Richard Schoenfeld took 26 schoolchildren and their bus driver hostage in 1976

Richard Schoenfeld took 26 schoolchildren and their bus driver hostage in 1976 (CDC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Thirty-six years ago, three men kidnapped a bus full of schoolchildren for ransom before entombing them in a San Joaquin Valley rock quarry.

The 1976 crime has become part of California lore -- and many of those in the small town of Chowchilla, where it happened, thought those responsible would stay behind bars for life.

But on Wednesday, one of the three kidnappers was released from prison.

Richard Allen Schoenfeld, 58, was released on parole to an undisclosed location after serving more than 35-years in state prison.

He will be monitored 24 hours a day with a global positioning device.

A spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Schoenfeld's release became necessary after the state Supreme Court decided not to intercede in a lower courtÂ’s decision to release Schoenfeld.

The state parole board had initially hoped to keep him behind bars at least until 2021, but the appellate court deemed the boardÂ’s formula of two years for every victim unfair.

Schoenfeld, the youngest of the three kidnappers, went to prison at age 22.

He along with his brother, James Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver on July 15, 1976, buried them alive in a rock quarry in Livermore, Calif., and then planned to demand a $5 million ransom.

The kidnappers made each victim climb down a ladder into a buried moving van equipped with two air tubes.

Along one wall were dirty mattresses and containers of water.

The men then poured dirt over the van.

All of the victims survived despite about 16 hours underground.

Frank Edward Ray, the school bus driver hailed as a hero for helping lead the children to safety after 16 hours underground, died May 17 at the age of 91 in Chowchilla.