Back in the 1980s, the National Crime Prevention Council’s “Stranger Danger” campaign was in full effect. The term “don’t talk to strangers” became a mainstay of parenting and part of daily conversation in the family.

Staying away from an unfamiliar person was regarded as the most effective way to keep children safe. The main point of “Stranger Danger” is that all strangers must be considered potentially dangerous.

It really couldn’t be any simpler. By not talking, walking, or interacting with unknown individuals, kids were less likely to find themselves in dire situations, such as getting into a stranger’s car, falling victim to abduction, and sexual abuse.

There had been numerous kidnapping cases in the U.S. before the campaign saw nationwide acceptance. Among the most notable of them was the kidnapping of Steven Stayner in 1972.

He was on the way home from school in Merced, California, when a stranger approached him. The unknown person said he wanted to talk to the 7-year-old boy. Steven was then led to a car and went missing for the next seven years.


10 /10 Fake Representative Of Church

The 7-year-old Steven Stayner lived with his parents, Delbert and Kay Stayner, three sisters, and an older brother in Merced, California.

On December 4, 1972, a man named Ervin Murphy approached Steven when the boy was walking home from school. Murphy claimed to be a representative of the church, looking for donations.

When Steven said his mother would be willing to donate, Murphy led the boy to a car where another man was waiting. Steven would not come home until March 1980.


9 /10 Convicted Sex Offender

Murphy was often described by those who knew him well as a naïve, trusting, and simple-minded man. The other man already waiting in the car was Kenneth Parnell, a convicted sex offender.

Parnell spent his teenage years in and out of juvenile detention centers before serving time in an adult prison for misbehaving with a child.

He had convictions for impersonating a police officer and armed robbery as well. Murphy met Parnell while working at Yosemite National Park, and he believed that Parnell wanted to become a minister.

8 /10 Religious Flyers

Parnell’s method to target his victims was asking Murphy to hand out religious flyers to young boys. Steven happened to be the boy on their path that day.

As Steven entered the car, he thought the two unfamiliar men were only giving him a ride home.

He wasn’t aware of their true evil intention, which was taking him to a rented cabin in Catheys Valley, some 25 miles away from his family. For the next seven years, Parnell abused Steven psychologically and sexually.

7 /10 Dennis Parnell

During his first few days (probably weeks) – the abuse had already started since Day 2 of the kidnapping – Steven kept crying for his parents.

Parnell told the boy that his parents no longer wanted him due to financial problems. Steven was made to believe that Parnell now had legal custody, too.

Before a month went by, Steven was enrolled in Steele Lane Elementary under “Dennis Parnell.” The fake father and the kidnapped boy would move around California in hidden cabins for years to come.


6 /10 Complete Control

Parnell worked several menial jobs to provide for himself and the boy. At times, he even worked away from his hiding place, which gave Steven chances to escape, but he never did.

Steven believed he had nowhere to go; he thought that even if he had managed to escape, his parents wouldn’t have accepted him back anyway.

Brainwashing was Parnell’s method to maintain complete control of Steven. Parnell even gave Steven a dog – just another fake gesture of care.


5 /10 Timothy White

Year after year, Parnell sexually abused Steven. The time finally came when Steven was big enough that Parnell no longer found him attractive.

Parnell often asked him to help look for another boy, and Steven would sabotage those kidnapping attempts to prevent more young boys from falling victim to his abductor.

Frustrated, Parnell paid one of Steven’s friends named Sean Poorman to get the job done. The boy Poorman kidnapped was 5-year-old Timothy White on February 13, 1980.

Like what Parnell did to Steven, the brainwashing started as soon as the boy got into his car.

Salvador Maniquiz /

4 /10 Escape

Parnell was away at work on the night of March 1, 1980. This time Steven took the opportunity to escape from his confinement.

He couldn’t bear the sight of Timothy being abused the way he had always been by Parnell. It was dark and raining. Some sources suggest that Steven only wanted to take Timmy home and return to Parnell.

Steven often had to carry Timmy during the 40 miles run to Ukiah, California, where Timmy lived. However, Timmy couldn’t remember the way home, so they went to the local police station.


3 /10 I Know My First Name Is Steven

Steven told Timmy to come inside the station and told an officer his name. However, the toddler was so frightened that he ran back to Steven, sobbing.

A police officer then approached the two boys. The police later identified the older boy, who claimed to be Denis Parnell, as Steven Stayner.

Officers were convinced they had been kidnapped. Steven’s disappearance and escape became the subject of the NBC miniseries “I Know My First Name Is Steven” in May 1989.

It was nominated for four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries.

2 /10 Parnell Arrested And Sentenced

On March 2, 1980, Kenneth Parnell was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping Steven and Timothy. His accomplices, Murphy and Poorman, were also taken into custody.

Parnell was convicted of kidnapping but not of sexual assaults. He served just five years of his eight years sentence. Murphy received five years sentence but only served two years. Poorman was sentenced to serve time in a juvenile camp.

Sexual abuse charges against Parnell were dropped; it wouldn’t have added time to the sentence under the law then, anyway.


1 /10 Steven’s Later Life

After the reunion with his family, Steven had trouble adjusting to everyday life. He underwent counseling for a brief period, but there was never any additional treatment.

Other children at school bullied him for being a victim of molestation, and his relationship with his father began to deteriorate. That said, he got married and had two kids.

Steven also worked at a pizza shop in Merced. He died in a road accident when a car suddenly pulled away in front of his motorcycle, and he crashed and suffered head injuries. Steven Stayner died on September 16, 1989, at age 24.

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