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The Killing of Polly Hannah Klaas

The Killing of Polly Hannah Klaas
Polly Hannah Klaas was born on January 3, 1981 in Fairfax, Cal., to Marc and Eve Klaas. Her parents divorced when she was only two-and-a-half. Marc Klaas was later to remark that the couple had "an unsuccessful marriage but a successful divorce" because the two remained friends and, while Eve got custody, Marc faithfully visited his only child.

Eve and Polly would move around a great deal while she was growing up. That may be one reason that people often described Polly as "shy" and say she had trouble forming friendships.

Her mother next married Allan Nichol. Allan had three kids from a previous marriage. He and Eve had a child together, Annie, in 1987. Polly appeared to get along well with her stepsiblings and little sister, but she had a certain amount of conflict with her stepfather. When one of the other children challenged his authority, Allan Nichol would accuse them of "pulling a Polly."

Polly liked actor Mel Gibson and football player Joe Montana. A photograph of the latter was tacked on her bedroom wall. She liked to read Archie comics and Judy Blume books. Popcorn and hot fudge sundaes were among her favorite treats. She had two cats, Spooky and Milo.

Although often withdrawn, Polly had a dramatic streak. She very much enjoyed being in school plays and cherished the dream of acting professionally someday. Music was a major interest, and she was active in the school band.

She had a good sense of humor and enjoyed dressing up like an old lady and hobbling about with a cane, which she would use to suddenly whack someone on the behind. She also enjoyed making people laugh by imitating a chihuahua by sticking her tongue out and rolling her eyes. Friends thought she did a good Elvis Presley imitation. Polly also had a sarcastic streak. Once when the family was trying to eat dinner through little sister Annie's loud crying, Polly commented, "Gee, that's relaxing."

She was close to her paternal grandparents, Joe and B.J. Klaas, who took her on trips to places that included Mexico and Yellowstone Park. She was even closer to her dad, Marc Klaas. Barry Bortnick wrote in Polly Klaas: The Murder of America's Child, "Polly spent most holidays and weekends with her dad, who ran a Hertz rent-a-car office in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. Wherever Polly's family moved, Marc Klaas was there. He worked as a teacher's aide in some of Polly's schools." Joe Klaas said, "They had an incredible relationship" and remembered that "If anyone made a joke about Marc, she would jump to his defense."

As she grew close to her teen years, Polly was a pretty, brown-eyed, fair-skinned youngster with dimples. She wore her wavy, dark hair past her shoulders.

Polly had a lifelong fear of the dark. She could not get to sleep unless there was a little light on. She was scared of a mysterious bogeyman and of the possibility of being kidnapped. It was something she had discussed often with her parents. Marc Klaas would recall with bitter irony how he had assured his daughter "that everything would be all right, I would always be there to protect her."

Kidnapped from Home

Scenic view of Petaluma, California

At the age of 12, Polly Klaas resided with her mother, Eve Nichol, and her younger sister, Annie, in Petaluma, California, a low-crime town 40 miles from San Francisco. At the time, Petaluma was an affluent suburb of about 47,000 people. Its median household income was $50,000 per year.

Eve Nichol was currently separated from her second husband. The woman lived with her two little girls in a modest, pale-blue home close to downtown Petaluma. The window on one side of the front has a group of simple squares. The other end of the home has a three-sided jut. The middle consists of small stone steps leading up to the front door. Old trees grace the front yard.

It was here, on Oct. 1, 1993, that three girls were having a slumber party. Polly's guests were her two best friends, Kate McLean and Gillian Pelham. The three attended Petaluma Junior High together. They had a special bond because not only were they members of the school's band but they all played the same instrument, the clarinet.

The three friends took turns posing in a Mickey Mouse hat and an antler cap. Things turned spooky when the trio began goofing around with make-up. Polly painted her face with white powder and black lipstick to make herself look like a ghoul. Then she washed it off.

Later, several people were to remember seeing a thickly built, bearded male with bushy gray hair loitering on the sidewalk around Polly Klaas' home. He was not doing anything threatening and could have been a vagrant or perhaps even just a fellow out for a leisurely evening stroll.

But he was not.

The girls were giggling and playing a board game called Perfect Match when Polly decided it was time to fetch her friends' sleeping bags from the living room. She opened the bedroom door and saw a heavily muscled middle-aged man who was a complete stranger. He was holding a knife and he immediately ordered, "Don't scream or I'll cut your throats!"

All three youngsters remained quiet.

"Who lives here?" he asked.

"I do," Polly replied.

Kate and Gillian both suspected a practical joke, a before-Halloween trick of some sort. Polly liked practical jokes.

"I'm just doing this for the money," the stranger said.

Polly offered him a box with $50 in cash. He refused it and told the three girls to lie down on the floor. Then he tied their hands behind their backs and placed hoods over their heads.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he assured them. "I'm just doing this for the money," he repeated.

"Please don't hurt my Mom and sister," Polly begged.

Kate and Gillian heard the terror in their friend's voice. This was no joke.

The stranger picked the 12-year-old Polly up and told her friend to "count to 1,000" before they did anything.

