Steven Stayner was the middle child and youngest son to Del and Kay Stayner. He was born April 18, 1965 in Merced, California.
Del worked as a mechanic at a local cannery and Kay was a homemaker. Steven had three sisters and one older brother, Cary.
The first home Steven loved was a farmhouse in an almond orchard just 20 miles north of Merced but after his father’s attempt at farming and holding down his job at the cannery failed, the Stayner family moved into a smaller home on Bette Street in the southeastern part of Merced. (The featured sketch is the Stayner family home at 1655 Bette Street).
Young Steven attended Charles Wright Elementary School just northwest across the Central Yosemite Highway (Highway 140) from the family home. Mrs. Walsh was his second grade teacher in the fall of 1972.
The day before his kidnapping, Steven had gotten in trouble for writing his name on the side of the garage at Bette Street. This was later to have a much deeper meaning as Steven was to change his identity and leave the Steven Stayner, the second grader of Merced, far behind. (His father never erased or painted over the signature hoping it would help identify the house should Steven ever return).
On December 4, 1972, Steven made his last walk home as a student of Charles Wright Elementary. He crossed highway 140 at Highlands Drive and at the Red Ball Gas Station at Jean Street, he was approached by a man handing out religious pamphlets.
Steven Stayner was a mere four blocks from home.
The stranger asked if his mother would help with donations for the church. This must have made sense to young Steven because there was a church a quarter of a block west from the gas station. He was then asked if he wanted a ride to his house so he could collect donations. That’s when the white Buick pulled up.
The driver was Kenneth Parnell, a night bookkeeper at the Yosemite Lodge and a convicted sexual offender. Steven got into the wrong car. A decision that would change Steven and the Stayner family forever.
Parnell turned right onto Highway 140 and passed Shirley Street, the street that Steven would have walked down to return to his home.
He would not return to 1655 Bette Street for another seven years and four months.
Sketching notes: the feature sketch of the Stayner house is based on a photograph I took. While the Stayners have not lived in this house for over 40 years I wanted to respect the neighborhood’s privacy and not become one of the Stayner gawkers that must visit this house on a somewhat regular basis.
I tried to paint the house in the way it might have looked when Steven returned here for the first time in seven years, on the evening of March 2, 1980. The house was painted pea green. I included the “Welcome Home Steve!” sign that was hung across the front window and I added the Steven’s signature on the side of the garage.
I looked at the specs of the 1955 three bedroom, two bath, 1,220 square foot house on a real estate website. The house on Bette Street is currently valued at $ 321,882 and it’s noted that it is a “home with loads of potential”, which is code for a “real fixer upper”. What is not noted on the website is fact that the Stayner family ever lived here.