Authors: Mike Echols
Mary Parnell had hired private attorney Wiley C. Dorris to represent her son. Mr. Dorris felt that since Parnell had already testified extensively as to his guilt, the only course was for his client to agree to be bound over to Kern County Superior Court and once there plead guilty. Parnell was bound over, but nine days
later Mary bonded her son out of jail by paying $50 to the National Automobile and Casualty Insurance Company to write his $5,000 bond.
On April 20, 1951, Parnell appeared before Kern County Superior Court Judge William L. Bradshaw and formally pled guilty to a lesser charge, "the crime of felony, to wit: lewd and lascivious conduct on and with the body, members and private parts of a male child under the age of fourteen years." Judge Bradshaw then canceled Parnell's bond and ordered him held in the Kern County Jail for examination by three psychiatrists: Dr. Louis R. Nash of Camarillo State Hospital, Dr. Richard D. Lowenberg of Bakersfield, and Dr. Joseph E. Brackley, also of Bakersfield. (Dr. Lowenberg had examined Parnell on six previous occasions, beginning with Parnell's stay in the Bakersfield Juvenile Hall as a thirteen-year-old in 1945.)
Dr. Nash drove the six-hour round trip from Camarillo on May 1, spending almost two hours interviewing Parnell. On May 4, Dr. Brackley devoted a similar amount of time to evaluating the slightly built teenager. On May 5, Dr. Lowenberg devoted the better part of his afternoon to talking with his long-time patient, drawing extensively on his files for his probing questions.
The three physicians wasted no time in completing and filing their reports with the Court, and on May 11 Judge Bradshaw held a hearing on their findings.
According to Dr. Brackley, Kenneth Parnell "apparently had very little parental control or disciplinary supervision from the family unit." Parnell also told the doctor that he ejaculated into the nine-year-old boy's mouth, but said that he got no sexual satisfaction from
the act. However, the doctor observed that Parnell appeared "somewhat nervous" during the examination and that he was not "over-willing in communication of his troubles [but] rather matter-of-factly volunteers the details of his erotic acts."
In his summation Dr. Brackley wrote, ". . . this patient is a sexual psychopath and it is our [sic] opinion that he should be committed to an institution for such unfortunate patients."
Camarillo State Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Nash dryly reported: "Prisoner states that on March 20 of this year, while driving around the vicinity of the county hospital in Bakersfield, he enticed an 8-year-old [sic] boy into his car and took the youngster out of the city toward Kern Canyon, where he committed sodomy upon the boy and then had the youngster accomplish the act of fellatio on him." The doctor went on to report that Ken had told him about his marriage and "normal heterosexual relations with his wife."
His conclusion: "It is the examiner's opinion that this prisoner is a definite psychopathic personality with well-defined homosexual drives, and as such has a tendency and predisposition to commit sexual offenses to a degree constituting him a menace to the health and safety of others, and it is recommended that he be committed to a suitable institution for the care and treatment of this disorder, namely psychopathic personality and sex psychopath."
The most detailed and informative report, however, was Dr. Lowenberg's. He drew on his considerable earlier records on Parnell and detailed the story of five-year-old Kenneth pulling out his teeth, eight-year-old Kenneth shining a bright light into his eyes in an effort
to blind himself, and a slightly older Kenneth jumping off a shed into a pile of old lumber with protruding nails to try and injure himself—" 'One step off; it's all over: one step off; it's all over,' " Dr. Lowenberg quoted a thirteen-year-old Ken as having said about the incident.
More recently, Lowenberg's report continued, "While driving a stolen car one night he was conscious of a desire to drive it directly into oncoming lights of other cars. . . . He has repeatedly thought of suicide ('oftener than once a year, not so often as once a month') and usually thought of plans involving gunshot or knife wounds in the abdomen, rather than less unpleasant ways of committing suicide." Then the doctor recounted an incident which had occurred in Mary Parnell's presence: Kenneth had taken the safety catch off a loaded .22 pistol and held it against his abdomen and threatened suicide.