Then he carried Polly out of her home.

Gillian and Kate did not bother to count. They struggled to free themselves from their bonds and eventually succeeded. At 10:45 p.m., the frantic girls woke Eve Nichol and told her of their recent horror. The mother dialed 911 and the hunt was on.

Where is Polly?

The Petaluma police were soon swarming about the area. They also broadcast a description of the tall, bearded, white man wearing dark clothing to police radios throughout Sonoma County but not to every station. This omission delayed the solving of the case. It may also have been fatal to Polly Klaas.

For around midnight on that dreadful evening, in an area just 25 miles away from Polly's home, Dana Jaffe called police to complain about a trespasser on her Pythian Road property. Jaffe, in turn, had been alerted to the trespasser by Shannon Lynch, 19, who had been babysitting Jaffe's child, a girl named Kalila. When Jaffe returned home, Lynch got into her Ford Escort to head home. As she drove down the hill, she saw a stranger in dark clothes examining a Pinto that appeared stuck.

Lynch cracked her window to talk to the man. The fellow shoved his fingers through the crack and bellowed, "I'm stuck. I need some rope!"

Something about the man badly frightened Lynch. She waved him off, then sped away. She stopped at a pay phone and called Jaffe. When her friend and sometime employer answered, Lynch spilled out the story of the mysterious man on Jaffe's land. For some reason, Jaffe did not phone the cops from the safety of her own home. Rather, she felt vulnerable because of its isolation and decided to put distance between herself and her child and mystery man. She told Kalila that they had to leave home to avoid the possibly dangerous man. Armed with a baseball bat and a can of Mace, mother and child bundled into their Toyota wagon and took off, driving past the ominously stranded Pinto. When she got to a phone at a gas station, Jaffe called police.

Two deputies, Michael Rankin and Thomas Howard, were sent to look into the matter.

They met Richard Allen Davis whose white Pinto had gotten stuck in a ditch on the little road leading to Jaffe's home. The large man was dirty, with twigs in his thick hair, and sweating profusely although the night was not hot. He kept wiping perspiration off of his brow with his shirt. However, he did not seem at all nervous or agitated.

What was he doing out there? the officers asked.

"Sight-seeing," he replied in a calm, collected tone.

The area was desolate and it was dark so the cops were understandably skeptical.

Davis nonchalantly took a can of beer out of the half-empty six pack in his car. He popped the tab and began sipping.

He was told he could not do that. Davis tossed the can into some bushes. The police ordered him to pick it up but did not cite him for littering.

Rankin and Howard ran a check for outstanding warrants. It came up clean. However, they did not run a check for background. If they had, they would have discovered that they were dealing with a man who had convictions for robbery, burglary, assault, kidnapping and who had a long history of violence against females. They would also have realized that he was on parole and had just violated it. Later, police would say that it is not routine to do background checks on suspected trespassers.

A Trespasser

Davis spoke coherently. He did not look or act drunk and he was not given a Breathalyzer test. The police asked Dana Jaffe if she wanted the man arrested. She said she just wanted him shooed off of her property.

He would be happy to leave, Davis said, but as he showed Rankin and Howard, his car was stuck in a ditch. The helpful police borrowed a chain from the homeowner and freed Davis' Pinto.

In so doing, they may have, however innocently and inadvertently, helped ensure the death of a terrorized child.

By 9:00 the following morning, forensic experts had identified a palm print from Polly's room as that of Richard Allen Davis. However, this information was kept from the media, as was the story of Davis' midnight "sight-seeing" and his encounter with the deputies.

Later that same day, a Petaluma print shop owner named Bill Rhodes started forming a citizens' group to search for Polly. He also printed thousands of circulars with her photograph and description plus a police number to call if someone had any information about the kidnapped child's whereabouts.

Two days after the abduction, the television show {America's Most Wanted} ran a segment about the case. Pictures of Polly and sketches of what Gillian and Kate said the intruder looked like were posted in supermarkets, on telephone polls, and shoved into mailboxes everywhere, not just in California but throughout the world. Police with bloodhounds combed surrounding areas for some sign of the lost little girl. Phone calls poured in from people hoping they had relevant information. Soon the Polly Klaas Center was organized out of Bill Rhodes' original efforts. It was a place where tips were taken and search parties were organized. The town of Petaluma sprouted with purple ribbons because purple was Polly's favorite color.

As was standard in such cases, both Eve Nichol and her ex-husband, Polly's father, Marc Klaas, took polygraph tests. Both were ruled out as suspects.

The actress Winona Ryder, the thin elfin brunette who had starred in such diverse motion pictures as Heathers, The Age of Innocence, Reality Bites and Little Women, put up a $200,000 reward. Ryder's adolescence in Petaluma was not entirely pleasant. As a freshman at Petaluma High School, some teenagers jeered her as a "faggot" and shoved her face into a locker. She believed that she had been attacked because, slender and short-haired, she had been mistaken for an effeminate male. As a result of this assault, she began home study.

Ryder told America's Most Wanted that she felt connected to Polly "because this happened in the community I was raised in" and said, "I am lucky to be in a position to get things out there and financially offer what I can. I obviously want Polly back safe."


