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Murder of Polly Klaas

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Polly Klaas
Polly Hannah Klaas

(1981-01-03)January 3, 1981
DiedOctober 1, 1993(1993-10-01) (aged 12)
Cause of deathStrangulation
Body discoveredDecember 4, 1993

Polly Hannah Klaas (January 3, 1981 – October 1, 1993) was an American murder victim whose case garnered national media attention. On October 1, 1993, at age twelve, she was kidnapped at knifepoint during a slumber party at her mother's home in Petaluma, California, and strangled to death. Richard Allen Davis was convicted of her murder in 1996 and sentenced to death.[1]


On October 1, 1993, Polly Klaas and two friends were having a slumber party. Around 10:30 pm, an intoxicated Richard Allen Davis entered her bedroom, carrying a knife from Eve Nichol's kitchen. He told the girls he was there to do no harm and was only there for money. Davis tied up both of her friends, pulled pillowcases over their heads, and told them to count to 1,000. He then kidnapped Klaas.[2] Over the next two months, about 4,000 people helped search for Klaas.[3]


After a long and tumultuous trial, Davis was convicted on June 18, 1996, of first-degree murder with four special circumstances (robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and attempted lewd act on a child) in Klaas's death.[4] A San Jose Superior Court jury returned a verdict of death. At his formal sentencing, Davis provoked national outrage by taunting his victim's family, extending both middle fingers at a courtroom camera[5] and later saying that Klaas's last words just before he killed her implied that her father molested her.[6] Judge Thomas Hastings then formally sentenced Davis to death,[7] telling Davis that his conduct in the courtroom made the decision to pass the death sentence significantly easier. Davis has been on death row since 1996.[8]

Winona Ryder[edit]

Actress Winona Ryder, who had been raised in Petaluma, offered a $200,000 reward for Klaas's safe return during the search. Ryder starred in a film version of Little Women after Klaas's death and dedicated it to her memory, because it had been Klaas's favorite book.[9]

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

Klaas's body was cremated and her ashes were spread over the Pacific Ocean by her friends and family.

In the wake of the murder, Klaas's father, Marc Klaas, became a child advocate and established the Polly Klaas Foundation (formerly the KlaasKids Foundation). [10] He has made himself available to parents of kidnapped children and has appeared frequently on Larry King Live, CNN Headline News and Nancy Grace.

The all-points bulletin was broadcast on the CHP (California Highway Patrol) channel, which only CHP radios could receive. CHP practice changed after the case. The radio system was upgraded and such bulletins are now broadcast on all police channels through a centralized 911 dispatch system.

In October 1998, a performing arts center was named in her honor in Petaluma, but was closed in 2000 because of building safety issues and a lack of funding. In November 2022, after years of fundraising and building improvements, the Polly Klaas Community Theater reopened.[11][12]

In the wake of the murder, politicians in California and other U.S. states supported three strikes laws and California's Three Strikes act was signed into law on March 8, 1994.[13][14]


Investigation Discovery re-enacted the kidnapping and murder in Motives & Murder: Cracking the Case: Who Took Polly Klaas? (Season 4 Episode 4, 10/22/2014).[15][16]

The A&E television series American Justice released the episode "Free to Kill: The Polly Klaas Murder". The episode exposes the challenges of the penal system to rehabilitate inmates. Davis had been in and out of jail, his convictions ranging from kidnapping to burglary. The episode originally aired October 23, 1996.[17][18]

The Discovery Channel crime series The FBI Files' first episode's topic was the Polly Klaas case. The episode reveals the details of the FBI agents' collection of evidence and their hunt for the criminal, and originally aired October 20, 1998.[19]

On May 9, 2022, Crime Junkie released an episode on Polly Klaas and discussed how the case set a precedent for California's Three Strikes law.[20]

ABC aired an episode of 20/20 centered on the Polly Klaas case called Taken In The Night on September 22, 2023.

ABC-7 News Bay Area (KGO) aired an episode of ABC7 Originals, "Struck by Justice: The Impact of Polly Klaas" on March 11, 2024. This documentary marked thirty years since California's Three Strikes and You're Out Law.


  1. ^ Kennedy, Helen (August 6, 1996). "Polly's Smiling Killer Gets Death Sentence". The New York Daily News. Retrieved January 28, 2009.
  2. ^ "Polly's Story". pollyklaas.org. May 11, 2021.
  3. ^ Howe, Kevin (August 13, 2016). "City nearly demolishes Polly Klaas bench in Pacific Grove – The Mercury News". MediaNews, Monterey County Herald. The Mercury News. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  4. ^ "Richard Allen Davis: Safe on Death Row". townhall.com. Archived from the original on February 27, 2016. Retrieved January 18, 2013.
  5. ^ Locke, Michelle (August 11, 1996). "The Polly Klaas story unfolded through a veil of many tears". SAN JOSE, Calif.: southcoasttoday.com. Associated Press. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  6. ^ "Before Being Sentenced to Die, Killer Disrupts a Courtroom". The New York Times. September 27, 1996. Retrieved December 5, 2017 – via www.nytimes.com.
  7. ^ Kennedy, Helen (August 6, 1996). "POLLY'S SMILING KILLER GETS DEATH SENTENCE". NY Daily News. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  8. ^ Dowd, Katie (March 27, 2023). "San Quentin's most infamous death row inmates are being moved". SFGATE. Retrieved June 3, 2023.
  9. ^ 'Women' on the Verge Archived November 10, 2014, at the Wayback Machine; last accessed December 31, 2007.
  10. ^ Provenzano, Sam (June 27, 2008). "WBKO Talks With Child Advocate Marc Klaas About KlaasKids Foundation". wbko.com. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved January 28, 2009.
  11. ^ "Performing arts center dedicated to Polly Klaas". sfchroniclemarketplace.com. October 1, 1998. Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved January 28, 2009.
  12. ^ "After nearly 2 decades, Polly Klaas Community Theater reopens in Petaluma with diverse program". www.pressdemocrat.com. October 6, 2022. Retrieved November 18, 2023.
  13. ^ George, Evan (October 24, 2012). "Prop. 36 and how California's 'Three Strikes' law came to be". For The Curious. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  14. ^ Franklin, Daniel (September 1994). "The right three strikes – three strikes and out law". Washington Monthly. Retrieved September 6, 2010.
  15. ^ "Cracking the Case:I Couldn't Keep Images Of Polly Klaas Out Of My Head | Investigation Discovery". www.investigationdiscovery.com. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  16. ^ "Kingston girl hooked on acting".
  17. ^ "American Justice | Season 5, Episode 26 Free to Kill: The Polly Klaas Murder". TVGuide.com. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  18. ^ "American Justice: Free to Kill - The Polly Klaas Murder - | Overview All Movie". AllMovie. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  19. ^ "FilmRise THE FBI FILES – Season 1 Ep 1 "Polly Klaas: Kidnapped"". filmrise.com. FilmRise. Archived from the original on April 25, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  20. ^ Flowers, Ashley (May 9, 2022). "PRECEDENT: Polly Klaas". Crime Junkie Podcast. Retrieved November 11, 2022.

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