During this jail examination Parnell also told Lowenberg that he was sick after having committed the acts on nine-year-old Bobby Green: " 'I confessed to my wife and I wanted to see you. I did not get any thrill out of it. . . .' "
Dr. Lowenberg continued, "The defendant is cooperative and sincere in his statements. His sex activities may be described as polymorphous perverse; they are not fixed in any one undesirable pattern. . . . His intellectual capacities, his memory, his knowledge, and general grasp are probably slightly above the average. It is necessary to review this defendant's peculiar life history and emotional development, at least in its highlights, to understand and evaluate his present condition."
Dr. Lowenberg's professional, detailed summary conclusion said in part, "Upon reviewing the lengthy history and my various observations and examinations over the last six years, it cannot be overlooked that we are dealing with an extremely unstable emotional personality whose instinctual anxieties and insecurities work themselves out periodically in both car thefts and sex offenses. Gifted with good intelligence, his deeply rooted disturbances are grounded in an impulsive character. . . . They seem to imply a search for trouble and punishment. His present predicament is especially tragic because of his young, apparently congenial marriage, which resulted in the birth of a daughter a few days ago. When the undersigned brought him a letter from his wife, who had just delivered their first baby, he showed genuine excitement and asked most anxiously about ambulatory treatment possibilities after his release.
"As used in Chapter IV of the Welfare and Institutions Code, paragraph 5500, he must be considered a sexual psychopath who is affected in a form predisposing him to the commission of sexual offenses and in a degree constituting him a menace to the health or safety of others, due to a character neurosis legally called a psychopathic personality, with marked departures of his sexual activities. In view of his youth, it is hoped that he might benefit from a systematic treatment and rehabilitation program in a state hospital."
Parnell and his recently hired attorney, Mr. Dorris, were in Kern County Superior Court for the brief hearing on May 11, 1951. Judge Bradshaw agreed with the
doctors' evaluations and found "the said Kenneth Eugene Parnell to be a sexual psychopath" and ordered him sent to Norwalk State Hospital in Los Angeles "for observation and diagnosis for a period not to exceed ninety days."
In a 1984 prison interview, Parnell said, "[My] attorney says, 'Well, you will go into prison, okay, but what we can do is that if you will plead guilty and be good through this, we can get you to the hospital.' Which was worse than the prison. But he kept telling me, 'It doesn't matter what you do. You are going to prison.' Now at my age [then nineteen] the fear of prison was greater than confessing to anything, and I could have confessed to murder. I just should have done more in the legal process."
The staff at Norwalk State Hospital did not need the full ninety days Judge Bradshaw had allowed for them to evaluate Parnell. On June 14, 1951, Acting Superintendent and Medical Director Dr. Hyman Tucker wrote to Judge Bradshaw, "His case was reviewed by the medical staff on May 29, 1951, and he was diagnosed as a sexual psychopath without psychosis. He is considered legally sane. The staff has recommended that he be returned to the court and committed as a sexual psychopath for an indeterminate period."
The authorities returned Parnell to Bakersfield for another hearing on June 22, at which Judge Bradshaw committed Parnell to "Norwalk State Hospital for an indeterminate period."
Back at the hospital, Parnell wrote an intelligent, literate letter to Judge Bradshaw on July 15, complaining about what he felt to be a lack of treatment opportunities there and asking the judge to consider
returning him to Bakersfield for outpatient therapy and supervision. It was the first of hundreds of similar letters, briefs, and the like that Parnell would compose and send to judges, penal authorities, attorneys, and public officials during his adult life.
Parnell did not receive a reply from Judge Bradshaw and on September 11, 1951, he took matters into his own hands, and sawed a lock from a clothes room window at Norwalk State Hospital and escaped. On September 24 authorities arrested him and returned him to the hospital, where he was placed in a maximum security ward. But three weeks later, on October 14, Parnell went AWOL again and this time made his escape good for three months, hitchhiking to Albuquerque, New Mexico, taking a job as a short-order cook in a downtown cafe where he was happily at work on February 22, 1952, when Albuquerque police walked in and arrested him. Kern County deputy sheriff's "called for him" at the Bernalillo County Jail on February 25, and he was driven to Bakersfield and again lodged in the Kern County Jail. Then, while Parnell was in custody, Judge Bradshaw made efforts to have him readmitted to Norwalk State Hospital; however, the judge was rebuffed in a March 17 letter from Hospital Superintendent and Medical Director Dr. Robert E. Wyers, and this in turn was underscored by an April 16 letter from State Director of the Department of Mental Hygiene Dr. Richard Tallman.
