Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Boy’s Town: The Last Stop on the Road to Shame
January 17, 2007, 11:30 am
Filed under: Gregg Olsen

By now the world knows the story of the two boys: one stolen four years  ago and one last week. Both were found and returned to their families. Both  dealing with the trauma of being abducted by a Missouri predator named Michael Devlin.

If you don’t know the story of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, you will  soon enough. Oprah is going to have the Hornbeck family on her show  today. There will be books (I might even write one as it fits what I  do in my other life as a true crime writer). Movies. More interviews.  Magazine articles.

And on down the line.

When I think about this case, I think about other boys and girls who  have been snatched, abused, and returned. Most famously, the case of Steven  Stayner comes to mind. It was the subject of a true crime book, I KNOW MY FIRST NAME IS STEVEN.

In 1972, sex predator named Kenneth Eugene Parnell kidnapped Stayner,  then a second grader. Seven years later Parnell used Stayner to  capture another little boy, Timmy White, in Ukiah, California. The  nightmare ended when Steven went to the police for help. He wasn’t  about to let what happened to him, happen to Timmy.

There was no happy ending there. Steven died in a motorcycle accident  in 1989. His older brother, Cary, murdered four women in Yosemite in  1999 (again another true crime book). No one knows what became of little Timmy White.

I’ve often thought of Timmy. I read the book based on the Stayner case  more than once. I did a double take any time the Lifetime movie aired, showing Cary Stayner lurking in the background, the actor doing  a pretty good job of showing the confusion he felt by his brother’s  return. I cried when Steven Staynor’s life ended in that accident.

Of course, the plot of this story is true. Beneath its “I can’t  believe this happened?” surface in the Devlin case something seldom spoken  about: Boys being sexually abused by men. I was talking to a friend  the other day about what happened to him as a child, and I wanted to  tell him my own story. But even now in my 40s, I’m unable to give  voice to it.

A recent post on a blog, Crime Rant, I run with fellow true crime author M. William Phelps, came from a man named George:

I didn’t tell anyone till I came within a hair of throwing my life  away, I was 31. You have no idea the shame & guilt I felt for over 20  years. Even after years of finally dealing with all the issues  surrounding it, it still wants to destroy me. And I just had a sliver of what Shawn & Ben went through. I can tell you exactly what Shawn  felt & why he’d never tell. Keep in mind, most boys don’t.

How do you face your family, your mom, dad & everybody else & tell  them what happened to you? He felt like the lowest piece of garbage, a  freak, less than a male, any sense of masculinity shattered. He could  only imagine the eventual judgment of him by the ones he loved &  everybody else, he’d be called a fag, gay or the like. He feels that  he should’ve done something to fight him off but couldn’t/didn’t (not  that he could as a little boy), but this is what had been going  through his mind. This would all rush into his mind the very first  time it happened, what do you think it was like after the 50th, 100th?

I can’t even begin to imagine the whole dynamic of the kidnapping &  being torn from your family & threats to him & his family. Now the whole world knows it?

I appreciate George’s brave post. He has more guts than I. But now I’m thinking of Shawn and Ben and all the others and I’m hopeful  they will recover and live happy, safe, productive lives, knowing that whatever happened to them was not their fault.

I’ll read the book about Devlin. Like I said, I might even write it.  No matter what I do, however, I know one thing with complete certainty: I’ll never understand why a grown man would do that to a  child.

True crime author Gregg Olsen’s first novel, A WICKED SNOW, will be released by Pinnacle in March.


19 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for posting this. I am now feeling compelled to look for Timmy White. I will definately be reading more on this.

Comment by Drake

Good morning Gregg and thank for one of the more powerful blogs I’ve read in recent memory. I’m glad to see someone taking up the banner for this issue. Some stats for your consideration:

According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and released in 1990, the yearly estimates of each type of “missing child” are:

Lost, Injured, or Otherwise Missing: 438,200
Runaways: 450,700
Family Abductions: 354,100
Attempted Non-family Abductions: 114,600
Thrown-aways: 127,100
Non-family Abductions: 3,200 to 4,600

Scary stuff, my friend.

Comment by Liam Jackson

When the facts are disclosed, I believe everyone will be in shock. If what we have read is true, my major question is why wasn’t Shawn Hornbeck kicking and biting to alert his parents or authorities. I understand Stockholm Syndrome, but there are a lot of things missing in this story.

