On October 1, 1993, 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped at knifepoint during a slumber party at her home in Petaluma, California. She was strangled to death after her kidnapping.
Her killer, Richard Allen Davis, was convicted of her murder 3 years later in 1996. He was sentenced to death for the crime. He is still on death row.
THE MURDER, INVESTIGATION, AND CONVICTION
October 1, 1993 was a normal night for 12-year-old Polly Klaas. It was a Friday night, and she had 2 of her friends over for a sleepover party. But the normalcy and the excitement of a middle school slumber party quickly ended when a stranger entered her bedroom with a knife.
The intruder tied the girls up and put pillow cases over their heads. Then, he asked Polly's friends to count to 1,000 while he took a sobbing Polly off into the night. Her friends, back-to-back, tried to untie themselves. Once the girls freed themselves, they awakened Polly's mother to tell her what happened. She called the police immediately.
Over the next 2 months, nearly 4,000 people helped search for Polly. 20/20 and America's Most Wanted covered the kidnapping extensively. The suspect's information was broadcast within minutes - but it only went out over the Sonoma County Sheriff's Channel 1.
About 20 miles north of Petaluma, a babysitter on her way home noted a suspicious vehicle stuck in the ditch of the home she worked at. She called the property owner, who decided to leave with her daughter. Believing she had spotted the man identified in the kidnapping, she called 911. However, they hadn't heard about the kidnapping because their units were on Channel 3. They ran the plates, but it came back with no active warrants.
With no reason to arrest the guy, they tried to convince the property owner to make a citizen's arrest - yes, on a man she believed to have just snatched a child at knifepoint from her bedroom. Reasonably, the property owner refused. The deputies did, however, call for a tow truck to get the car out of the ditch. No evidence was found during a search of the car.
On November 28, 1993, nearly 2 months later, the same property owner was inspecting her yard and found some strange items that she thought had something to do with the kidnapping. She called the police again, and deputies were dispatched to her home. A torn pair of ballet leggings were matched to the other part of the leggings that were taken as evidence on the fateful night of the kidnapping. Because there was a report from the Field Interrogation during the night the deputies towed his car, they were finally able to identify their suspect.
Richard Allen Davis was arrested for the kidnapping of Polly Klaas. During his interrogation on December 3, a massive search was launched. To this day, the search remains one of the largest in California state history. No evidence of human remains was found. The search was supposed to span for additional days, but on the evening of December 4, he confessed to kidnapping and murdering Polly, and led investigators to her body.
Davis had buried the 12-year-old in a shallow grave off of Highway 101, a mile south of Cloverdale, California. It was nearly 30 miles away from the area that was being searched.
Though he admitted to Polly's murder, he did not provide a clear timeline of the events of October 1. Investigators believe that, after his description was released, he became fearful that people passing him on the street would turn him in. They believe that Polly was already dead when the police arrived at the ditch where his car was stick, and he stuck her body in the thick brush in the ditch. Then, after being escorted back on the freeway, he returned to retrieve her body and bury it properly.
When the deputies arrived, he was reportedly out of breath and sweating profusely, with twigs and leaves in his hair, which would make sense had he just transported a body. Additionally, it is believed that he had scouted out her final gravesite ahead of time, as the area wouldn't have been found by a casual observer, and it was safely away from the highway.
RICHARD ALLEN DAVIS
Let's go into a little bit of background about the man who would snatch a child out of her own bedroom, shall we?
Davis was the 3rd of 5 children born to Bob and Evelyn Davis, 2 alcoholics from San Fransisco. During his murder trial, it was brought up that his mother used to punish Davis for smoking by burning his hand. (Okay, you still can't murder someone?)
His parents divorced when he was 11, and he lived with his father, who was often unable, or just unwilling, to care for his children. They were put in the hands of a variety of babysitters, and a revolving door of stepmothers, as well.
Bob was mentally unstable, suffering from hallucinations. He would shoot his gun in an unruly manner outside often. But Davis - he was a sociopath waiting to happen. He tortured and killed animals. The mother of one of his childhood friends remembered him dousing gats with gasoline and setting them on fire. He carried a knife and stabbed stray dogs. (Arson! Animal abuse! 2 of the trilogy of serial murderers!)
Once he became a teen, he was heavily into crime. He told a psychiatrist that stealing helped him relieve tensions inside of him. He dropped out of high school as a sophomore. In 1973, 18-year-old Marlene Voris was found dead after a party she hosted. Despite suicide notes at the scene, friends of Marlene believe that Davis killed her.