About 300 children, mostly girls, disappear in the U.S. each year. Why did Polly's disappearance garner so much attention as compared to similar tragedies? Many believed it had to do with the sheer audacity of the kidnapper who invaded a child's bedroom to grab her. On a deep level, it connected with everyone's childhood fear of the bogeyman a fear that Polly was known to share.

Days stretched into weeks. Artist Jeanne Boylan created a new sketch of the abductor, which was widely distributed. Psychics were consulted for their otherworldly aid. Publicly, spokespeople remained optimistic that Polly Klaas would be found alive and well. Privately, there was a sinking certainty that she was already dead.

On Oct. 19, 1993, Richard Allen Davis was arrested for drunk driving. Neither the arresting officers nor his jailers noticed his resemblance to the sketches of Polly's abductor. They let him leave after a little under five hours. He drove away in his 1979 white Pinto.

A benefit concert for Polly was held Oct. 25. Guest performers included such pop culture heavyweights as Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, singer Charlie Musselwhite, and comedians Wavy Gravy, Michael Dugen, and Robin Williams. Williams conducted the auctioning off of celebrity items. From both ticket sales and the auction, $12,000 was raised.

Alas, as is always the case in times like these, the unscrupulous took advantage of public distress. Many scam artists were out, claiming to raise money for the search for the young lady but pocketing the money.

On Nov. 11, the Polly Klaas Foundation received non-profit status. A grateful Marc Klaas made Bill Rhodes the president of the newly formed organization.

Then, nine days later, shocking stories about Rhodes surfaced, forcing him to resign. A woman filed a civil suit in which she accused him of molesting her several times when she was nine years old. The police revealed that, whatever the truth or falsity of the suing woman's claims, Rhodes was a registered sex offender. He was convicted of masturbating in front of female children in 1967. The next year he was arrested for threatening four young girls with a knife and forcing them to undress, then blindfolding and fondling them. He was acquitted on the latter charges. However, they are chillingly similar to the crime against Polly.

Is it possible, many wondered, that Bill Rhodes, who had rallied to Polly's cause so early in the case, was her kidnapper? Perpetrators of crimes often get a special thrill out of pretending to assist in the investigation. Involvement in the search would also put the offender in a perfect position to throw the sincere investigators off of the true scent.

Police soon cleared Rhodes of any involvement in Polly's disappearance. Rhodes supposedly told others that he had gotten involved in the search for her in part to make up for his past. However, the sickening revelations cast a further pall over an increasingly desperate search.

On Nov. 28, Dana Jaffe and two friends were hiking around her property when they happened upon several items in a brushy area. They included a dark sweatshirt, red tights that were knotted up, a "Rough Rider" condom wrapper with an unrolled condom nearby, strips of binding tape, and an item made of white cloth that looked like it had been made into a hood. She remembered the trespasser on the night of Polly's disappearance. Could they be linked? She was chilled by the possibility. "The tights and the white pieces of cloth made me feel like they were really out of place," Jaffe remarked. "I didn't like the way they looked. They looked like they were ties or gags." A stunned Jaffe turned to her hiking partners and asked, "Do you think this is Polly?"

She phoned the police about her find. A review of her trespassing complaint led cops to the identity of the fellow found and let go: Richard Allen Davis, the same man whose palm print was in Polly's room.

Davis was arrested two days later. He did not try to cover his face from the scrim photographers but neither would he answer any questions about Polly Klaas.

Both Kate and Gillian easily picked Davis out of a lineup.

Finally, on Dec. 4, Davis confessed to both the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas. He also led investigators to the body.

Bad Parents, Sadistic Child

Richard "Rick" Allen Davis was born, the third of five children, in San Francisco on June 2, 1954. Both of his parents, Bob and Evelyn Davis, were alcoholics. Evelyn was a strict mother and is believed to have disciplined Rick for smoking by burning his hand.

The couple divorced when Rick was 11. After their divorce, Bob, a longshoremen, won custody of all five kids "because of the mother's alleged immoral conduct in the presence of the children," according to a probation report on Richard. Young Rick moved around a lot, living variously in Chowchilla, Fremont, and San Francisco. The bulk of his childhood was spent in the small village of La Honda.

Bob Davis would remarry three times and young Rick would resent all of his stepmothers. These early negative relationships with maternal figures apparently resulted in a hatred of, and contempt for, females in general and a propensity toward violence against them.

Although he had wanted custody when their marriage dissolved, the elder Davis was sometimes either unable or unwilling to care for the kids so they shuttled between Mom and Dad as well as between paternal and maternal grandparents. Bob Davis was evidently mentally unstable and sometimes suffered from hallucinations. He is reported to have taken a gun outside the home and shot at mirages. Young Rick grew up with little stability in his life and little affection.

Confused and deprived of the love and acceptance that is so crucial to children, Rick became a badly troubled and mean boy. At an early age, he began torturing and killing animals. According to Ruth Baron, who knew him because she had a son the same age, "He would douse cats with gasoline and set them on fire. He made a point of letting people know he carried a knife, and he used to find stray dogs and cut them."

