Jeff Jardine

Will kidnapper from 1982 case show up for his parole hearing?

Dory Oppenheim, who was kidnapped from her north Modesto home and held her for ransom when she was 8 years old, spends time with her father, Sam Oppenheim, and brother Michael in 1982.
Dory Oppenheim, who was kidnapped from her north Modesto home and held her for ransom when she was 8 years old, spends time with her father, Sam Oppenheim, and brother Michael in 1982. Modesto Bee file

Every five to seven years, Dory Fish is notified that William Florez once again is up for parole.

Florez kidnapped Fish – then Dory Oppenheim – from her north Modesto home and held her for ransom when she was 8 years old in the summer of 1982. He is serving a life sentence for kidnapping for ransom and later pleaded guilty to raping a Modesto woman and robbing another that same month.

Nine times, Florez has had the opportunity to convince parole commissioners he’s a changed man, to finally take responsibility for what he did so long ago, and to prove that he’s finally learned his lesson going on 34 years in the slammer.

Each time, Fish’s parents, Sam and Alyne Oppenheim, have attended the hearings to oppose his release. Fish (she’s now married with two children) has attended one. Florez has no-showed for most of the hearings, said Fish, who went on to become an elementary school teacher in Modesto before moving to Massachusetts. Each time, the commissioners denied his release – the last one in 2009, when they gave him seven more years to review his life. It was an easy decision. At most if not all of the hearings, Florez refused to enter the room to face the Oppenheims.

Wednesday in the state prison at Vacaville, he’ll have a 10th chance to convince them he’s worthy of freedom. Once again, they will be there to remind the commissioners of the anguish and fear Florez brought the family and still does.

“I think about it every day,” said Fish. “It’s impacted my relationships with my children (her two boys don’t know what happened to her), friends and family. I’ve dealt with it my entire life, and he should deal with it his entire life as well.”

The background: In the early morning of July 14, 1982, Sam Oppenheim, a professor at California State University, Stanislaus, heard a noise in the house.

“It sounded like one of the kids, so I went to check on them,” he told The Modesto Bee at the time. He found his sons, ages 12 and 13, fast asleep in their beds. But when he went to Dory’s room, she was gone. He found a rear door open, along with the window next to it. His wife, Alyne, found Dory’s pillow in an alley next to the home.

They called the police and an all-out search commenced, including dogs and a helicopter. That evening, about 9 p.m., Sam Oppenheim got a call from the kidnapper, who demanded $15,000 and said he’d call again at 3 p.m. the following day with further instructions. When Florez called again, he told the professor to leave $500 in a Sonora cemetery. When Florez called a third time, authorities traced the call to a phone booth next to a fast-food restaurant along Sonora’s Stockton Street.

An hour later, after officers watched him walk back to the booth to place another call, a Sonora police detective in plainclothes walked by Florez’s car and saw Dory inside. Officers moved in and arrested Florez, a 20-year-old from Modesto. Dory’s 40-hour ordeal ended, in theory, and she was quickly reunited with her father. They met her mother, who was pregnant with Dory’s sister at the time, on their way back to Modesto.

Fish said that at least two or three times during the kidnapping, Florez put her in the trunk of his car. She doesn’t remember going to a cemetery for the money exchange, possibly for that reason. He did have a gun and threatened to kill her family if she tried to escape. She remembers that he claimed he had gone to their home to burglarize it or rob them, and when he didn’t find money, he took her instead.

“He said he thought we were really wealthy,” Fish said. “I think he was sorely mistaken. I just remember thinking, ‘This person is not very smart.’ 

Fish said Florez’s stated reason for why he should be paroled is absurd. Inmates generally won’t get paroled unless they have a place to go once they get out. Fish said Florez has claimed to have a girlfriend who would get him a job on the outside. But more so, parole commissioners want to know these convicts have, indeed, accepted responsibility for their crimes, understand the impact they have made on their victims and truly repent to the point at which they can be trusted to behave themselves once they no longer are in custody.

“He’s never done that,” she said.

His other convictions, for rape and robbery, convince her that he did more bad things for which he wasn’t prosecuted. She and her parents simply don’t believe he should ever enjoy another moment of freedom.

“(The thought of Florez being paroled) gets us angry and upset,” Fish said. “It’s not the fear that he’s going to be released and come after us. It’s the accountability. He was convicted. He got a lifetime term. The sentence needs to be served.”

Which is why Sam and Alyne Oppenheim will fly from Massachusetts, where they have lived for the past several years, to attend Wednesday’s hearing at the Vacaville prison. Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Beth De Jong will represent the county, while Fish will link up by phone from her home near Boston.

Whether Florez makes an appearance remains to be seen. And if he doesn’t, he’ll all but guarantee that Fish and the Oppenheims won’t have to deal with him again for another five to seven years.

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