Chowchilla Memories

Claudia preparing to shoot a news segment off of Gate 6 ½ | photo by Mimi Towle | post by Larry Clinton

Gate 6 ½ resident Claudia Cowan is a senior correspondent for Fox News, and recently produced a podcast recognizing the 45th anniversary of a shocking kidnapping in Chowchilla, CA, in 1976.

On July 15, 1976, a school bus carrying 26 schoolchildren ages 5 to 14 and their driver vanished without a trace in the tiny farming community. As a frantic search for them began, the young, terrified hostages and their 55-year-old bus driver found themselves trapped in a scene that seemed like something straight out of a horror movie.

Their unlikely captors, three directionless young men from affluent families, planned the kidnapping for more than 18 months in the hopes of getting “easy money.”

In the podcast, “Nightmare in Chowchilla,” Claudia untangles a controversy that has dogged this case for decades: who was the real hero in the Chowchilla kidnapping? Claudia traveled throughout California to get firsthand accounts from the people who lived through this crime, including several survivors and their parents, the sheriff who feverishly looked for the abductors, a TV news producer who covered the story and a prosecutor who has worked on the case, which remains one of the largest abductions in U.S. history.

“When there’s so much darkness and heartache in the world,” says Claudia, “it’s a good reminder that unlikely heroes can save the day, and miracles are possible.”