The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California on March 6, 1980 · 6
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California · 6

San Francisco, California
Issue Date:
Thursday, March 6, 1980
Start Free Trial

Pago 6 S.F. EXAfc.4R C Thurs., Mar. 6, 1980 Twisted Soto: a ' portrait of Kenneth -from Page 1 It themes emerge. The story of Kenneth Parnell is a story of love, both real and twisted. It is a story of a man so out of sync with the world that he dwelt in a darker one of his own making. It also is a story about families. Kenneth Parnell's family was one of thousands that climbed out of the dust of the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma in the 1930s and headed west to California, dropping over the Tehacbapis to settle in little southern San Joaquin Valley towns like Bakers-field and Arvin and Oildale. He was 7 when he came to California with his mother. His father had run out on the family two years earlier. By the time they arrived in Bakersfield, there was evidence that already something was seriously wrong with the boy. When he was only 4, a court-appointed psychiatrist would later report, Parnell tried for hours to yank out four of his teeth with his tiny fingers. Four years later, he shone a light in his eyes for so long he needed glasses to repair the damage. At 9, the psychiatrist would tell a judge after Parnell's first trouble with little boys, he contemplated ways of killing himself about once a month. Last night, in a voice that still carries the flat tone of Texas, Mary Parnell denied these black references to her son's past as "nothing but a bunch of lies " Her Kenneth, she said, was a boy who was "always singing, and he seemed to be happy. All through grade school, he got straight A's. He loved mathematics, bookwork. When he was a small child and 1 would go into town, what he'd always want me to buy him was a tablet or pencil." It is a mother's love that prompts Mary Parnell to stand by her son while the world views him as a monster, just as it led her to send him endless letters and checks right up until the time of his arrest last Sunday. "Donl buy anything you don't have to," she warned last December in a letter accompanying a $150 check. "Save all you can for an emergency. Do you like your job? Is there any chance of you getting a raise? Please drop me a line at least once a week." She did not know that her son's cabin in Manchester was rent-free and that the money apparently was needed to feed another mouth Steven Stayner, kidnapped seven years ago. "I love Kenneth," Mary Parnell declared. "I would even give my life for him. I always did the best 1 know how. I sacrificed." Somewhere, the love and sacrifice came up short By the time he reached his mid-teens, it appeared that Kenneth Parnell was in serious menial trouble and well on the way to becoming what one psychiatrist would call a "sexual psychopath." During the second of two boyhood terms in reform school, Parnell eagerly enrolled in a cooking class. Apparently, he wanted to learn how to be a cook, just like his absent dad. But his parents' breakup was permanent. The court-appointed psychiatrist said the boy tried vainly to get his divorced parents back together but was told by his mother simply to run away. At the age of 13, Parnell first became known to the police. He had started a grass fire outside of Bakers-field. He was later to tell psychiatrists at a Southern California mental hospital that he had committed the arson after being homosexually raped. According to reports from doctors who treated Parnell at Metropolitan State Hospital at Norwalk, the boy began to participate in homosexual activities when sent to the Fred C. Nellis School for Boys after stealing his first auto. Sodomy, he told the doctors, 1 "was practically normal procedure at this school." He stole another car three years later and confided to his psychatrisls that he had to combat a desire to veer into the path of approaching motorists. "I could hardly keep my hands from turning the steering wheel," he said. There were suitide attempts. He drank a bottle of disinfectant but did not harm himself. He jumped off a shed into a pile of lumber bristling with nails. "One step off," Parnell told the psychiatrists he was thinking. "li s all over. One step off, it's all over." He suffered only a punctured foot. Those are only some of the horrors, but they are enough to make it clear that the boy on the pony was not as carefree as that wide smile and jaunty tilt of the hat would Indicate. Another photograph, a snapshot of a bride and groom on their wedding day. Her name is PaLsy Jo Dorton, and she is 15 years old. She is standing, all frilly and white and smiifs, next to her can h, in front of an arrangement of crepe pajMr bunting. Hjs name is Kenneth Eugene Parnell, and on this very day he has turned 18 years old. He wears a thin smile and a dark suit and white carnation. The couple has just been married in a simple ceremony by the lU'v. K M. Fenwick, Full tonel Minister