On the evening of March 1, 1980, Steven Stayner made one of the biggest decisions of his 14 year old life.
He had to choose to turn his back on the former identity (a forced identity) he had been assuming over the last seven years and four months and help to save a young boy from going through the abuse he had gone through.
It is said that every journey begins with a single step, and their first step out of the one room cabin on Mountain View Road was monumental.
They headed east on Mountain View Road for a quarter of a mile when a car pulled over to give them a ride. The truck was driven by a Mexican laborer and he took the boys down the mountain into the Anderson Valley and then over the hill into the Mendocino County seat of Ukiah.
Timmy couldn’t remember where his parents lived so they went to his babysitter’s house instead. No one was home so the boys walked north on South State Street towards the Ukiah Police Station.
They passed within a block of the Palace Hotel, where Parnell was working as a night security guard. They turned right onto East Standley Street and walked the two blocks to the police station.
Steven sent Timmy to the police station alone. He opened the door to the station, got scared, and then turned back and recrossed the street to Steven. This caught the attention of the officer on duty (Offiicer Warner) and the police caught both boys and returned them to the station.
It was in one of the interrogation rooms at the Ukiah Police Station that Dennis Parnell became Steven Stayner. Uttering the now famous words: “I know my first name is Steven”.
While preparing for Parnell’s trial, a psychiatrist named Robert Wald wrote in his evaluation of Steven about the pivotal moment at the Ukiah Police Station : “It is my absolute belief that with the acknowledgement of his true identity, Steven Stayner freed himself from his state of being kidnapped . From a psychological point of view, he was still in a state of kidnap until he spoke his name, thus ending a psychic capture that lasted two thousand, six hundred forty-four days.”
Sketching notes: The featured spread is a field sketch from the shoulder of Mountain View Road of the one room cabin that was the last dwelling Steven shared with Parnell. While I was reading the account of Steven’s travails I thought that this cabin surely no longer existed and if it did, it must be so far off the road on private property making a sketch impossible. With a short search on Google maps, I found that, indeed the cabin still existed and in plain sight 15 yards from the road.
Before me was a bucolic country road and a rustic cabin surrounded by oaks and conifers. The morning was cold but a clear winter’s day. It seemed a perfect start to the day. The only ominous undercurrent was the presence of the cabin and the knowledge of what happen here in 1979 and 1980. It symbolized Steven’s prison as well as the start of his road to freedom.