Book Review: I Know my First Name is Steven by Mike Echols

Warning: This Review Contains "Spoilers"

 My Review and Thoughts:

The Mysterious case of Steven Stayner is a twist and turn, pager turning example of a young man and tragic life. This is a case that has often fascinated me, not simply because of its sadness, and its brutality, but because of a lot of the side line realities to the case.

You have a child missing, a kidnapping. A child used as a sex object. A child that eventually escapes his monster. We learn he has been brutally tortured as a sex object to the point his memory is altered. He grows up, ends up sadly dying during a wreck. If that all does not interest you, his brother ends up becoming a serial killer. You would think that sounds like a work of fiction, but in all truths, its the real reality of this young man's tragic ordeal. His story was made into this TV Mini-series which I remember watching back in the day when it originally ran and it has stuck with me ever since. I wanted to re-read the book and re-watch the film and to review and express the story behind this film.

On Dec. 4th, 1972. Steven was at his home after school. He was approached by a man. A man named Ervin Edward Murphy. Murphy was a man of small means. A somewhat lower IQ of a person, a person easily manipulated. He was the puppet, and the one pulling the puppet’s strings was Kenneth Parnell. Parnell got Murphy to go along with his plan. The plan was to kidnap 7-year-old Steven Stayner. Now Parnell was already a convicted child molester. Now Parnell had convinced Murphy that he wanted Steven to be raised in a religious setting. All part of the lies to help create a setting that simple minded Murphy would go along with.


Now after the lies Murphy spewed to 7-year-old Steven about seeking donations to the church. He started gaining Stevens 7-year-old minds, trust. Murphy asked Steven if he would take him to his home so that he could talk to his mother. Steven agreed. Right then a car driven by Parnell pulled up and Steven willingly got in the car thinking it was part of the church reality that Murphy had lied so well with. The horror was all set. Soon Steven would become a prisoner of a disgusting, horrible man and his acts of depravity. Steven’s confused young mind was racing as Parnell drove Steven to his cabin in Catheys Valley. There he was molested and ultimately rapped repeatedly.

Steven after his Escape
Parnell started working the boys mind. Started feeding the young boy with false lies. Steven pleaded and cried to go home but Parnell started to work his disturbing reality. He started brainwashing the boy. Parnell fed the boy the lies that his parents gave him up, and that now he had full custody. He would lie and fill Steven’s young mind that his parents could no longer afford to take care of him. The main lie, the one that dug itself deep into his young brain, “His Parents didn’t want him anymore”.

Parnell started building his ultimate lie and his dark fantasies. He changed the boy's name to Dennis Gregory Parnell. Years would pass and all the lies and created untruths created in young Steven, a real reality. He no longer had parents. He no longer was named Steven. He no longer had a normal childhood, for he was the sex slave to a grown monster. As the lies built in, Steven no longer knew who he was. Parnell enrolled him in to schools. Parnell allowed Steven to drink booze. Parnell created a world that only Steven knew. Steven’s world was Parnell’s disturbing fantasy.

Poor Steven was so tortured, and brain washed and controlled that Steven was often left alone by himself for days. Steven could have escaped, but that darkness and evil that Parnell had created was a strong hold of destruction and ultimate pain. Steven only knew what Parnell told him. Years later Steven talked about looking back on the ordeal, how there was times he could have ran, yet it did not click, because his brain washing was so far advanced. One thing Steven had somewhat happiness during the reality of his imprisonment, was that Parnell had given him a dog. He named the dog Queenie.

Parnell and Steven
Now to make the horrors even worse, as if they were not already horrible enough. Parnell had a woman friend named Barbara Mathias. She lived with them for a while and both Parnell and Barbara enjoyed having 3 some’s with the young child. Both would have sex with the boy. Currently Steven was 9 years old.

From the age of 7 years old, to the age of 14 years old. Steven lived a life of unspeakable atrocities at the hands of his monster.

Now Steven started growing and entering young adult hood. This ultimately turned off Parnell, because most molesters and those who rape children have a select age they enjoy. Steven was getting to big. Parnell started looking for younger boys to kidnap. Steven had been used, to help kidnap other young boys, but all had failed throughout the period. What Parnell did not realize is that Steven was very smart, he would make sure the attempts failed.