of the Sunshine Churc h of Bukersfitid. The marriage would m be put asunder. "I remember he was a weird dude anyway. The family talked about him." said Joe Goeslmg of Bakersfield, a I cousin kf the bride L Parnel "It wasnt on account of his trouble. was just that she found somebody else, she divorced him for someone else," said Mary Parnell, the groom's mother. At the point the marriage ended, four years and one daughter later, the question of why was academic. On March 20, 1951, a year and a half after his wedding, clothing store clerk Kenneth Parnell committed an act that three decades later would be considered significant to investigators looking into the abduction of two boys from Merced and Ukiah. The father of the fryear-old Bakers-field boy brought the charges, and Parnell pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge William Bradshaw, who ordered him to describe the crime in court Parnell said he had encountered a group of boys playing outside: "I asked them where they lived first. And they told me. And 1 asked them their names and they told me that. I told them 1 was a police officer and showed them a badge." He said he had purchased the gold deputy's badge at an Army surplus store, and it was enough to convince one boy that he should get into Parnell's car after Parnell told the boy he matched the description of a Youth Authority escapee. (Incidentally, on the night the two boys Parnell had allegedly kidnapped seven years apart showed up at the Ukiah police station, he had just begun his first shift as a moonlighting security guard and a badge was provided.) Parnell said he would take the boy to his mother's house, and he loaded the child's bicycle in the back of his car. Instead, he drove five miles outside of town and, after some fumbling attempts at rape, ordered the frightened boy to orally stimulate him. "The tittle boy resisted, did he not?" the judge asked. "Yes," Parnell replied. Parnell said that afterward, he briefly considered strangling the child but banished the thought "Afterward," he told psychiatrist Richard Loewenberg, who had first treated Parnell about four years earlier, "1 was so sick. 1 confessed to my wife and wanted to see you. I did not get any thrill out of it. I could hardly eat after it happened." Judge Bradshaw concluded that Parnell was "obviously a homosexual of the more or less dangerous type" and sent him off to Norwalk for evaluation. Parnell escaped twice from the mental hospital. Once, according to a psychiatric report, he was driven back to Bakersfield by his desire to see "a younger boy with whom he had no affair, but for whom he felt a real liking." The reunion led to his capture, and after his second escape, Parnell was transferred to San Quentin to serve a seven-year sentence. Three and a half years later, on April Fool's Day 1953, Parnell was paroled out of the prison system on the promise that he would seek psychiatric care. He was required to register as what law enforcement officials call "a 290" a sex offender. Parnell also w as not allowed to see his daughter. His second, but not final, attempt at a family had been ruined by the sprouting of some terrible seed within. Even though his 290 status meant that Parnell was supposed to inform the police every time he changed residences, it is not clear how he spent much of the next 15 years of his life. There are dates and locations in the records to form a skeleton of those years, but there is little meat. What is known Is this: On Oct. 25, 1955, Parnell registered in San Francisco as a sex offender, listing his address as 20 Franklin St., Apt. 510. On Dec. 8, 1955, he moved to Bakersfield. On Sept. 14, he was returned to San Quentin on a technical parole violation, serving two months before being paroled. On Dec. 13, 1956, he registered in San Francisco as a sex offender, listing the same Franklin Street address but moving into a different apartment, this Ukiah Woiked as night auditor at Palace Hotel t'l9'9-1980) Timmy White abducted (Feb. 14. taeo) Arrested and charged wi kidnapping (March 1, 1980) Arraigned (March 4, 1980) Comptche Worked as bookeeper (195 19B) Santa Rosa Worked as auditor and bookeeper in motels (1972-1975) San Quentin Imprisoned (I9ti2-1956) San Francisco Reyialered sex ottender ( 1956) Merced Steven Stayner abducted (Dec Yosemite National Park Worked as night auditor (1972) Bakersfield U.i-Jim At hnrrinnoxulll raoe (1944) Sont to Fred C. Neltis School lot stealma . rxt 1 1CMf;1 Sent to California Vocational Institute lor x Marrien faisy jo um '"-" Atidutts 8 yenr old boy. convicted ot sexual molestation, absigned to Metropolitan Stale Hospital, escapes twice (1951) My't'ed as aex oltender (1955) f 1 ! - V J " . I I v., 1 I I S $ yTT.' ir; TJ V---..-- T-mi i. in A picture to save: young Kenneth .,V I - - i m .