Murder of Polly Klaas
|Born||Polly Hannah Klaas
January 3, 1981
Fairfax, California, United States
|Died||October 1, 1993
Petaluma, California, United States
|Cause of death||Strangulation|
|Known for||Murder victim|
Polly Hannah Klaas (January 3, 1981 – October 1, 1993) was an American murder victim whose case gained national attention. At the age of twelve, she was kidnapped at knife point from her mother's home, in her bedroom, during a slumber party in Petaluma, California, on October 1, 1993. She was later strangled. Richard Allen Davis was convicted of her murder in 1996 and sentenced to death.
On October 1, 1993, Klaas invited two friends for a slumber party. Late in the evening, a man (Richard Allen Davis) entered her bedroom, carrying a knife. He tied the two friends up, pulled pillowcases over their heads, and told them to count to 1,000. He then kidnapped the weeping Klaas.
Over the next two months, about 4,000 people helped search for Klaas. TV shows such as 20/20 and America's Most Wanted covered the kidnapping. An APB (All-points bulletin) with the suspect information was broadcast within 30 minutes of it, on October 1, 1993. However, the broadcast only went out over Sonoma County Sheriff's Channel 1. In a rural area of Santa Rosa, about 20 miles north of Petaluma, a babysitter returning home noted a suspicious vehicle stuck in a ditch on her employer's private driveway. She phoned the property owner, who decided to leave with her daughter. As she drove down the long driveway to Pythian Road, the owner passed the suspect. She called 911 when she got to a service station, and two deputies were dispatched on the call. The deputies did not know of the kidnapping or the suspect's description, due to Sonoma Valley units being on Channel 3. The deputies ran the suspect's driver's license number and car plate number, but they came back with no wants or warrants. The deputies tried to convince the property owner to perform a citizen's arrest for trespassing. Under California law, a citizen must make an arrest for this type of misdemeanor. The property owner would have had to go to the car with the deputies and say "I arrest you." The deputies then would have taken him into custody. The property owner declined.
The deputies called for a tow truck to get the suspect's car out of the ditch. They searched it thoroughly before the arrival of the tow truck, and there was no evidence of anyone in the car. The only possible violation was an open container of beer, but the suspect was not driving at the time of the deputies' contact, and mere possession of an open container was not illegal. Before the suspect was allowed to leave, he was made to pour out the beer, and the deputies filled out an FI (Field Interrogation) card with his information, and the FI card was filed. It showed that Davis was the person with the Ford Pinto that night.
Since the events of October 1, the Sheriff's radio system has been upgraded, and APB's are now broadcast on all channels through a centralized 911 dispatch system.
On November 28, 1993, the property owner was inspecting her property after loggers had partially cleared the property of trees. She found items that made her believe that they may be connected to the kidnapping. She called the Sheriff's Department to report her find, and deputies and crime scene investigators were dispatched. One of the items found, a torn pair of ballet leggings, was matched by the FBI Crime Laboratory to the other part of the leggings that were taken as evidence on the night of the kidnapping. A review of calls in the area the day of the kidnapping turned up the contact with Davis. The suspect was only identified because the two deputies had filled out and filed the FI card. Once the identity of Davis was known, his palm print at the scene of the kidnapping was also matched to him. Authorities were unable to match the partial print earlier due to the poor quality of the print.
The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, in cooperation with Petaluma Police and the FBI, launched a search of the property and the Pythian Road area during a heavy rainstorm. The first two days of the search were kept as low key as possible, since the suspect was under surveillance at an Indian rancheria near Ukiah, California. When nothing was found during the initial search, and the surveillance of Davis also produced no results, the decision was made to arrest him for the kidnapping of Klaas.