Steven along with another teenage boy named Randall Sean Poorman through Parnell’s coaching and force, went about kidnapping 5-year-old Timothy White from the Ukiah California area on Feb. 14th, 1980. Steven on March 1st, 1980, had enough. Parnell was at work. Steven holding the young child, escaped for the first time in his ordeal. He hitchhiked back to Ukiah. Steven could not find the young boy’s home, so he sent the boy into a police station for help. Steven was ultimately found outside the police station, and so begins one of the most amazing, horrible, disturbing stories that a young boy forever brought forth. There Steven spoke for the first time and told his story.


Steven and White After Ordeal.
On March 2nd, 1980 Parnell was arrested. After and almost 8-year ordeal Steven finally became Steven again and he was reunited with his parents. Young Timothy was also reunited with his parents.

I think what is worst then everything already mentioned is the reality Parnell was basically given nothing more than a slap on the face. He was ultimately tried for kidnapping and given, are you ready for this, he was given only 7 years. He ended up only serving 5 years. He was paroled after kidnapping two boys, sexually destroying a 7-year-old, that went on for almost 8 years and this monster basically got away with it. It’s shocks me and frustrates me and angers me beyond all understanding on this reality.

This case changed laws. Steven’s kidnapping ended up creating and changing California’s law on kidnappings and prison terms. But it was too late for the monster Parnell.

Steven was a changed person. His mind had been controlled and destroyed for so many years. His inner pain was built up. His horrors had controlled him most of his life. When he returned home it was different, it was not his anymore. He ended up speaking and stated:

"I returned almost a grown man and, yet my parents saw me at first as their 7-year-old. After they stopped trying to teach me the fundamentals all over again, it got better. But why doesn't my dad hug me anymore? [...] Everything has changed. Sometimes I blame myself. I don't know sometimes if I should have come home. Would I have been better off if I didn't?" --- Holland, Elizabeth (January 20, 2007). "A child abductee's journey back". seattletimes.com. The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 1, 2014.


After his ordeal, clearly as I look back on this case and talk about it, Steven needed a lot of help. He needed a continued therapy and, he did get some counseling, but he did not get what he needed, or deserved. Sadly in 2007, Cory Stayner, Stevens sister stated that it was their fathers fault that Steven did not get the therapy he needed, because as Cory said, there Father said Steven didn’t need it. Such a true shame that Steven never got what he clearly needed.

Steven ended up living a hard-short life. After his ordeal, his life was destroyed and never the same. He tried school, but kids made fun of him, he was constantly ridiculed as the kid who was raped. That blame the victim’s mentality that so sadly is still a reality into days standard. We blame the victim. We give and take care of the criminal and destroy the victim.

Steven was lost. Steven needed someone. Steven needed true love and compassion and care, and medical help and yet the world turned against him, his own flesh and blood turned against him in that he needed medical treatment. Sadly, Steven’s pain led to drinking. It was his drinking to cover up his pain. He was kicked out of his home by his parents.

In 1985, he started getting his life back together. He married and had 2 kids. He started working with child abduction groups. He held speeches, talking to children about the movement stranger danger. He did many interviews. But Steven still had all that pain and anger built up inside him. His wife Jody Edmonson stated that Steven blamed himself for his abduction.

Sadly on Sept. 17th, 1989. Steven was on his motorcycle going home. There he ended up wrecking into a car that pulled into traffic. As if the story was not bad enough. Young Steven ended up with massive brain injuries. He died shortly after at Merced Community Medical Center. The person who hit Steven ran from the scene but ultimately turned himself in.

Steven on Sept 20th, 1989 was put to rest. His funeral was bittersweet. A young man who lost so much in life, a young man who was filled with, so much pain and suffering was now at peace in away. On a very interesting and beautiful reality, one of Steven pallbearers was Timmy White, no longer 5 years old, but know 14, holding the casket of his hero, his ultimate savior.

