residents to propose names for city parks honoring Merced's notable citizens. Steven's parents proposed that one be named "Stayner Park". This idea was eventually rejected and the honor given to another Merced resident because Steven's brother Cary Stayner confessed to, and was charged with, the 1999 Yosemite multiple murders, amid fears that the name "Stayner Park" would be associated with Cary rather than Steven. Efforts still exist to create a statue in Merced in Steven's honor. However, residents of Ukiah, the hometown of Timmy White, carved a statue showing a teenage Stayner carrying a young Timmy White while escaping their captivity. Fundraisers for the statue have stated that it is meant to honor Steven Stayner and give families of missing and kidnapped children hope that they are still alive.

In 2004, Kenneth Parnell, then seventy-two, was convicted of trying the previous year to persuade his nurse to procure for him a young boy for five hundred dollars. The nurse, aware of Parnell's past, reported this to local police. The child Parnell attempted to kidnap and molest was nonexistent. Timmy White, now a full-grown man, was subpoenaed to testify in Parnell's criminal trial. Although Stayner was dead, a written statement he made before his death was used as evidence in Parnell's 2004 trial. Kenneth Parnell died of natural causes on January 21, 2008, at the California State Prison Hospital in Vacaville, California, while serving a 25-years-to-life sentence


 Cary StaynerBrother - Cary Stayner

Last Updated on Friday, 28 August 2009 12:01

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