However, Rick did not completely lack the ability to care. His younger sister, Darlene, remembered him as a responsible parent-substitute. "Rick brought me up," she claimed. "He cooked and cleaned. He was my father and my mother."

By the time he entered his teens, Davis was already deeply into a life of crime. He was thrilled by danger. He told a psychiatrist that stealing was a surefire way to relieve whatever "tensions" were building up inside of him.

He dropped out of high school in his sophomore year.

At 17, a sullen Davis found himself in front of a judge who told the young recidivist that he could either go to the California Youth Authority or join the U.S. Army. He chose the army.

Stationed in Germany, he worked as a military truck driver. He also resumed committing a variety of petty crimes. The army eventually caught up with him and he was given a less than honorable discharge after 13 months of service. His thick, beefy arms were now covered with a variety of black tattoos. Many of the tattoos were of spider webs.

A Suicide?

Richard Allen Davis
Richard Allen Davis
Back in California, he looked up some of his old high school friends. On Oct. 12, 1973, he went to a party at the home of 18-year-old Marlene Voris. Davis claimed that she was his girlfriend. The reason for the party was to celebrate Voris' having been accepted into the Navy. She was said to have been ecstatic about the acceptance and looking forward to a new life in the service. Perhaps it aroused conflicting feelings for Davis to be around someone who looked forward to being in the military, a system in which he had recently failed.

The party wound down and people left, but Davis told his pals that he had to go back in the house for something.

A few minutes later, a shot rang out.

Voris was dead. There were no less than seven suicide notes at the scene and the police concluded that the young lady had indeed done away with herself. Others who knew her claimed that she had been happy that night. They believe Davis murdered her. Ruth Baron said, "As far as I'm concerned, Rick held the gun on her and forced her to write those notes. Then he killed her."

Davis would later claim that Voris shot herself "almost in his presence" and that he had been traumatized by it.

A few weeks after that death, Davis was arrested for attempting to pawn various items he had stolen. He confessed to a string of burglaries in La Honda but claimed he had been motivated, at least sometimes, by hunger. This is not completely unbelievable. With his record, it would be difficult to secure legal employment sufficient to support himself. Davis served six months in the county jail.

Five weeks after his release, on May 13, 1974, he was arrested for another burglary. At age twenty-one, he was given a prison sentence of six months to fifteen years. He served a little more than two years.

Crimes Against Women

Less than two months after being let out of prison, on Sept. 24, 1976, Davis perpetrated his first provable violent crime against a woman. He spotted Frances Mays, a 26-year-old secretary, heading toward a parking lot. It was about 6:00 p.m. and not yet dark. Davis would later tell a court appointed psychiatrist that he heard a female voice talking inside his brain and "wondering what it was like to be raped." He claimed that when he saw Mays, he was certain that it was her voice and he was going to help her find out exactly what it was like to be raped.

As Mays was about to open her car door, she sensed someone behind her. She turned around and saw a furious Rick Davis, menacing her with a knife.

"Get inside," he gruffly ordered. She did and he told her to move over to the passenger side. Then he took the car keys.

He started driving.

She started crying.

"Shut up!" an outraged Davis shouted and slugged her.

Did he want her wallet? Mays inquired.

He did and slipped it into a pocket.

"I just got outa prison," the man, whose name she did not know, said. "Someone is following me and I gotta get away."

After pulling off the road and into a deserted area, Davis unzipped his fly and took out his penis. "I'm going to count to three," he said. "You know what I want you to do."

In panic, Frances Mays grabbed for the knife. She hit the blade and cut her hand. Screaming and bleeding, she opened the car door and ran. Luckily, she managed to flag down a car that of Jim Wentz, a California Highway Patrol officer on his way to work.

Wentz took his gun out and pointed it at Davis. Then the officer placed the parolee under arrest.

Held in jail, Davis asserted that he was continually badgered by the voice of Frances Mays. He was transferred to the Napa State Hospital for a mental evaluation. On Dec. 16, 1976, he escaped from the hospital.

That very night, Davis broke into the home of 32-year-old Marjorie Arlington. She was soundly asleep. He slammed her in the head with a fireplace poker. She woke up screaming and bloody and he left the house. He would later tell a psychiatrist that a voice told him the woman wanted to be bashed in the head. He was merely obliging a woman in her own self-destructive desires, Davis again claimed.

The next day he broke into the Napa County Animal Shelter. He stole some drugs plus a shotgun and ammunition.

Early on the morning of Dec. 20, Davis saw Marie Ellis going to her car. As she got behind the steering wheel, Davis put the stolen shotgun to her neck through the open car window. "You've got to drive me to Santa Rosa," he told her. He paused to pull some tape out of his pocket to tie her up and, in so doing, took the gun away from her neck.

She floored the accelerator and escaped.

The next day found Davis 70 miles south of Napa in his old stomping grounds of La Honda. He broke into a home (the owners were not present) and stole clothing and expensive jewelry.

Somebody saw him and called police. They rushed to the scene and discovered Davis attempting to hide in the grass beside a fence. He was curled into a ball and held the stolen shotgun.