Now amazingly and downright sickening, the monster is not silent. In 2004 Kenneth Parnell age 72 asked a nurse to get him a 5-year-old boy, that he would give her five hundred dollars if she did so. The nurse reported it to the police. At Parnell's, new trial. Timothy White testified against Parnell. Steven’s statement was read into evidence about his ordeal.

Parnell who was given only 7 years for 7 years of Steven’s life, through his torture and pain and humiliation and ultimate evilness, was given 25 years for trying to buy a 5-year-old. So, in reality at least Parnell got some punishment. He ended up dying on Jan. 21st, 2008 at the California Medical Facility.

It seems this case of Parnell’s horrors controlled and altered the lives of so many. So many strange and horrible realities came about after Parnell’s doing. Steven’s death, and in 2010 at the young age of 35 Timothy White the boy Steven saved ended up dying of pulmonary embolism. At the time of his death he was a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy. He left behind a wife and 2 children.

The monster behind Steven's ordeal Kenneth Eugene Parnell was born on Sept. 26th, 1931. Parnell was arrested in 1951 for sodomizing a young boy and impersonating a police officer. He was given a prison sentence of 4 years. Interesting to note he escaped and was on the run for close to a year. He was recaptured and spent the rest of his sentence in jail.

Parnell claimed he was married to 3 women, but there are only two records of his marriage. Both marriages resulted in two daughters. More than 10 years after his Sodomy arrest, Parnell would go back to jail for armed robbery.

 
Steven grown up with his kids and wife.

Now as the case or reality of the Stayner name was not stained enough, the next chapter of this story that is already a disturbing horrible and sad reality, it even gets worse, not for Steven, but for Steven’s brother Cory Stayner. Cory becomes a monster himself. Cary Stayner was born August 13th, 1961 in Merced California. Cary was eleven years old at the time of his brother’s abduction. Cary stated later in life after his arrest that he felt neglected and over looked during the time of his brother’s abduction and missing years. Cary Stayner lived with his Uncle, Jesse Stayner. Cary stated he was molested and mistreated by his Uncle at the age of 11 years when he lived with him. Interesting to note Uncle Jesse was murdered.  Cary tried suicide in 1991.

In 1997 Cory Stayner was a handyman at the Cedar Lodge Motel in El Portal near Yosemite National Park. A charred Pontiac car was in Yosemite National Park. Inside the truck of the care two bodies were found. They were identified as Carole Sund and 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso. It was quickly determined that there was a third person with the party. Carole had taken her daughter Juli Sund and friend Silvina Pelosso on a trip. Juli Sund was missing. Soon the police were sent a hand drawn map to where they could find the third victim 15-year-old Juli Sund. Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso had to be identified through dental records due to their charred bodies. The note sent to the police had a title of: “We had fun with this One.” The map led the police to the body. Juli Sund’s neck had been cut.

The investigation led the police to the Cedar Lodge where all three victims had been staying. They interviewed employees, one of those employees was Cary Stayner.

Soon a fourth victim was found. Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26 years old, a Yosemite Institute employee. Joie Ruth Armstrong had been decapitated. To make a long story short, witnesses saw a 1979 International Scout car parked outside Joie’s home. Come to find out Cary Stayner owns that same car. There Stayner becomes a prime suspect.




The FBI found Cary Stayner staying at a nudist resort in Wilton called Laguna del Sol. He was arrested. Inside his car the police located evidence from Joie Armstrong. There under interrogation Stayner admitted to murdering all four women. Now what is something truly disturbing is that during Stayner’s confession, he told police that ever since he was seven years old he fantasied about murdering women.


Stayner played the insanity ordeal. He pleaded not guilty because of insanity. His lawyer stated that in Stayner’s family there consisted sexual abuse and mental illness. A Dr. Jose Arturo Silva stated that Stayner suffered from a mild autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and paraphilia (Intense Sexual Arousal to objects, situations, fantasies, behaviors or individuals). He was convicted of four counts of first degree murder. He was given the Death Penalty whereas of this writing he sits in San Quentin.

As I have mentioned there is also a TV Mini-series that came first and then the book came after. The popular Mini-series resulted in this book.