Comment by Trish Stevens

When the facts are disclosed, I believe everyone will be in shock. If what we have read is true, my major question is why wasn’t Shawn Hornbeck kicking and biting to alert his parents or authorities. I understand Stockholm Syndrome, but there are a lot of things missing in this story.
What really happened the night former Temptation David Ruffin died?

Comment by Trish Stevens

I am so glad to hear that Gregg will be writing this story. Shawn and Ben will be in capable hands.

I think a lot of people under-estimate the powerful hold of sexual and emotional abuses as they stand alone and then the power of Stockholm Syndrome.

George was a great spokesperson for anyone who was ever abused. Unless you have been there, please do not judge.

Comment by Pati

It is not my intention to pass judgement, if this is how you received it, I am saying things are not adding up, and the facts may be shocking. I was abused for 12 years, sexually, emotionally and physically so I do not say this lightly.

Comment by Trish Stevens

I definitely agree that this case is very similar to the Stayner case. I was so intrigued by that story that I read the book twice and saw the TV movie a few times.

Happy to know that you are hoping to write a book about this case. I am sure you will do a great job as you did on the book about Little Boy Blue.

Comment by Nelly

The dynamic between victim and victimiser is difficult to understand even for those who have experienced it. When something bad happens to us we believe it happened for a reason, hence the question ‘Why me?’. When there is nothing else we blame ourselves. “Bad things happen to bad people.” Children are even more easily convinced of this because they are used to being punished when they have done something wrong.
Victimiser’s do not perceive the depth of their actions. They feel compelled to do something and do not consider its short term effect let alone the long term ones. This is why it is often perceived as mental illness. However a lack of empathy and poor impulse control are of little comfort to their victims.

Comment by John

Please do not think I was passing judgement. Possibly my intent was lost in translation. The media demands answers and immediate gradification and when they do not get it they write statments such as Shawn was seen riding bicycle. My point is the facts as they are disclosed might be shocking, and, in addition to Stockholm Syndrome, someone more sinister must have been going on for this youth to not run at first chance. Abused wives do not leave. I could not leave. My all appearances we were the perfect family. My step-father won the “Yard-of-the-Month” award many times and my mother was a Sunday School teacher. Yet, my sister and two brothers lived in a hidden hell.
I have read the words submitted by George. It is hard to put those feelings in writing for the world to read, I applaud him.

Comment by Trish Stevens

Great post, I have always enjoyed your writing.
I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Devlin…

Comment by Mickey Rat

Great post, Gregg. I know you’ll do the story, and the boys, well! I see Shawn not so much a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome, but of real, unabating fear. I can’t see comparing a situation of abuse by a known assailant, to that of being kidnapped off your bike, at gun point, and held for four years, by a pedophile. I applaud Shawn for WINNING…he came home, ALIVE, to his family. That is indeed rare, with stranger on stranger child molestation.

Comment by Soobs

I have always been drawn to the Staynor case as well, because I think what happened to Steven inexplicitably led to Cary Staynor’s actions. NOT that Cary should be excused for raping and murdering four women in Yosemite, but I can’t help but think that Parnell is at least partially culpable in those deaths.

I read a Dr. Ablow’s book about Scott Peterson which included his grandfather being murdered, his mother being in an orphanage (abandoned by her own mother who couldn’t emotionally handle the death of her husband and raising kids), and how that initial murder was the spark the created the monster we know as Scott Peterson.

Anyway, thanks for posting this Gregg.

Comment by Allison Brennan

I just wanted to let everyone know who is wondering about Timmy White that he grew up tp be a wonderful person. I work with his mom and wife and I just found out that Timmothy White that I know is acctualy little Timmy White. He has been married for some 10 years now with two wonderful children and he is a deputy sheriff.

Comment by Mya

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Comment by freeeeringtones

Timmothy White is cousin and yes he grew up too be a kind a gently person . He marrid and has too children.. Timmoth sadly passed away this last friday from a blood clot after a knee surgery.

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Comment by narryOredtera

Yes , it’s interesting here ..
have specifics , questions and answers …

Comment by Anonymous

Clear and understandable, thank you.

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Comment by Sona

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