As they took the habitual criminal in, he told them, "Everybody does it [presumably referring to stealing], some just don't get caught."

Davis was tried before, then sentenced by, Judge Alan Harvey of the San Mateo Superior Court. The judge asked Davis if he had any regrets about his crime: "You don't it doesn't bother you at all?"

"No," the beefy, round-faced, and much-tattooed defendant replied. "If it did, I wouldn't have done it."

As Frank Spiering wrote in Who Killed Polly? "Judge Harvey sentenced Davis to one-to-25 years for kidnapping Frances Mays in Hayward, two years to life for the two assaults in Napa, and six months-to-ten years for receiving stolen property."

The unrepentant career criminal was paroled on March 4, 1982, after serving only six years.

Motorcycle Mama

Then Davis met Sue Edwards, a plump, bottle blonde motorcycle mama in her early twenties who earned her living as a drug dealer. The two had many common interests and propensities. They were soon both boyfriend and girlfriend and crime partners. Together they roamed around California, Oregon, and Washington. They dealt drugs, robbed stores and restaurants, and always tried to keep one step ahead of law enforcement.

On Nov. 30, 1984, Davis and Edwards robbed a woman named Selina Varich. Varich had been the lover of Edwards sister Nancy some years before.

The pair began threatening Varich even before she opened the door to her Redwood City home. She heard, Youre going to listen to us now because if you dont were going to kill your daughter, your father, and yourself: all three of you.

Varich let in the rough couple and Edwards proceeded to tear Varichs telephone off of the wall while Davis pointed a gun at the terrified and trembling victim. A panicky Varich tried to escape from her own house but before she could get to the door both invaders tackled her. Davis struck her in the face, hard, with his pistol, causing herto splatter blood.

You better stop screaming or well kill you! she was told.

Eventually the wounded woman calmed down. Edwards and Davis told Varich that she must go to her bank, withdraw $6,000, and hand it over. Varich went to the bank, accompanied by Edwards. Apparently Varichs bruises and fear were not enough to alarm bank personnel for the transaction took place unimpeded. Varich turned the cash over to Edwards who then met up with Davis. The two happily lit off.

Later, they found themselves in Washington state, having run through much of their ill-gotten gains.

Edwards came to her sweetheart, beaming with good news. I was just up at this bank, she excitedly informed him, and they dont got no cameras!

Are you serious? a skeptical Davis asked.

His girlfriend insisted that she was. He asked the location of the bank and she gave him directions. He drove to it and went inside where he saw no cameras.

Davis and Edwards took $4,000 from the camera-less bank. As they sped away, they heard sirens behind them. But luck was with the lawless pair. It began snowing and, unlike the police, they were driving a vehicle that had chains on its tires so they easily got away.

Davis' Revenge

On March 21, 1985, the ruthless couple was back in California, this time in Modesto. Their pickup truck had a defective taillight. A police officer pulled them over for a ticket, ran a check, and found the warrants on them for their crimes against Selina Varich.

Davis was sentenced to sixteen years in prison. He served it at the California Mens Colony in San Luis Obispo. Here he received training in a legitimate and high-paying skilled trade, sheet-metal working. Davis supervisor was quite impressed by the convicts performance. The guy was just an excellent sheet-metal worker, he commented with admiration, the best press-break operator weve ever had here. Rick had a lot of potential. With his skills, he could have made $45 an hour.

Lacking the extensive criminal record that Richard Allen Davis had, Sue Edwards received a much lighter sentence for the couples crimes. She served a mere six months. In 1988, she married Mike Mrava. Less than three months later, she was a widow. Mrava was found dead with his throat cut and a total of 23 stab wounds. Edwards boyfriend, Floyd Bailey, confessed to the murder.

Sue Edwards inherited $300,000 from her husband. She soon bought a Corvette and used it to visit Davis while he was still behind bars. The two-of-a-kind lovebirds were soon engaged.

Then Edwards broke it off.

Davis was heartbroken and enraged.

In the meantime, police were investigating what role, if any Edwards might have played in her husbands death. In the course of their detective work, they discovered that she had never been legally divorced from her first husband, William Edwards. They prepared to prosecute her for bigamy when the district attorney, Lane Liroff, received an offer of help from an unlikely source: Richard Allen Davis. He volunteered to testify against his former fiance.

Thus, Sue Edwards, convicted of bigamy and sentenced to serve six years, was behind bars in 1993 when Davis was paroled for his part in their crime spree.

Davis seemed, to an extent, as if he was straightening out. He moved into a homeless shelter in San Mateo. He met his appointments with his parole officer. He passed his drug tests.

He found a job doing the sheet-metal work at which he was so proficient. He soon had enough money to buy a white Ford Pinto.

That was the vehicle he was driving on the night Polly Klaas was kidnapped.

Polly's Last Night

It is hard to know for certain what exactly happened to Polly after she was kidnapped. The only person who knows is Davis and he has reason to evade and lie.

