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The bizarre and harrowing tale begins back in 1972, when seven-year-old Steven Stayner went missing after being abducted by a man called Kenneth Parnell. Amazingly, Steven managed to escape and was reunited with his family seven years later.
However, this wasn’t a happy ending for the Stayners, who would go on to experience further trauma – first when Steven died in a fatal road accident, and then when his older brother Cary became a serial killer.
Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story explores what happened to the two siblings over the course of several harrowing decades.
A synopsis from Hulu reads: “In 1972, 7-year-old Steven Stayner mysteriously vanished on his way home from school.
"Nearly a decade later, his dramatic return to his family sparked ’80s-era ‘stranger danger’ warnings, legal reforms, and one iconic Made-For-TV-Movie in which the family’s ordeal was transformed into a prime-time miniseries watched by 70 million Americans. When the credits rolled and the movie ended, it closed one tragic chapter of the family’s life, but opened another.
"This limited documentary series explores the evolution of true crime storytelling through the lens of one family’s 50-year journey and two brothers; one a hero, the other a villain. It’s about how truth becomes story and story becomes truth - on TV, in the justice system, and in our minds."
Steven was held 38 miles away from his home in Merced, California, having been told by his abductor that his parents did not want him anymore, and that his new name would be Dennis.
After suffering years of sexual abuse, Steven managed to escape along with another young boy who had been kidnapped, and went to a police station for help.
His story became the subject of a true crime book and TV movie – both called I Know My First Name Is Steven, as a reference to what he told police after escaping – but around a decade later, he sadly died in a motorcycle accident.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, when his older brother Cary was hired as a handyman at a motel not far from Yosemite National Park, surrounding area of which would become the setting for his murder spree.
He was convicted of the brutal murders of four women in 1999 – Carole Sund, her teenage daughter Juli Sund, their teenage companion Silvina Pelosso, and Joie Ruth Armstrong – who were all killed in Mariposa County, California, near the national park.
Dubbed ‘The Yosemite Killer’, Cary was sentenced to death for the murders, and remains on death row to this day.
The new Hulu series tells their story across three episodes, with the first focusing on Steven's kidnapping, the second on his return, and the final instalment detailing Cary's killing streak.
Watch Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story on Hulu now.