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Stayner's kidnapper dies in prison at 76

Kenneth Eugene Parnell, the man who kidnapped 7-year-old Steven Stayner only blocks from his Merced home 35 years ago, has died in a prison medical facility. He was 76.

A second-grader at Charles Wright School when he was abducted Dec. 4, 1972, Stayner lived a nomadic life with the convicted sex offender for more than seven years until he escaped in Ukiah with another abductee, 5-year-old Timmie White.

The 14-year-old Stayner was returned to his parents, Kay and Delbert Stayner, in March 1980; he finished school, married and had a child before dying in a 1989 motorcycle accident near Merced. The Stayners did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment on Parnell's death.

Parnell died Monday of natural causes at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Paroled 11 years after his conviction in the Stayner-White abductions, he was serving 25 years to life after he later tried to persuade a caregiver to buy a 4-year-old boy for him for $500.

It was Parnell's abduction of Timmie White on Feb. 14, 1980, that prompted Stayner to leave the remote one-room cabin on a Manchester sheep ranch, between Ukiah and the Northern California coast, and hitchhike into Ukiah, where police discovered the two boys late that Saturday night looking into a downtown thrift store.

Harold T. Kulbeth, Merced's police chief from 1964 to 1984, said he was surprised Parnell lived as long as he did, in prison and outside.

"I can't say I'm sad about his passing," Kulbeth said. "This brings up sad memories for the family, and they won't lose sleep that he is gone."

Parnell, the victim of a homosexual rape at age 13, had harbored the boy he lured off the street for seven years and three months, posing as his father and moving from place to place. He was working as a desk clerk at the Palace Hotel in downtown Ukiah when Stayner escaped with White.

Stayner told authorities at the time he didn't want the youngster to experience the things he endured when he was abducted.

After his return, Stayner was the subject of constant media attention, including a book and a made-for-television movie. Known as Dennis Parnell when he lived in Northern California, Stayner was a student at Point Arena High School. He said he once saw a missing poster of himself.

Dave Knutsen, a retired Merced Police Department commander who was heavily involved in initial stages of the Stayner abduction case, said Parnell "got what he deserved."

"I have no use for that type of individual," Knutsen said. "I'm glad he couldn't do anything to anybody else, with the lives he wrecked and what Steven's parents went through." Knutsen retired in 1993 after 33 years with the force.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485. M.S. Enkoji of the Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.