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For week ended August 01, 1999 Posted 7 Aug 1999

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Stayner family's woeful history

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Stayner family's woeful history
San Francisco Examiner 26Jul99 L5
By Zachary Coile and Matthew Yi: Examiner Staff

MERCED, CALIFORNIA -- When an FBI agent called Assistant Sheriff Henry Strength on Saturday morning looking for a criminal record of a possible suspect in the murders at Yosemite, he asked for the name Cary Stayner. Knowing the name sounded familiar, Sheriff Strength went to work. He had been a young patrol officer in l972 when 7-year-old Steven Stayner was kidnapped from the streets of Merced only returning home on Valentine's Day of 1980, when he walked into a Ukiah police station along with another 5-year-old abductee, Timothy White.

Steven Stayner was an instant hero and the l4-year-old later became the subject of the NBC miniseries "I Know My First Name Is Steven." "It was a shock," Strength said. Steven's brother, Cary, 37, was the prime suspect in the killing of a Yosemite naturalist and an FBI prime suspect in several other murders.

Shock was a familiar reaction to residents of Merced, a San Joaquin Valley city 100 miles from San Francisco. It was here that Steven Stayner was considered a hero for escaping from a child molester in l980. He later joined the LDS Church, married and had two children, only to die at age 24 in a motorcycle accident, nine years after he escaped.

When 7-year-old Steven was approached by Ukiah hotel clerk Kenneth Parnell, the boy was asked if he wanted to donate something to a church. "I said, 'Well, yeah. I think my mom might donate something.'" Steven told authorities years later. "He said, 'OK,' and gave me these booklets and he asked me if I wanted a ride home." "And I said, 'Well, it's just a little ways, I can walk.'" "He goes,'OK. Don't worry. I'll just give you a ride home.' "And I go," 'Well, OK,' "and so I got in the car."

This began the seven-year nightmare in which Parnell held and sexually molested Steven. He forced the boy to call him "Dad", telling him that he was no longer wanted by his parents.

Years later after returning home and putting his life back together, Steven Stayner married at age 24. With two children, he and his family joined the Mormon Church. Assistant Sheriff Strength said Stayner was on the waiting list for a job as a county jail guard.

On September 20, 1989, Steven was riding his new Kawasaki motorcycle without a helmet in the rain. He skidded trying to avoid a car and fatally struck his head. After Steven's death, his parents sold the family home and moved.

"They did mention about finally getting a chance to get out of here," said Ennis Mayberry, 36, who bought the house from the Stayner 10 years ago. "They said they wanted to get away and wash away some bad memories."

In December of 1990 the family was dealt another blow, but not its last. Jesse "Jerry" Stayner, 42, Cary and Steven's uncle, was shot to death in his Merced home. The murder remains unsolved.

"I was just talking to someone about this. We were talking about the Kennedy family, and all the bad things that have happened to them," Sherriff Strength said. "Then you have Steven Stayner get kidnapped, and then he comes back and gets killed in a motorcycle accident. Then his uncle gets killed in a homicide. And now this. It happens to all families, I guess."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information