While Davis was being interrogated by Petaluma PD and the FBI, a massive search was launched on Friday, December 3. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department was assisted by over 500 search team members from 24 agencies, coming from as far away as Kern County, California, and Washoe County, Nevada. The mutual aid effort was coordinated by the California State Office of Emergency Services (now known as the California Emergency Management Agency), FBI Crime Scene teams, and numerous other state and federal agencies. The search remains today as one of the largest ever conducted in California. The search continued through Saturday, December 4. The search effort did produce other items of evidence, but no evidence of human remains. The search was planned to continue on Sunday, December 5, but on the evening of December 4, Davis confessed to kidnapping and murdering Klaas and led investigators to her body. He had buried her in a shallow grave just off Highway 101, about a mile south of the city limits of Cloverdale, California. The grave site is about 20 air miles, and about 30 road miles, from the search site.
Although Davis admitted to strangling Klaas to death, he refused to give investigators a timeline of the events of October 1. Investigators believe he was fearful the two persons who passed him would call the Sheriff's Department. It's believed that he killed her before the arrival of deputies, and secreted her body in the thick brush on the hillside above where his car was stuck. He then waited for an undetermined period of time after being escorted back to Highway 12, about 1.5 miles from where his car was stuck, and drove back up to retrieve her body. He was reportedly out of breath, sweating profusely (even though it was a cool night), and had twigs and leaves in his hair when contacted by deputies. It's also believed that he had picked out the grave site in advance, since it wouldn't have been seen by a casual observer. The grave site area would be visible from Highway 101, but not the grave itself. He had to drive from the Indian Rancheria in Ukiah once a week to meet with his parole officer, and he would have seen any police activity in the area. While the exact sequence of events may never be known, the assumptions of the investigators seem reasonable, given what is known now.
After a long, tumultuous trial, Davis was convicted on June 18, 1996 of first-degree murder and four special circumstances (robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and a lewd act on a child) in Klaas' death. A San Jose Superior Court jury returned a verdict of death. At his formal sentencing by a judge, Davis provoked national outrage by taunting his victim's family, extending his middle finger to TV cameras and later saying that Klaas' last words just before he killed her were that her father molested her. Judge Thomas Hastings sentenced Davis to death by lethal injection, and remarked that "It is very easy for me to pronounce this sentence, given your revolting behavior in this courtroom". He is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison, in Marin County, California. Having survived an apparent drug overdose while in prison, and attacks on him by several other prisoners, Davis is now in solitary confinement, and continues to assist his attorneys in various appeals over the last 17 years (as of December 2013) and has more appeals ahead of him before the sentence passed can be carried out.
According to The Associated Press, Davis' attorney has complained that California's seeming inability to implement any executions in a timely manner has forced him "to endure the uncertainty and ever-present tension on death row for such an extended time constitutes cruel and unusual punishment".
Actress Winona Ryder, who had been raised in Petaluma, offered a $200,000 reward for Klaas' safe return during the search. After her death, Ryder starred in a film version of Little Women and dedicated it to her memory, since that had been her favorite book.
Aftermath and legacy
Klaas' body was cremated and her ashes spread over the Pacific Ocean by her family.
In the wake of the murder, Klaas' father, Marc Klaas, became a child advocate and established the KlaasKids Foundation. 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 channel, which only CHP radios could receive. CHP practice changed after the case. Such bulletins are now broadcast on all police channels.
Five years after Klaas' murder, a performing arts center was named in her honor in Petaluma.
The story of Klaas' kidnapping and the manhunt for Davis was depicted in episode 27, season 1 of The FBI Files documentary show, titled "Polly Klaas: Kidnapped" (which premiered October 20, 1998).
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- 'Women' on the Verge; last accessed December 31, 2007.
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- "Performing arts center dedicated to Polly Klaas". sfchroniclemarketplace.com. 1998-10-01. Retrieved 2009-01-28.
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- "Polly Klaas: Kidnapped" at the Internet Movie Database
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- Warren, Jennifer. "[http://articles.latimes.com/1994-05-13/news/mn-57226_1_richard-davis Officer Details Suspect's Confession in Klaas Case : Courts: Detective testifies that Richard Davis said he strangled the girl to avoid imprisonment for kidnaping." Los Angeles Times. May 13, 1994.