On April 22 Parnell, accompanied by a new attorney, John M. Narin, was present in Judge Bradshaw's courtroom. Even though the Assistant District Attorney, Robert A. Farrell, joined Mr. Narin in arguing quite strongly for a court order to place Parnell in
another state mental hospital, Judge Bradshaw resisted and in the end stated:
"It is the order of this Court that the defendant, Kenneth Eugene Parnell, be committed to the California Institution for Men at Chino for the period prescribed by law [five years-to-life]. There is no alternative in a case like this. I don't think it was the intent of the Legislature that our hands be tied, and we just couldn't do nothing because some recalcitrant defendant didn't want to behave himself, so that is the order.
"This defendant has been a consistent violator ever since he was very young. He is obviously a homosexual of the more or less dangerous type, and it is the recommendation of this Court that his sentence be for a long period of time."
Assistant District Attorney Farrell was so upset by Judge Bradshaw's seemingly callous handling of young Parnell that he refused to sign the sentencing document as required, leaving it for Deputy District Attorney J. F. Meeks to sign several weeks later.
Three days later, on April 25, Kern County sheriff's deputies transported Parnell to the California Institution for Men at Chino, a minimum-security prison thirty miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Since Parnell was a convicted child molester, prison officials felt he would be in danger if placed in the general prison population, and so on May 1, the Department of Corrections exercised its authority and transferred Parnell to the medium-security Soledad Correctional Training Facility near Salinas, the only prison in the system with a protective-housing unit. However, after prison officials received and reviewed Parnell's files
from the state mental hospitals and duly noted his record for escapes, they transferred him to California's maximum security prison at San Quentin on August 30, 1952.
Parnell remained behind bars at San Quentin for three and one-half years while the parole board denied his requests for release at hearings in April 1953 and April 1954. Finally, April 1955, the board paroled Parnell on the condition that he "receive psychiatric treatment while on parole" (a condition which Parnell adamantly refused to meet); inexplicably, Parnell's official release on parole was not recorded until late October that year.
Parnell requested parole to San Francisco, bitterly recalling, "You know, in San Francisco, it was not like I was raised there or some shit. It was pretty difficult and, of course, that was a large city, and for a person who has to tell his employer he is on parole and everything, that narrows the employment situation quite a bit. After a couple of months of unemployment, I wanted to go down to Bakersfield."
But the Department of Corrections refused his request to move to Bakersfield, so Parnell pressed and received permission from his parole officer to visit his mother there. Once there he got a job and applied for transfer of his parole, but as this was a violation of his parole conditions, authorities arrested and locked him up yet again in the Kern County Jail. At his parole violation hearing in September 1956 Parnell was sent to Folsom State Prison, where he spent the next three months before the board again paroled him—on December 17—this time officially to Bakersfield.
In early 1957 Ken's first wife, Patsy Jo, divorced him.
He had not lived with her since March 1951, and he had never even seen his daughter, the divorce effectively having closed this chapter of his life. On August 8,1957, Ken married Emma Naoma Schaffer, ten years his senior. During this marriage she gave birth to Ken's second daughter.
Little is known about Parnell's personal life, especially the periods from August 1957 to September 1960 and from September 1967 to March 1972. He has said repeatedly that there were people he wished to protect.
Even the California Department of Corrections records contain nothing more than the notation that Parnell successfully completed his parole in December 1957 . . . and that on May 23, 1959, the Department formally noted his discharge. However, one can assume that Parnell went back to drifting from job to job, taking positions as a short-order cook, a bookkeeper, and a door-to-door salesman of shoes, brushes, and other consumer goods.
In the summer of 1960 Ken moved to Ogden, Utah, where he continued his unsuccessful job search at the time. Desperate for money, he armed himself with a snub-nosed revolver and went to Salt Lake City, where he randomly held up service station owner Scott Neilson as the man was closing for the night, a crime that netted the ex-convict just $150. At first Salt Lake City police showed Nielson several hundred mugshots, but none were of Parnell. However, the break in the case came when the police brought in Ken's roommate for questioning about another crime and on a hunch brought Ken in, too, and took a mug shot of him. When the police showed both men's pictures to Niel
son he immediately identified Kenneth Parnell as the holdup man.