On October 1st 1993 12 year old Polly Klaas invited her 2 friends over for a slumber party at her family’s home in Petaluma, California. The night was filled with boardgames, junk food and movies. It was like any other normal slumber party until around 10:30pm that night a stranger entered house. He crept past Polly’s sleeping mother and sister in the other room and entered Polly’s bedroom. Carrying a knife he ordered the 3 girls to be quiet and threatened them with the weapon if they made a noise. He tied up Polly’s friends, placed pillowcases over their heads and made them count to 1,000. He then fled the scene abducting Polly who was in only her pyjamas. Once it was quiet and the girls thought it was safe they untied themselves and ran into Polly’s mother’s room to tell her what had happened. Polly’s mother instantly called the police and an all points bulletin with the suspect’s description was placed within 30 minutes of the kidnapping. The only evidence known to be left at the scene was a very poor quality partial palm print and the two eye witness accounts of the young girls.
On the same night of the abduction 20 miles north of Petaluma in a rural area of Santa Rosa a babysitter noticed a suspicious vehicle stuck in a ditch on the driveway of the home she was babysitting at. She called the owner who decided to drive down the long driveway and passed a man in his car. The owner kept driving and feeling uneasy about the situation called 911 when she reached a nearby service station. Two deputies responded to the call and arrived at the scene however due to being on a different police channel they were unaware of the APB describing the child abduction just a few towns over. They ran the license plate number and drivers license through their system but the information did not return with any warrants or arrests. They also searched the vehicle however found nothing suspicious inside the car. Unable to do anything further the deputies tried to convince the owner to make a civilians arrest for trespassing and misdemeanour however the owner felt uncomfortable doing so and refused. The deputies called for a tow truck, let the man go and went on their way.
Over the coming weeks over 4,000 people helped assist in the search for missing Polly Klaas. Her case appeared on the TV series 20/20 and America’s Most Wanted in a bid for further information. Actress Wynona Ryder who grew up in Petaluma offered a $200,000 reward for Pollys’ safe return. She even starred in a film version of Little Women dedicating it to her as it had been her favourite book. Although the case garnered a great amount of media attention and assistance there was no sign of the missing girl until nearly 2 months later. On the 28th November the property owner in which the trespasser had driven his car on the night of the abduction was inspecting her property after she had loggers clear some trees. While doing so she found a number of items that looked suspicious. One item was a pair of small ballet leggings. She called the sheriffs office to report the finding and police determined that the leggings did in fact belong to Polly Klaas. Police then reviewed the calls in the area and confirmed the trespasser that night was a man named Richard Allen Davis who had been previously arrested and convicted for 2 major kidnapping charges. Because of this they had his finger prints on file and decided to test them against the palm print found in Polly’s bedroom. Due to the poor quality of the print left at the scene police weren’t confident it would be conclusive and previously had trouble running it through their identification system however they were in fact able to make a match and confirmed the palm print left at the scene belonged to Richard Allen Davis.
The police placed Davis under surveillance and conducted a further search on the property. In a bid to find further evidence before charging him Davis was unaware of the case against him and police kept the search as quiet as possible. When nothing was found after the first two days they decided it was too risky to wait and arrested him for the kidnapping of Polly Klaas. While under arrest they increased the search and over 500 police personnel were called in to help. It was and still is one of the largest search operations ever conducted in Californian history. Although the search found items of evidence they were initially unable to locate any human remains. On the 4th December undeterred and fully prepared to continue their search police were putting together a search plan for the next day when Davis confessed to the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas. He then lead investigators to the shallow grave off Highway 101 where he buried her 2 months before.
Although he confessed to the murder and lead police to Polly’s remains Davis was reluctant to give further information from the night of the crime and was very unclear in the story he provided to police. There is a possibility that Polly was still alive when police initially arrived at the trespassing scene as Davis stated he hid her in the bushes before police arrived and then went back to retrieve her after his car was towed however this could not be confirmed. It also couldn’t be concluded whether or not Polly had been sexually assaulted. No concrete motive for the crime has been reported and it is believed the attack was entirely random as there was no connection between Davis and the Klaas family. In the courtroom during his conviction Davis raised his middle fingers and taunted the family telling them Polly’s last words were that she had been molested by her father. There has never been any evidence to confirm his claims. Davis was sentenced to death by lethal injection and the judge is cited as saying in the courtroom, “It is very easy for me to pronounce this sentence given your revolting behaviour.”
In the wake of Polly’s murder her father became a child and victim’s advocate and established the Klaas foundation. He has also reached out to other parents of missing children offering his assistance where he can. Due to this case the all points bulletin system in California was also upgraded and now APB’s are broadcasted to all police channels on a state wide system. The three strikes law was also put into place mere months after Polly’s remains were found. This law ensures that when a person who has committed a severe violent felony and two or more convictions they will then serve a mandatory 25 years to life in prison even if the third felony is relatively minor. This comes after Davis who had been convicted for kidnapping for 16 years in prison was released in only 8 even though he had many prior violent convictions. If he had served his full sentence he would’ve still been in prison in 1993 and unable to enter the Klaas’ house that fateful night.