(,;- iri W- I :7 - ! P ; v i V- v i i I V ' 1 vl - i J t 1 t r - I t Patsy Jo Dorton and Kenneth Parnell on their wedding day time No. 516. On Aug. 14 1957, he married again. This time to Emma Neoma Swaffer. a 36-year-old Oildale woman. He was 25, and on the marriage license said he lived in Oildale, too. The Rev. H.W. Hause, then a minister at the Church of God in Oildale and now in the painting business, said he "barely knew" the couple. "They didnt come to church regularly," he said. "1 believe 1 performed what I called the 'community church service' you know, for people who weren't members of the church." Hause didn't remember much about the service except that there weren't many people there and that the bride, a divorcee, lived in the "low-rent" section of Oildale. Last week, when he heard of auto ( 1945) stealma auto (1948) 11 J I P' Utah State Prison no, v i i iisei-wi X vh i , I 5 I Married tmma Neoma Swaf fer( 1957) 1 V: astride a photographer's horse Parnell's arrest the name did not ring a bell. How long the second marriage lasted is unclear, and Parnell's mother refused to talk about it After being discharged from parole in May 1959, Parnell next appeared in Salt Lake City, where he was arrested and convicted of an Aug. 22 robbery of the Nielson Brothers' service station. Records show only that he netted more than $50 in the crime. He was given five years to life and was placed in the Utah State Prison on March 3, 1961. Six years later, he was paroled on the promise he would leave the state in 24 hours and never return. And after that, Kenneth Eugene Parnell slips off the record for five years. His mother would say only that "he was not in I'tah. Arizona or California and he was working and not -5 Kenneth Parnell's troubled life Born Amenllo. Texas. Sfpt 25 1331 Albuquerque, New Mexico Arrested and returned to California (1952) Phoenix, Arizona Claimed he worked m cafe (1968-1971) Eammer g-.ipri'cs V", 1 - ' --" M in trouble." Cm one job resume, Parnell claimed he was working in a Phoenix cafe during three of the years, but checks Indicated there was no such establishment. He reappears on July 17, 1972, when he was hired as a night auditor at Yosemite Lodge, an hour's drive from the San Joaquin Valley town of Merced. The little cowboy's face has grown thick, almost rheumy, in middle age, and there is no pony in this picture. Instead, a thin, pouting boy stands beside Kenneth Parnell, their arms locked together like father and son. The color Polaroid shot sits among a boxful of keepsakes discovered in a barn across from Parnell's ramshackle cabin in Manchester. Before Sunday, if you would have asked any of Parnell's neighbors, they would have told you Parnell and the boy in the picture were just what they seemed to be father and son. There is a word for grown men who seek sexual pleasure from chiliiren: pedophile. Speaking generally, Los Angeles police detective Lloyd Martin, who heads his department's sexually exploited child unit, says that often "when a young boy has been sexually molested, his preferences are for boys the same age as he was when he was sexually molested. " He also says the love a pedophile feels for his "chicken," as the younger boys in these relations are called, "is often stronger than the love parents feel for their child. " And for the boys: "The pedophile is their best friend. Someone they confide in, toll tlwir troubles to." After it was all over, the detectives had asked young Stayner if he had been abused by by the man he called "dad." No, he replied, volunteering that he had, in fact, been "spoiled." And yet, there were other photographs in the box in the barn, taken with the same Polaroid. (Two newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, reported this wet that the pictures were nude photographs of Stayner. The Examiner learned of the photos on Sunday but had refrained from reporting their existence out of concern for the Stayner family.) Among Parnell's cache of old clothes, magazines, books and letters were other telling items. One was an old phone bill containing a record of a call made three years ago to a Garden Grove business ran by a man named Daniel M. Yert, who Miller identified as one of the nation's major peddlers of child pornography. He currently is imprsioned at San Luis Obispo, and through an intermediary told The Examiner he had never heard of any Kenneth Parnell. And, in the sparse language of a police report, this: "One pair of brown cowboy boots, one black colored leather belt, one king-sleeved plaid JC Penney shirt, one To tell the story of Kenneth Parnell, Examiner reporters reviewed public records and conducted some 70 interviews in more than a dozen cities over the past tour days. In addition to the authors ot this story, contributing staff members included: Lewis Leader, Mike Lassiter, Alan Cline, Andrew Curtin, James A Finefrock, Richard Saltus, Jim Wood, Paul Shinoft, Bill Boldenweck, Larry Maatz, Ken Wong and Lon Daniels. Photographers covering Uie story were Watt Lvott, Dave Randolph, Lee Romero, Judith Calson Rausch. Katy Raddatz, and John Gorman. pair of K ! .ft briefs, one pair of brown socks and one yellow, oranse and blue Hot Dog brand nylon Jacket These items were identified as the