In March 1951, Parnell was arrested for sodomizing a young boy, as well as impersonating a police officer (Parnell had used a fake deputy sheriff's badge he purchased from an Army-Navy surplus store), sending Parnell to jail for almost four years two months later. He was convicted for the crime in 1952. While receiving treatment at Norwalk State Hospital, he cut a lock from a clothes room window and escaped, staying free until February of the following year, when he was finally apprehended in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In a January 15 2000, interview with East Bay Express journalist Katy St. Clair, Parnell said that he kidnapped and molested the boy because his wife was pregnant and that he "had to find another outlet." Parnell claimed to have been married three times, but only two records of his marriages are known to exist. He married Patsy in 1950, who gave birth to their daughter the following year. They divorced in 1957. Later that year, Parnell married Emma, a woman ten years his senior. She too gave birth to a daughter soon after their union.
He denied in that same interview having been molested himself, though Mike Echols' book I Know My First Name is Steven, says Parnell was indeed molested at the age of 13 by a boarder in a rooming house his mother owned in Bakersfield. He was arrested for homosexual public sex acts in 1947.
More than a decade after the sodomy case, Parnell went back to jail for armed robbery in Utah. While in prison, his second wife filed for divorce. Parnell claimed to have married a third and final time in 1968. As of February 2008, no records have been found substantiating Parnell's claim of this union.
Steven Stayner died in 1989 of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. According to the 2000 St. Clair interview, Parnell said upon learning of Steven's death, he cried for the first time since he was about nine years old. The interviewer, though, questioned his sincerity.
The caregiver, Diane Stevens, was aware of Parnell's past and cooperated with police in setting up a sting operation that would lead to his arrest. According to Diane Stevens' testimony, Parnell requested the child have a "clean" rectum, indicating a sinister purpose. He paid $100 for a birth certificate and had $400 on his person for the completion of the transaction when he was to receive the child on January 3 2003. Parnell was arrested that day.
"I wanted a family," Parnell told authorities after his arrest.
Parnell was convicted on February 9 2004, on the charges of attempting to purchase a child and attempted child molestation, even though the child in question was nonexistent. The prosecution successfully argued that sexual aids and pornography found in the apartment, along with Stevens' own testimony, were enough to prove that Parnell's intentions were less than pure. Parnell was sentenced to 25 years to life under California's "three strikes" law.
Prosecutor Tim Wellman said that Parnell "was looking for one last hurrah. One last Steven Stayner, one last Timmy White."
Kenneth Parnell remained incarcerated until his death. According to prison officials at the California State Prison Hospital in Vacaville, California, Parnell died of natural causes. He had been under hospice care for some time.