On October 1, 1993, a 12-year-old girl named Polly Klaas was having a slumber party with friends at her mom’s house in Petaluma, California, when they were interrupted by a strange man holding a knife.
The intruder, a twice-convicted kidnapper named Richard Allen Davis who was out on parole, tied the terrified girls up and then kidnapped Klaas, who was crying.
Davis later strangled Klaas to death. Two months later, her small, headless body, was found in a field — still partially dressed in her flannel nightgown.
After Klaas disappeared, the case made national headlines and around 4,000 people helped search for her. Her face appeared on several national TV shows, and actress Winona Ryder offered a $250,000 reward for information on Polly’s location.
A few hours after the kidnapping, a babysitter returning home about 20 miles north of Petaluma, noted a suspicious vehicle stuck in a ditch on her employer’s private driveway.
She called 911 when she got to a service station, but the two deputies who were sent out on the call had not heard the kidnapper’s description due to the fact that the APB had been broadcast on a different radio channel.
The deputies found Davis at the scene, but after a check of his driver’s license and license plate came back clean, they called for a tow truck to help him get his car out of the ditch.
The sheriff’s radio system has since upgraded, and APBs are now broadcast on all channels through a centralized 911 dispatch system.
On November 28, 1993, a property owner found a torn pair of ballet leggings, which were later matched by the FBI Crime Laboratory to the other part of the leggings that were taken as evidence on the night of the kidnapping.
Davis was arrested, and investigators launched a massive search of the area. On December 4, Davis confessed to kidnapping and murdering Klaas and led investigators to her body, which was buried in a shallow grave just off Highway 101.
Although Davis admitted to strangling Klaas to death, he refused to give investigators a timeline of the events from October 1. He later claimed that Klaas was still alive when the deputies arrived on the scene, and that he returned later to kill her. He also stated that he chose his victim at random — and never sexually molested her.
But investigators believe that he killed her before the arrival of deputies and hid her body in the thick brush on the hillside above where his car was stuck. He then waited until the deputies left, police believe, and then drove back up to retrieve her body.
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 jury returned a verdict of death — and at sentencing, Davis provoked national outrage by taunting his victim’s family, and saying that Klaas’ last words just before he killed her were that her father molested her. He also gave courtroom cameras the middle finger.
Judge Thomas Hastings said: “It is very easy for me to pronounce this sentence, given your revolting behavior in this courtroom.”
Davis is now behind bars on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in California.
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Main photo: Polly Klaas [Wikimedia Commons]