clothing worn by subject WHITE when he was kidnapjted ..." Valentine's Day, when Timmy White showed up In the cabin, Steven Stayner decided to bail out: The end of a Journey that had begun, police say, when he was abducted off a Merced street by Parnell and a co-worker at Yosemite, a wiry night Janitor named Ervin Murphy. For seven years, Parnell had bounced from hotel Job to hotel Job with Stayner, whom he promptly renamed Dennis ParnelL And through all the hotels and trailer parks and rented homes, all the schools and Jobs, in Santa Rosa and Willits and Comptche and Fort Bragg and Manchester, Parnell managed to hide his secret world. How? Almost without exception, those who knew the pair described Parnell as a quiet, somewhat strange man and a responsible, loving father and Stayner as a shy boy but a "real nice" boy. He sought privacy and took the boy to variety of trailer parks, which shared the back lot ambiance and transient populace common to such places. Stayner said he tried to escape only once, and then turned back when be became lost In Santa Rosa. The police who Interviewed him on the night of his flight with Timmy White said he Initially showed a reluctance to tell them where to find Parnell at the Palace Hotel They lived to hotels, houses, trailers and once even a converted bus. For two months, according to a resident of a trailer park near Fort Bragg, Parnell made yet another attempt at an ersatz family, living with an unidentified woman and her childrea But most, of all, they kept to themselves, never allowing anyone to get too closa Even Parnell's mother said she never heard of him living with anyone. Looking back, however, there were little clues dropped throughout the Odyssey that something was amiss In the relationship, something off-center. Two months after the kidnapping. Parnell registered the boy as a second grader in Santa Rosa at the Kawana Springs School School officials apparently had not seen the flier frustrated Merced detectives had sent to every grammar school in the state In an effort to find Stayner. Nor were they stopped when Parnell would not say where "Dennis" had gone to school before. "It's quite an unusual situation, but there's nothing you can do if the parents decline to say w here he has gone to school before," said district Superintendent Armando F. Florcs. At other schools, long absences or short tenures went unnoticed. An administrator at Point Arena High School, where Steven last attended school said the boy's reluctance to turn In an "emergency card" with his father's name and number on It was dismissed as teen-age irresponsibility. More recently, there were the Saturday afternoon football outings. While fathers and sons throughout the country Journeyed to stadiums in crisp fall air, Parnell and Stayner would take in televised games inside an "office" the man had rented to a converted Point Arena hotel. A store clerk said Parnell would always buy the boy a chocolate shake and plain hot dog before the games. And in the last month. Steven related, there were the entreaties by Parnell to help him pluck a second young boy off the streets of Santa Rosa. Sgt Patrick Lunney of the Merced Police Department filed his report on case No. 2)6,523 on March 4 1980. It read in part "WHITE and STAYNER had come to the station at approximately 2.'M) hrs. on &W and while STAYNER stood approximately one block away across the street the WHITE boy approached the police station at the same time as the officer was exiting the front door. This seemed to scare WHITE, at which time he turned and ran towards the STAYNER boy. The officer contacted both subjects and ascertained the identify of WHITE. "Upon questioning the other subject at UKIAH POLICE DEPARTMENT the subject stated that he was, in fact, Steven STAYNER and had been missing from Merced for seven years . . ." Kenneth Eugene Parnell was arrested a few hours later and accused of kidnapping both White and Stayner. Ervin Murphy was arrested late Tuesday night at Yosemite and booked for investigation into the Stayner kidnapping. Steven Stayner was returned to his family in Merced, where he says he wants to go out for the high school baseball team "I'm a pretty good hitter." He said he never wants to see Kenneth Parnell again, but harbors no ill will toward the man. Timmy White is home, too, seemingly oblivious to the role he played in shattering Parnell's world. On the night of her son's arrest, Mary Parnell told The Examiner it was impossible that her son had committed the kidnappings, and then she grew ill and brought in a friend to field a flood of press calls. The former Patsy Jo Dorton was said by a relative to be 45 years old and remarried, living in Newhall with an oil drilling contractor. It was not known if she had heard of Parnell's arrest

What members have found on this page

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 19,000+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the The San Francisco Examiner
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free