Steven Stayner

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Steven Stayner
Steven Stayner.jpg
Steven Stayner giving testimony after his abduction
Born Steven Gregory Stayner
(1965-04-18)April 18, 1965
Merced, California, U.S.
Disappeared December 4, 1972 (aged 7)
Merced, California, U.S.
Status Found
Died September 16, 1989(1989-09-16) (aged 24)
Merced, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Road accident
Resting place
Merced Cemetery District
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Jody Edmondson (m. 1985; wid. 1989)
Children 2
Relatives Cary Stayner (brother)

Steven Gregory Stayner (April 18, 1965 – September 16, 1989) was an American kidnap victim. Stayner was abducted from the Northern California city and county of Merced, California at the age of seven and held until he was 14, when he escaped and rescued another victim, Timothy White, in 1980. Stayner died in 1989 in a motorcycle accident while driving home from work.

Birth and family[edit]

Stayner was the third of five children born to Delbert and Kay Stayner in Merced, California on April 18, 1965. He had three sisters and an older brother, Cary. In 2002, Cary was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of four women.


On the afternoon of December 4, 1972, Stayner was approached on his way home from school by a man named Ervin Edward Murphy, an acquaintance of Kenneth Parnell.[1] Murphy, described by those who knew him as a trusting, naïve, and simple-minded man,[1] had been enlisted by convicted child rapist Parnell (who had passed himself off as an aspiring minister to Murphy)[2][3] into helping him abduct a young boy so that Parnell could "raise him in a religious-type deal," as Murphy later stated.[3]

Acting on instructions from Parnell, Murphy passed out gospel tracts to boys walking home from school that day[3][4] and, after spotting Stayner, claimed to be a church representative seeking donations. Stayner later claimed that Murphy asked him if his mother would be willing to donate any items to the church; when the boy replied that she would, Murphy then asked Steven where he lived and if he would be willing to take Murphy to his home. After Stayner agreed, a white Buick driven by Parnell pulled up, and Stayner willingly climbed into the car with Murphy. Parnell then drove a confused Stayner to his cabin in nearby Catheys Valley instead.[4] (Unbeknownst to Stayner, Parnell's cabin was located only several hundred feet from his maternal grandfather's residence.)[5] Parnell molested Stayner for the first time early the following morning.[6]

After telling Parnell that he wanted to go home many times during his first week with the man, Parnell told Stayner that he had been granted legal custody of the boy because his parents could not afford so many children and that they did not want him anymore.[7]

Parnell began calling the boy Dennis Gregory Parnell,[8] retaining Stayner's real middle name and his real birth date when enrolling him in various schools over the next several years. Parnell passed himself off as Stayner's father, and the two moved frequently around California. He allowed Stayner to begin drinking at a young age and to come and go virtually as he pleased.[1] One of the few positive aspects of Stayner's life with Parnell was the dog he had received as a gift from Parnell, a Manchester Terrier that he named Queenie. This dog had been given to Parnell by his mother, who was not aware of Stayner's existence during the period when he was living with Parnell.

For a period of over a year, a woman named Barbara Mathias, along with one or more of her children, lived with Parnell and Stayner. She later claimed to have been completely unaware that "Dennis" had, in fact, been kidnapped.[9]


As Stayner entered puberty, Parnell began to look for a younger child to kidnap. On February 14, 1980, Parnell and a teenage friend of Stayner's named Randall Sean Poorman kidnapped five-year-old Timmy White in Ukiah, California. Motivated in part by the young boy's distress, Stayner decided to escape with him, intending to return the boy to his parents and then escape himself. On March 1, 1980, while Parnell was away at his night security job, Stayner left with White and hitchhiked into Ukiah. Unable to locate White's home address, he decided to have White 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. Stayner 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 White and Stayner in two separate trials. He was sentenced to seven years but was paroled after serving five years.[10][11] Parnell was not charged with the numerous sexual assaults on Steven Stayner and other boys because most of them 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 Parnell for the sexual assaults that occurred in their jurisdiction. This is likely due to the prosecutors' belief that they were "protecting" Stayner because rape and molestation victims were seen as "damaged goods." They may also have felt that they were respecting the Stayner parents' reluctance to discuss Parnell's crimes because of the stigma of male sexual abuse.[12] Poolman, who had helped abduct Timmy White, and Ervin Murphy were convicted of lesser charges. Both claimed they knew nothing of the sexual assaults on Steven. Barbara Mathias was never arrested.[13] Stayner 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 he believed that Murphy was as much Parnell's victim as Steven and Timmy were.[14]

Steven Stayner's kidnapping and its aftermath prompted California lawmakers to change state laws "to allow consecutive prison terms in similar abduction cases."[15]

Later life and death[edit]

Stayner married Jody Edmondson on June 13, 1985, and they had two children, a son and daughter. He never received counseling following his ordeal.

Stayner joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just before his death.[16]

On September 16, 1989, Stayner's motorcycle collided with a car that pulled into traffic from a side road. He sustained fatal head injuries, and 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)[17] or a helmet, which had been stolen days earlier. Over 500 people attended his funeral, including 14-year-old Timmy White, whom Stayner specified in his will that he wanted to be one of his pallbearers.