Title of the Miniseries is the same as the book:  I Know My First Name is Steven (1989)

Starring: Cindy Pickett, John Aston, Corin Memec, Luke Edwards, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Ray Walston, Gegg Henry, Jim Haynie, Barbara Tarbuck, Scott Curtis, Stephanie Walski, Sumer Stamper, Cassy Friel, Bryan Cranston, Dennis Fimple, Beth Grant, Barry Corbin, Peter Michael Goetz, Alan Fudge,
  
Steven’s ordeal was turned into this two-part TV miniseries in 1989. It premiered May 21-22nd on NBC. Titled I Know My First Name is Steven. What is so interesting and great about this movie is Steven was given a voice through his ordeal and pain. It showed the world his pain and horrors. It showed that this young man was not to blame. Steven was kidnapped and tortured for years. Steven never fully went into to detail about his horror. He had the public that wanted to know everything and he had his own parents that seemed to want to turn a blind eye, or simply say everything’s okay.

Steven also had apart in this movie, he was an advisor on the film and you can see him in the movie in a small part. He plays one of the police officers that take’s 14-year-old Steven in the film to his parents after he is brought out of his horrors. The movie is based on the script written by Mike Echols. Echols did his ultimate research on the subject and created a thought provoking docudrama. What is so shocking is that Echols not only talked and interviewed Steven, but he also talked and interviewed the monster himself Parnell.

The miniseries would goon to receive four Emmy Award Nominations and one of those given nominations was for the main actor, the young and massively talented Corin Nemic who played Steven in the film. That is the true highlight to this film, is the acting by this young man. He truly shined and gave a voice and an ultimate reality to Steven’s plight.  The Mini-series was such a success Mike Echols went on to publish the script in novel form in 1991.

Now interesting to note is where the title of the movie came from. On March 2nd, 1980 when Steven was being interviewed after making it to the police station. The police had him write on a piece of paper. and this is what he wrote:

"My name is Steven Stainer. I am fourteen years of age. I don't know my true birthdate, but I use April 18, 1965. I know my first name is Steven, I'm pretty sure my last is Stainer, and if I have a middle name, I don't know it."

The movie was directed by a wonderful director that left the movie world with many wonderful examples of TV Miniseries and cinema period. Larry Elikann started directing in 1978 and did so up to 1997. He passed away in 2004 but left a vast array of cinema both great and small. From TV series to TV movies he mastered many. Something I grew up with was ABC’s afterschool Specials. He directed 18 of those specials, so basically Larry was a huge part of my childhood growing up watching them. He also directed another true crime film. He directed the 1994 TV Movie Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills.

Starring a wonderful young actor at the time Luke Edwards as the 7-year-old Stayner. Luke was fantastic in the part. He made you feel his emotional reality. His scared horrible ordeal. He brought the character to life in vivid detail. This was his only second acting performance. He had acted one other time in 1988 in an ABC Afternoon Special. I Know My First Name is Steven was his first TV Mini-series. He is still acting strong today. He has performed in over 50 performances. I think I must say it will always be I Know My First Name is Steven that I will always remember him in. He did act in some memorable performances, such as in 1989's awesome video game movie The Wizard alongside Fred Savage a.k.a. The Wonder Years kid. He also was in the wonderful 1992 musical Newsies another favorite of mine. He was in a very underrated film, the awesome 1993 suspense thriller Mother’s Boys. He is a wonderful actor that creates memorable characters and Stayner was truly one to remember.

Now poor Steven was going to possibly be honored by the city of Merced California. They were looking to name parks after important residents. Steven was a main suggestion.

Calling one of the Park’s “Stayner Park”, which would have been an amazing and honorable reality to the young man tortured in life, but sadly because of his brother becoming a Serial Killer and staining the last name, officials decided to go against this reality of naming the park Stayner Park because it could be considered honoring a Serial Killer. Steven had pain and horrors in life and even after death his name is being horrified due to his brother.


Something beautiful came out of all this mess on August 28th, 2010 Merced California honored Steven and Timothy by erecting a statue in a park in Ukiah of 14-year-old Steven, holding the hand of 5-year Timothy.