‘Captive Audience’ on Hulu may be the most bizarre true crime documentary of the year, so watch it or skip it


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Captive Audience docuseries is among the top disturbing films. And if you love documentaries because of their real-life exposure, you probably would dismiss anyone who argues about the consumerism of such films fueled by vanity.

Nothing is twisted here; it’s all about the damn reality in 1972.

A young boy named Steven Stayner from a family of five got kidnapped on his way home at the age of seven. A guy named Ervin Edwards Murphy was behind this evil. He had been recruited by Kenneth Parnell, a colleague at Yosemite National Park resort.

And when a hit TV movie brought Stayner to attention, the news media magnified the impact, and reality seemed miles away. The victim was in the news coverage for a couple of months.

It was believed that Parnell had no kids of his own, and this led him to kidnap young Stayner. Another side of the story claimed that Parnell’s decision to abduct was fueled by the dire need to raise him in a staunch religion.

But was this the truth?

If you want to dig more and find out, the Captive audience has three episodes available on Hulu for streaming.

Let’s dive deeper into this guide and learn about the young boy’s story, the chilling aftermath, and what followed later.

Captive Audience Story

Hulu delves into the docuseries so well that you will yearn to get more of such stories.

Stayner’s story will leave you amazed, one that leaves you in emotions. A story that led to one family’s darkest moments as they became the talk of the media.

Stayner’s kidnapper, Parnell, renamed him Dennis, which again would raise lots of questions when he later returned to his family in March 1980 at the age of 14. Later on, Cary, who was Stayner’s older brother, was convicted of murder, and he was blamed for being the culprit of four women found near Yosemite National Park around mid-1999.

What transpired to Steven Stayner?

Steven Stayner’s story is well comprehended from the interviews conducted with this mother, daughter, and son. Again, Stayner’s friends from California, who knew Stayner as Dennis Parnell, have a part to tell.

Parnell was known to be one of the simple-minded guys. No one could believe he would indulge in such kinds of behaviors.

At that time, too much was being unveiled.  Parnell had been under arrest for another kidnapping case. It was said that in 1951, he kidnapped a young boy who he would rape often. Shockingly, he had also fathered three kids.

These dark secrets were revealed before it dawned that he had kidnapped Stayner.

And the story continued. Parnell could not hide his evil curiosity. He molested Stayner on the first night of the abduction, and after thirteen days, Stayner was to suffer from rape.

Stayner could not help but stay with the culprit as he claimed to have helped get him off his parents’ hands, who were never interested in him anymore. The words consoled Stayner, and he would now agree to move with Parnell to California, where he got a chance to make new friends.

But, Nothing lasts forever; Stayner was now a teen, wise enough to make inner deals for escape.

Parnell gets arrested

The deal got ready when Parnell was away one night. Stayner could not wait to see another kidnapped boy, Timmy White, go through what he had already tasted. He managed to flee with him with the help of his teenage friends, and Timmy was returned to his parents.

The boys fled on March 1, 1980, and Parnell was arrested the following day with fresh claims of his kidnappings. He was to remain in jail for seven good years. Unfortunately, the sentence was short due to the conditional freedom for prison imitates- parole which found him in his 5th year. He was released.

After 24 years, Parnell convinces his caregiver to buy a four-year-old boy. The caregiver was heavenly sent. He knew about Parnell’s behaviors, so the act made him liaise with the law enforcement officers to have him arrested. The deal went well, and Parnell was to serve 25 years’ imprisonment.

What Happened to Cary Stayner?

And when the family was to celebrate the end of their misery, another challenging event occurred, and Cary was pronounced a serial killer.

Could this be Cary’s dream come true?

Cary claimed that he always dreamt of killing women, and the chance presented itself after 30 years.

Initially, Cary seemed innocent, but the FBI agent continued the probing due to the amount of substantial evidence that was present.

One instance is when his vehicle was found near Armstrong’s cottage. And all that was left was to use him as a witness. Cary later confessed to the killings of the three women. He was to serve a sentence on death row related to four – first-degree murders.

Where are the three now?

Steven Stayner

When coming from work, Steven Stayner suffered from severe head injuries after a fatal hit and run accident on September 16, 1989. He later succumbed to death.

Cary Stayner

At the age of 60, Cary is still a candidate for prison. He is in custody at the San Quentin Penitentiary in California. It’s expected that he will spend his entire life as an inmate.


He later died at the age of 76 while still serving his life sentence. He died a natural death due to multiple ailments.

Captive Audience- Watch it or Skip it?

Now that you have a glimpse of the true-crime documentary and have a clue of what happened to Stayner, his kidnapper Parnell and his brother Cary, the ball is on your side.

Dimmock brings out a compelling story. The connection between Steven, Cary, and others is unique and other horrifying crimes.

Every true crime enthusiast should watch this. It’s a great story whose unfolding’s kept you hooked- an ever-ending story full of tragedy and terror.

Our take would be: Stream It on Hulu!

Komal Singla
Komal Singla
I am a blogger and freelance writer having four years’ work experience! My passion led my way and turned a lecturer into an ardent writer. I love exploring, reading write-ups, and surfing the web during my free time!


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