January 29, 2008

Notorious pedophile dies in prison

Kenneth Parnell, one of California's most infamous child molesters, died Monday night of natural causes, bringing to a close a strange and warped story in the annals of pedophilia.

I recall Parnell's trial vividly, as it was top news back in 1981, when I was a journalism student. I even wrote a term paper analyzing coverage of the case. Parnell was convicted of abducting 7-year-old Steven Stayner and keeping the boy confined for more than 7 years, until his escape in 1980.

Stayner became something of a hero for freeing Parnell’s next would-be victim, 5-year-old Timmy White. But Stayner went on to tragedy, dying in a motorcycle accident in 1989.

Stranger yet, Stayner's brother Cary Stayner went on to become a serial killer of women in Yosemite National Park; he's currently on San Quentin's Death Row.

(A little stream of consciousness here - I was just over at San Quentin this morning, and happened to observe filming of an upcoming Clint Eastwood movie, "The Changeling," about the bizarre events surrounding a man sentenced to hang for the murder-rape-kidnaps of little boys back in the 1920s. Very cool vintage taxi they had driving up and down by the main prison gate; I believe star Angelina Jolie will be riding in it in the movie, although neither she nor Eastwood were in evidence at the prison today.)

Anyway, back to the Parnell case. After serving his time, Parnell was paroled to Berkeley. A sickly and doddering 71-year-old, in 2004 he tried to buy a 4-year-old child from his caretaker for yet another round of child molestation. So much for the hope that old age and infirmity automatically preclude sexual reoffending.

"Kenneth Parnell's death brings to a close his long criminal history of victimizing young children," said Alameda County deputy district attorney Tim Wellman, who prosecuted Parnell in the 2004 case.

He died at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville after a long illness.

The Crime Library has a detailed case history; Wikipedia also has a biography.