Media adaptations[edit]

I Know My First Name is Steven
Genre Docudrama
Directed by Larry Elikann
Produced by Kim C. Friese
Written by Mike Echols
J.P. Miller
Cynthia Whitcomb
Starring Corin Nemec
Luke Edwards
Arliss Howard
Cindy Pickett
John Ashton
Music by David Shire
Editing by David Ramirez
Peter V. White
Country United States
Language English
Original channel NBC
Original run May 21, 1989 (1989-05-21)  – May 22, 1989 (1989-05-22)
Running time 180 mins.

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.[18] The two-part miniseries was first broadcast in the USA by NBC on May 21–22, 1989.[19] Screening rights were sold to a number of international television companies including the BBC, which screened the miniseries in mid-July of the following year; later still, it was released as a feature-length movie.[20]

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,[21] including one for Corin Nemec,[22] 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, against the wishes of the Stayner family, Echols wrote an additional chapter, about Steven's older brother, convicted serial killer Cary Stayner, at the request of his publisher who then re-published the book.[23]

The title of 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);[24]

"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 [sic], and if I have a middle name, I don't know it."


Ten years after Stayner's death, the city of Merced asked its residents to propose names for city parks honoring Merced's notable citizens. Stayner's parents proposed that one be named "Stayner Park". This idea was eventually rejected and the honor was instead given to another Merced resident because Stayner's brother Cary 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.[25]

On August 28, 2010, a statue of Steven Stayner and Timmy White was dedicated in Applegate Park in Merced, California.[26] Residents of Ukiah, the hometown of Timmy White, carved a statue showing a teenage Stayner with young Timmy White in hand while escaping their captivity.[27] 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.[27]

In 2004, Kenneth Parnell, then 72 years of age, 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. Timmy White, then a grown man, was subpoenaed to testify in Parnell's criminal trial. Although Stayner was dead, Stayner's testimony at Parnell's earlier trial was read to jurors as evidence in Parnell's 2004 trial.[28] 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.[29]

Timmy White later became a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Deputy. He died on April 1, 2010, at age 35 from pulmonary embolism. White was survived by his wife, Dena, and two young children, as well as by his mother, father, and sister.[30]

Steven's father, Delbert Stayner, died on April 9, 2013 at his home in Winton, California. He was 79 years old.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Echols, Mike (October 1991). I Know My First Name Is Steven. Pinnacle. ISBN 0-7860-1104-1. 
  2. ^ Echols 1991, p. 72
  3. ^ a b c Echols 1991, p. 87
  4. ^ a b Echols 1991, p. 42
  5. ^ Echols 1991, p. 95
  6. ^ Echols 1991, p. 48
  7. ^ Echols 1991, pp. 91-92
  8. ^ Echols 1991, p. 91
  9. ^ David Peterson (March 21, 1980). "Kidnap victim reunites with 'mystery woman'". St. Petersburg Times, United Press International. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  10. ^ "Alleged attempt to buy child leads to arrest of kidnapper". CNN. January 4, 2003. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  11. ^ Steven Stayner, serial killer Cary Stayner's brother, was abducted for 7 years - Crime Library on
  12. ^ "Inside the Monster". East Bay Express. January 15, 2003. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  13. ^ pages 250 through 291, I Know My First Name is Steven, Mike Echols, 1999, Pinnacle Books, ISBN 0-7860-1104-1
  14. ^ page 291, I Know My First Name is Steven, Mike Echols, 1999, Pinnacle Books, ISBN 0-7860-1104-1
  15. ^ Ramirez, Jessica. "The Abductions That Changed America", Newsweek, January 29, 2007, pp. 54–55.
  16. ^ Mormon News for WE 01Aug99: Stayner family's woeful history
  17. ^ Mike Echols (1999). I Know My First Name Is Steven. Pinnacle Books. p. 303. ISBN 0-7860-1104-1. 
  18. ^ Elenor Blua. New York Times May 22, 1989
  19. ^ A.P syndicated report printed in the New York Times September 18, 1989
  20. ^ I Know My First Name is Steven at the Internet Movie Database
  21. ^ Internet Movie Database
  22. ^ Corky Nemec official web site
  23. ^ Article by Tim Bragg (staff writer) printed in the Merced Sun-Star newspaper, Aug. 1999.
  24. ^ page 212 "I Know My First Name is Steven", Mike Echols, 1999, Pinnacle Books, ISBN ISBN 0-7860-1104-1
  25. ^ MacGowan, Douglas. "The Lost Boy", CourtTV's Crime Library
  26. ^ Patton, Victor A. (August 30, 2010). "Statue honors Steven Stayner's legacy". Merced Sun-Star. Retrieved March 27, 2012. 
  27. ^ a b Steven Stayner memorial
  28. ^ "'Steven' kidnapper convicted". CNN. February 9, 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  29. ^ "Kenneth Parnell, kidnapper of Steven Stayner, dies at 76", San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 22, 2008
  30. ^ [1][dead link]

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