Before he confessed, several police officers tried to get the truth out of Davis. Most took a harsh, confrontational approach. The suspect remained mum. Then Sgt. Mike Meese, a balding 40-year-old, tried a softer approach. "The goal at the time was to find out where Polly was," Meese said about his "nice" treatment of the reviled Davis. "I think that what I tried to do with him was treat him with as much dignity and respect that I could accord to another human being. There are people I know that don't feel that way because of what he says he has done, but I never talked down to him . . . I had a conversation with him. It was done in such a way that he wasn't backed into a corner per se."

Davis responded.

He told Meese that when he arrived in Petaluma, he planned to look up his mother who was living there. He could not find her. By happenstance, he ran into some guys selling marijuana. He told Meese that he believed the joint he smoked was laced with PCP and so his memory of what happened afterward was foggy.

The story of the spiked joint is probably untrue. Drug testing was a condition of Davis' parole, and he passed a drug test the next day.

He did not remember going to Polly's house but he recalled breaking into it. He could not give a reason as to why he took the little girl.

During his confession, Davis sometimes became emotional. Tears filled his eyes but it was not clear if they were for Polly or for himself or just a put-on to win sympathy. At one point Meese patted the child-killer on the back and Davis told him, "[You] ain't got to show me no consideration or no respect. I know I'm a piece of shit."

The suspect claimed he drove around aimlessly for awhile, trying to figure out what he should do now that he had a kidnapped child in his car. He untied Polly during the drive. At one point, his Pinto got stuck in Dana Jaffe's mud. He took the little girl out of the car, he claimed, and left her alive and neither bound nor gagged in a nearby hillside.

Then he went through the encounter with the cops about his trespassing. Once his car was freed, he went back to where he left his victim. He thought she was sleeping. She awoke and said, "I thought you had left me."

Polly's Last Night, the End

Again, Davis' account of these events must be viewed with skepticism. It strains credulity that Polly would wait passively in the brush. Of course, it is not impossible that the child was paralyzed by terror, but neither is it likely that her kidnapper would simply bank on it. Police believe that Polly may have been alive at the time of the trespassing. But if Polly was alive, police believe she was bound and gagged. His story of her being asleep also sounds far-fetched although she may have fainted from terror. The statement he attributes to her, "I thought you had left me," seemingly indicating that Polly welcomed his return, is likely a figment of the same imagination that believed voices told him one woman wanted to be raped and another to be clobbered on the head brutally.

Davis realized he was in a jam, he said, but could not think of a good way out of it. Kidnapping would send him back to the penitentiary. So he decided the only thing he could do was kill "the broad" in his car. Of course, this logic completely overlooks the fact that there were two other living witnesses to the kidnapping. The terminology used to describe his victim, a girl not yet in her teen years, shows that, as many criminals of the sort are prone to do, he had blurred the line between a child and a woman.

Perhaps Davis was not completely aware of the motivation for his crime. Or perhaps he was reluctant to share his ugly feelings with Meese.

Had he molested or raped the girl or attempted one or the other before killing her? He denied it but his denials were less than ringing. "I don't think so," was his first response to the question. Asked again, he replied, "Well, as much as I can remember, I don't think that I did." Then he became more definite and swore, "On my skin, I didn't do nothing to her."

However, Polly's corpse was found with her miniskirt pulled up and her legs spread. Her body had been exposed to the elements for two months and was too decomposed to prove anything definitive about sexual assault. There also was an unused, unrolled condom out of its packet lying nearby. But it is difficult to assess this evidence. Was Davis planning to use it to prevent semen from lodging in her body to eliminate any DNA trail of his rape? It's unlikely that he thought he was at risk of contracting some sexually transmitted disease from a 12-year-old.

It is also possible, as his defense at trial suggested, that Davis did not leave the condom and that it had no connection to the case.

Davis stated that he strangled her from behind, with a piece of cloth. The exact means of her death could not be definitively established, but his description was consistent with the evidence.

The Trial

Due to the extraordinary publicity surrounding the case and the passions aroused among locals, a judge ordered Davis' trial moved from Sonoma County, where Petaluma is located, to Santa Clara County. A jury of six men and six women was impaneled. Davis was charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances. "Special circumstances," such as kidnapping or sexual assault, are necessary for a defendant to be eligible for execution. Davis was not charged with rape but "an attempted lewd act on a child."

Lorena Chandler and Barry Collins defended the accused. Collins conceded in his opening statement that his client had killed the child. "Evidence in this case will be overwhelming that Richard Allen Davis did kill Polly Klaas," Collins said. "The defense will not dispute that." He went on to say that there was no evidence to support a sexual assault. During the trial, the defense strategy was to suggest that this was a robbery that had gone horribly awry because of Davis' confused mental state.

On June 18, 1996, the jury convicted Davis of first-degree murder with special circumstances. The only possible sentences were death or life with no possibility of parole. After the verdict was read, a defiant Davis gave two middle fingers to the courtroom.

The prosecution put on as witnesses the victim's family to show the damage Davis had done to this family and to buttress the district attorney's argument that Davis deserved the death penalty.