His "criminal justice record" is 36 bullet points long in the section on Wikipedia, so I'll give you the highlights. He started committing crimes in 1967 at age 12 when he was arrested for burglary. In the 60s, he'd encounter law enforcement 3 more times for forging a money order, another burglary, and being turned in by his father for "incorrigibility" which doesn't actually seem fair, but oh well.
He went balls to the wall in 1970. Motorcycle theft, several infractions from the army (fighting! Going AWOL! Failure to report! Morphine abuse!) and a discharge after 13 months, public drunkenness and resisting arrest, a minor in possession of alcohol, trespassing, public intoxication, traffic warrants, burglaries and more burglaries (around this time he got shot for being a "snitch" in prison), a parole violation, auto-theft. Okay, not great. But we are only in 1975!
Also in 1975, he abducted a 26-year-old secretary and tried to rape her. She was able to escape. During a psychiatric hold, he tried to hang himself. He escaped the hospital and went on a 4-day crime spree where he broke into a nurse's home, beat her with a fire poker, kidnapped a bartender, and broke into another house. He was sentenced to 25 years.
But in 1982, just 7 YEARS LATER, he was paroled. He got himself a girlfriend, as all horrific killers do. Together, they pistol-whipped a friend of his girlfriend's sister to steal $60,000 form her. He was arrested yet again. Jail, yet again.
But, ah, yet again, he was paroled! In 1993, he was back on the street. And then, he kidnapped a 12-year-old from her bedroom during a sleepover and strangled her to death. If only a person who breaks into homes, attempts to rape people, and had a history of kidnapping didn't get paroled twice. 0/10 stars, American justice system.
The trial was long. But on June 18, 1996, he was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death for the crime. During sentencing, he taunted the family and provoked national outrage. He flipped off the courtroom, and told her family that the last words she uttered was that her father molested her. The judge said the decision for him to die of lethal injection was an easy one to pass down.
Davis is currently on death row, for 24 years now. He survived a drug overdose while in prison, and attacks on him by several other prisoners. He is in solitary confinement, and continues to appeal his conviction.
AFTERMATH AND LEGACY
Winona Ryder, who was from Petaluma, offered a $200,000 reward for Polly's safe return during the search. She also dedicated her performance in Little Women to Polly, as it was her favorite book.
Polly's body was cremated and spread over the ocean by her friends and family. Her parents because child advocates and established the KlaasKids Foundation. Marc Klaas has made himself available to parents all over the country who have had their children kidnapped, and has appeared on my TV shows to speak of his experience.
The radio system that allowed the suspect's identification to be only broadcast on one station has since been remedied, and now all points bulletins are broadcast on all police channels.
Polly's murder has been featured on various true crime shows. Additionally, My Favorite Murder's Karen Kilgariff is from Petaluma, California and has spoken about how Polly's murder effected her as a resident of what was once considered a quiet, safe town.
This case is absolutely infuriating. Davis had abducted and attempted to rape a woman. And when he was arrested, he broke into various homes and assaulted women during his run from police. He was sentenced to 25 years. That was in 1975. He would have still had 7 years left of his prison sentence when he took Polly.
But he was let out. Okay. Our justice system should be about rehabilitation, so sure, he gets out. Then, he kidnaps and assaults a woman to steal $60,000 from her. He gets caught, and sentenced to 16 years. He gets out in 1993 after serving HALF of his 16 year sentence. He should have been in jail for another 8 years when he took Polly.
This guy was beyond help. He had a rap sheet longer than a CVS receipt. He was a troubled child, and a violently criminal adult. He kidnapped, assaulted, and maybe killed. He broke in. He stole. He wasn't a second chance type of guy. He certainly wasn't a third chance type of guy.
For both crimes, he would have still been behind bars when Polly invited her friends over for a slumber party. But instead, he was paroled for both. And he climbed into a 12-year-old's window, put pillow cases over her friends' heads, took her, and murdered her. It is a complete and total failure of our justice system.
Polly Klaas is a name that most true crime enthused people know, but I certainly did not know that her killer had been sentenced to a total of 41 years that he'd served less than a third of. She should still be alive.
Yet again, we see how the kidnapping and murder of an innocent people leads to positive and necessary change in police procedures, and how the tragedy sprung her parents into action. But the main takeaway is that a child was murdered for no reason. And it is heartbreaking.
It has been 27 years since Polly Klaas was taken from her home. Since her parents' lives came crashing around them, since the town of Petaluma started locking their doors and fearing their neighbors. Polly would be nearing 40, maybe having children of her own enjoying sleepover parties at her home. But her life was stolen from her.
Rest in peace, Polly Klaas. And rot on death row, Richard Davis.