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Alleged attempt to buy child leads to arrest of kidnapper

Parnell notorious for his kidnapping, abusing boy for 7 years

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BERKELEY, California (CNN) -- Police have arrested convicted child kidnapper Kenneth Parnell at his suburban San Francisco home after an investigation led to charges of conspiracy to commit child stealing, according to a Berkeley police spokeswoman.

Parnell received widespread media attention over 20 years ago for the kidnapping and sexual abuse of Steven Stayner. The story was told in the television miniseries "I Know My First Name Is Steven," which was broadcast in May 1989 on NBC.

The Berkeley spokeswoman said that detectives had uncovered information that Parnell was trying to buy a child, leading to his arrest.

Parnell was convicted of kidnapping Stayner, snatching him off a street in Merced, 100 miles west of Berkeley, when the boy was 7. Parnell showered Stayner with gifts and told him his parents could no longer afford to raise him.

Calling young Stayner "Dennis" and enrolling the boy in school as his son, Parnell and Stayner lived in a series of trailer parks and motels for more than seven years.

Stayner escaped Parnell in 1980 and hitchhiked 40 miles to a police station in Ukiah, California, with a 5-year-old boy in tow -- a boy Parnell had kidnapped two weeks earlier. Stayner told police he didn't want the boy to endure the abuse he had.

Parnell was convicted of kidnapping both boys and served 5 years of an 8-year prison sentence -- the maximum available at the time. Sexual abuse charges were dropped when an appeals court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired. A conviction on sexual abuse charges would not have added time to his sentence under the law at the time.

Parnell was also convicted in 1950 of sexual abusing an 8-year-old boy he kidnapped.

Stayner died in a motorcycle crash in 1989, at age 24, in a collision with a hit-and-run driver. His older brother Cary was convicted last year in the killings of three tourists and a park naturalist at Yosemite National Park. He has been sentenced to death.

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