Some jurors were teary when Polly Klaas' father and grandfather described how the child's loss had affected them. "Everything reminds me," her father, Marc Klaas, said. "Every time I see a pretty 12-year-old girl, I am reminded of Polly . . . I can't sleep. I can't concentrate. Everything's in ruins."

Eugene Reed, Polly's grandfather, claimed that her murder was even worse for him than serving in the armed forces during World War II. "We escaped alive from other experiences," the elderly, trembling man said, "but this time we lost a very precious grandchild."

After his courtroom testimony, Marc Klaas was interviewed by CNN. "This has really been the first opportunity to address the jury and let them know what it means to us to lose a child," Klaas said. "Unfortunately, it's very difficult to put into words the kind of emotions that flow through somebody as a result of such a loss."

It seemed impossible that Richard Allen Davis could possibly cause the Klaas family any further grief.

But he found a way.

Fresh Outrage

On the day that his daughter's murderer was to be sentenced, Marc Klaas told the jury that if it did not sentence Davis to death it "would allow evil to triumph over good." Then he turned to the defendant and said, "Mr. Davis, when you get to where you're going, say hello to Hitler, to Dahmer, and to Bundy. Good riddance, and the sooner you get there the better we'll all be."

Richard Allen Davis was allowed to address the court. He again asserted that he had not sexually abused his victim but the way he made this claim shocked the courtroom. "The main reason I know I did not attempt any lewd act that night was because of a statement the young girl made to me while walking up the embankment," he recalled. " 'Just don't do me like my Dad.' "

A gasp went up. Marc Klaas shrieked, "Burn in hell, Davis!" Then guards hustled the grieving father out of the courtroom while several spectators burst into tears.

The jury recommended that Davis be sentenced to death. Judge Thomas Hastings said that Davis' recent, repulsive statement against his victim's father made it "very easy" to pronounce the death sentence. And that's exactly what the judge did.

Marc Klaas clenched his fist and pumped it into the air when the sentence was handed down. He was pleased. "We're grateful for the verdict we got," he crowed, "because this is the verdict that is deserved. Richard Allen Davis deserves to die for what he did to my child."

Klaas later said he looked forward to watching Davis die. "The last thing Polly saw before she died was Richard Allen Davis' eyes," he remarked. "The last thing Richard Allen Davis will see is my eyes, I hope."

"White Slavery Rumours"

In Who Killed Polly?: The True Story Behind the Abduction and Murder of Polly Klaas, a book that is otherwise worthwhile, Frank Spiering makes an irresponsible suggestion. He alleges that Polly was not killed but is still alive and being held in "white slavery" (properly "sexual slavery" since the people, mostly females, may be of any ethnic background).

Spiering spins this ludicrous tale from a statement by Joe Klaas, wisps of unexplained evidence, and a great deal of fancy. A couple of weeks after the abduction, Polly's paternal grandfather said, "She was the right age. She could be easily sold. There is no question in my mind that she was going to be sold."

Witnesses reported seeing a fellow other than Davis near the Klaas house near the time of the crime and a gray Honda parked in front of the home. From these tiny bits, the author hypothesizes that a conspiracy was hatched to kidnap a fair-skinned child to pleasure men in Saudi Arabia, Asia, or Latin America. The conspirators hired Davis to kidnap Polly, then spirited her away. Realizing so much fuss was being made over the missing youngster, they then planted another body with clothing from the Klaas household. They also counted on Davis' memory being so poor that he would not reveal his financiers. Or perhaps they knew he would abide by the convict's code of silence even if it meant his own death.

The scenario would make a good fictional mystery. But Polly Klaas' death is hard, cold reality, not fiction. Fingerprints, forensic anthropology, and dental records definitively established that Polly Klass was the corpse they found on the embankment.

Polly Klaas is dead.

Her murderer remains alive as of this writing. Richard Allen Davis is on California's Death Row. Like anyone there for a crime against a child, he is often shunned by the other condemned men. However, he has been able to garner a few friends and pen pals from those fascinated by the ugliest among us. Erik Petersen, a lawyer for Davis' sister Debbie, says the child-murderer is amused that women write to him professing their love. "He jokes about having women write him letters from across America wanting to marry him," Petersen commented. "He laughs about it."

Davis also has a Web site, courtesy of the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty. One can view Davis' art and woodwork. The works are not for sale; and even if they were, the site asserts that Davis would not get any of the proceeds. The condemned man has a letter up, addressed "Dear Viewer" in which he discusses himself and his feelings but not his crime. In that letter, Davis writes, "I don't have no complaints about my due . . . I have lived a life inside these walls . . .. The most often thought that I do have, is wondering if, for someone like myself, can one ever fall back in love with life again. For myself, I feel that I do not have that right even [to] the time that one spends considering such a selfish thought."

The California Defenders Association honored the lawyers who fought unsuccessfully to spare Davis' life in 1997. They were named the state's "Defenders of the Year" for their "valiant effort [s] to represent an accused in an atmosphere of public outrage." In accepting the award, Chandler commented that "people would call me a 'scumbag' for defending [Davis] but if we threw away his constitutional protection, where would [we] be for the next person? Normal law-abiding citizens can guarantee that they will not commit a crime but they cannot guarantee that they won't be accused of committing one. The defense counsel plays a role in protecting us all."

