Steven Stayner

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Merced, California
Birth Sign
Merced, California

Steven Stayner was a child abductee from Merced, California at the age of seven by child molester Kenneth Parnell and his accomplice Ervin Edward Murphy. His captor convinced him that his parents had legally surrendered him to him, which likely contributed significantly to the boy’s inability to exploit escape opportunities despite being free to leave. As he approached puberty, Parnell attempted to use him as an accomplice in kidnapping other younger boys. All of those attempts, however, failed, as Stayner claimed he purposefully sabotaged several of them. After Parnell abducted Timothy White, five, Stayner was determined to return him to his parents and fled with him. While Parnell was arrested and sentenced to prison, Murphy, who claimed ignorance of sexual abuse, received a less severe punishment.

Childhood & Adolescence

Steven Gregory Stayner was born in Merced, California, on April 18, 1965, to Delbert and Kay Stayner. He was the third of his parents’ five children, with an older brother, Cary, and three sisters.

Abduction of Steven

Steven Stayner was kidnapped on the afternoon of December 4, 1972, at the age of seven by Kenneth Parnell, who had previously been convicted in Utah of sodomizing a young boy and armed robbery. He enlisted the assistance of naive and simple-minded Ervin Edward Murphy for the abduction by posing as an aspiring minister in need of a young boy to “raise him in a religious-type deal.”

Murphy approached Steven Stayner, claiming to be a church representative, and asked if his mother would consider making a donation to the church. When young Stayner responded that his mother would donate, Murphy requested his address and offered to accompany him to his house, which he accepted.

Soon after, Parnell arrived in a white Buick, which Stayner and Murphy willingly entered, but he was taken to a cabin in nearby Catheys Valley instead of his home. Parnell, a convicted felon, molested him on the first night and began raping him thirteen days later, on December 17, 1972.

Throughout the first week, Stayner expressed his desire to return home repeatedly to Parnell, who informed him that he had been granted legal custody of him by his parents. He also convinced the small child that his parents could no longer afford to raise so many children and thus no longer desired him.

Parnell renamed Stayner Dennis Gregory Parnell, but retained his original middle name and birth date. He was not imprisoned and was enrolled in a number of schools in the following years, where Parnell identified himself as his father.

Parnell moved around for work, frequently taking Stayner with him, but later leaving him alone and unguarded. However, the young boy was reportedly unable to take advantage of those opportunities because he was unaware of how to summon assistance.

Stayner grew up in a carefree environment, as his captor not only allowed him to roam freely, but also allowed him to begin drinking at a very young age. During this time, he developed a strong attachment to his pet dog Queenie, a Manchester Terrier; the dog was a gift from Parnell’s mother.

Parnell had a one-and-a-half-year relationship with a woman named Barbara Mathias, during which they allegedly coerced Stayner into sexual activity at least nine times. Mathias also assisted Parnell in attempting to abduct another boy who was a member of the Santa Rosa Boys’ Club with Stayner, but the attempt failed.

On February 14, 1980, Parnell hired Randall Sean Poorman, a teenage friend of Stayner, to kidnap Timothy “Timmy” White, age five, in Ukiah, California. Stayner decided to return Timmy to his parents after observing the young boy’s suffering at the hands of his captor.

Escape of Steven

On March 1, 1980, two weeks after Timothy White was abducted, Steven Stayner left the house with Timmy and hitchhiked to Ukiah while Parnell was on duty at his night security job. After failing to locate Timmy’s parents, he decided to take the young boy to the police station for assistance, as he was not attempting his own escape.

Fortunately, the police also noticed him and arrested both of them, at which point he revealed his identity and recounted his own story. The following day, March 2, both boys were reunited with their families, while Parnell was arrested.

Parnell was tried and convicted of kidnapping White and Stayner in 1981, and was sentenced to seven years in prison, despite the fact that he was released on parole after five years. He was not charged with sexual assault, however, because prosecutors felt they were ‘protecting’ Stayner from the social stigma associated with male sexual abuse.

Personal History and Legacies

When Steven Stayner returned home, he felt as though his parents were still treating him as their seven-year-old child, and he struggled to adjust to the fact that he no longer had the freedom to smoke, drink, or do whatever he pleased. He was mocked at school, which caused him to drop out, and he was kicked out of his parental home after he began drinking more frequently.

In 1985, he married Jody Edmondson, a 17-year-old, and the couple had two children, Ashley and Steven, Jr. While he continued to blame himself for his abduction, starting a family helped him cope with his past, and he began interacting with child abduction groups and counseling children.

He assisted in the production of a miniseries about his life, ‘I Know My First Name is Steven,’ which premiered on NBC in May 1989. Mike Echols, the author of the series’s manuscript, later published a book of the same title in 1991.

He worked at Pizza Hut during this time and later joined ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’. On September 17, 1989, he died from head injuries sustained in a car accident while riding his motorcycle home from work. Timmy White, 14, was one of the pallbearers at his funeral on September 20.

In 1999, a proposal to name a park after him was rejected out of concern that the name ‘Stayner Park’ might allude to his brother Cary, who had recently confessed to the murder of four women in Yosemite. After Timothy White, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy, died in 2010 of a pulmonary embolism, a statue of Stayner and White was erected in Merced, California’s Applegate Park.

Estimated Net Worth

The net worth of Steven is$1.5million.


‘I Know My First Name is Steven’, the title of the television series and book about Steven Stayner, was inspired by a line in his official police statement following his rescue. He also had a brief, speechless role in the television series as one of two police officers who accompany his 14-year-old self to his on-screen parents.