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Steve Greg Stayner
Born April 18, 1965(1965-04-18)
Merced, California
Died September 16, 1989 (aged 24)
Merced, California

Steve Greg Stayner (April 18, 1965 – September 16, 1989) 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, Timothy White, in 1980. Stayner died in 1989 in an accident while riding home from work on his motorcycle.


Birth and family

Steve 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. Steve accepted an offer of a ride home. Parnell took Steve to his cabin which, unknown to Steve, was located only several hundred feet from Steve's residence.

Steve 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 molested Steve that first night.

Parnell began calling the boy Dennis Greg 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.

For a period of over a year a woman named Barbie Mathias, and one or more of her children, lived with Parnell and "Dennis." She later claimed to have been completely unaware that "Dennis" had, in fact, been kidnapped [1].


As Steve entered puberty, Parnell began to look for a younger child to kidnap. On February 14, 1980, Parnell and one of Steve's high school buddies named Randy, kidnapped five-year-old Tim 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.[2][3] 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.[4] Murphy and Randall 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.[5] 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.[6]

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."[7]

Life afterward

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[8]) 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.[9]

Media adaptations

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.[10] The two-part miniseries was first broadcast in the USA by NBC May 21-22, 1989.[11] 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.[12]

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,[13] including one for Corin Nemec,[14] 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.[15]

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);[16]

"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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

Further reading

  • I Know My First Name Is Steven, by Mike Echols. Pinnacle Books, New York. 1999. ISBN 0786011041

See also


  1. ^ "Kidnap victim reunites with 'mystery woman'". St. Petersburg Times, United Press International. March 21, 1980.,5549981. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  2. ^ "Alleged attempt to buy child leads to arrest of kidnapper". CNN. January 4, 2003. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  3. ^ Steven Stayner, serial killer Cary Stayner's brother, was abducted for 7 years - Crime Library on
  4. ^ "Inside the Monster". East Bay Express. January 15, 2003. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  5. ^ pages 250 through 291, I Know My First Name is Steven, Mike Echols, 1999, Pinnacle Books, ISBN 0 7860 1104 1
  6. ^ page 291, I Know My First Name is Steven, Mike Echols, 1999, Pinnacle Books, ISBN 0 7860 1104 1
  7. ^ Ramirez, Jessica. "The Abductions That Changed America", Newsweek, January 29, 2007, pp. 54–55.
  8. ^ page 303 I Know My First Name Is Steven, Mike Echols, 1999, Pinnacle Books, ISBN ISBN 0 7860 1104 1
  9. ^
  10. ^ Elenor Blua. New York Times May 22, 1989
  11. ^ A.P syndicated report printed in the New York Times September 18, 1989
  12. ^ I Know My First Name is Steven at the Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ Corky Nemec official web site
  15. ^ Article by Tim Bragg (staff writer) printed in the Merced Sun-Star newspaper, Aug. 1999.
  16. ^ page 212 "I Know My First Name is Steven", Mike Echols, 1999, Pinnacle Books, ISBN ISBN 0 7860 1104 1
  17. ^ MacGowan, Douglas. "The Lost Boy", CourtTV's Crime Library
  18. ^ a b Steven Stayner memorial
  19. ^ "'Steven' kidnapper convicted". CNN. February 9, 2004. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  20. ^ "Kenneth Parnell, kidnapper of Steven Stayner, dies at 76", San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 22, 2008

External links

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