Polly's Legacy

There are two organizations bearing the name of Klaas and dedicated to helping children. One is the Polly Klaas Foundation. It continues to work with law enforcement and the public to protect America's youngsters. Its mission statement says the organization is "dedicated to educating the public on the prevention of child abduction, aiding in the search for missing children, and acting as a means to bring the issue of missing children to the forefront." Jenni Thompson is the Director of Communications for the Polly Klaas Foundation. "We've assisted over 4,900 families to date," she related, "and have about an 85% success rate. Success is defined as kids coming home safely. Over 800,000 children in the U.S. are either missing or abducted each year. These include runaway children, children that are lost, children missing under suspicious circumstances where it is not known if they were abducted or not, and family as well as non-family abductions. Everyone in the field of missing children, not just the Polly Klaas Foundation, now use the term 'non-family abductions' because rarely is it a complete stranger."

Marc Klaas began the Polly Klaas Foundation. Since it is a non-profit group, it cannot engage in political lobbying. Marc Klaas wanted to change laws so he left the foundation to start the Marc Klaas Foundation for Children, now known as the KlaasKids Foundation. Like the Polly Klaas Foundation, KlaasKids seeks to increase knowledge of child safety issues; unlike it, KlaasKids also works for "stronger sentencing for violent criminals."

The life of pretty and talented Polly Klaas was cut short in a horrible way. However, she did not die in vain. Her loss has inspired many people to work on behalf of America's children, and that inspiration has contributed to the rescuing of other children. Quite a legacy for a child who did not live to see her 13th birthday.

Overdose Mystery

On July 23, 2006, at 5:13 p.m., prison guards noticed that Richard Allen Davis was slumped over the toilet in his cell on San Quentin's Death Row. The unconscious Davis was rushed to the infirmary and revived, then taken to the hospital where he was found to have overdosed on opiates.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle related that prison authorities immediately began an investigation into how Davis obtained the drugs and the reason for the overdose. The Chronicle related that a variety of possible sources are being examined including visitors, the mail, other inmates and prison employees. Davis had been allowed contact visits but is no longer as of this writing because he is the subject of an investigation. According to prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon, "He was not receiving medication prescribed to him that included opiates." The investigation has ruled out foul play. "No other person introduced the drug to him without his knowledge," Crittendon elaborates. "We also know that it was not a suicide attempt. We are still trying to determine how the drugs were smuggled in and exactly what type they were."

Davis was back in a cell by 9:00 p.m. of the same day he was found unconscious. The Chronicle quoted Crittendon as describing Davis' physical condition as "fine." He was placed in the Adjustment Center, a high-security cellblock for prisoners who are considered extremely dangerous and for those in need of special protection. It is an area in which he has often been placed. It is also called "Grade B" as opposed to the regular Death Row cellblock known as "Grade A."

Even by the standards of Death Row, Davis is a pariah. He is doubly damned both by the prisoners code that sees those who commit crimes against children as the lowest of the low and by the fact that his fellow inmates blame Davis for California's "three strikes and you're out law" which was passed in 1994 largely in response to Davis' murder of Polly Klaas.

In the more than a decade he has been on Death Row, Davis has been in two violent incidents. The first occurred soon after he arrived. "It was a fistfight with another Death Row inmate," Crittendon explains. The spokesman does not know who started the fight, explaining, "It was considered mutual combat." The second instance took place in 2005 in the infirmary with a reception center inmate. "Davis got punched," Crittendon says. "He was unable to fight because that punch knocked him out."

Davis at San Quentin

Most of Davis' time is spent in his cell where he eats his meals alone. "He is allowed to exercise with up to 65 other Death Row inmates that we have determined to be compatible with him," Crittendon continues. "By compatible with him, we mean that we believe he will not attack anyone in that yard and they do not have any reason to attack him."

When in Grade A, Davis can watch television or listen to the radio. The state does not supply TVs or radios but allows them in that cellblock if Death Row inmates purchase them with their own money as Davis has done. Grade A prisoners also have access to books and magazines. "There is a pocket library," Crittendon explains. "It's a portable library used inside the units to provide them with access to a variety of reading materials." There is also a law library for inmates in Grade A that they may sign up to visit and to which they must be escorted by guards.

Davis is known to enjoy painting and woodworking and many of his productions may be viewed on the website provided for him by the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty. However, he does not have access to the supplies he needs to make art in Grade B.

The child murderer is able to purchase from the commissary whether he is in Grade A or B although the supplies are more limited in the latter. "He has money on his trust account sent in by loved ones and friends," Crittendon says. Although widely hated, he is not completely isolated. "He gets visits from his legal team," Crittendon comments. "He gets visits from a few supporters, many of whom he met after he got on Death Row and who support him on a spiritual or emotional level."

Petaluma Changed Forever

Petaluma, California has not forgotten Polly Klaas. On January 18, 1994, the Petaluma City Council changed the name of the town's Five Corners Theater to the Polly Hannah Klaas Performing Arts Center, stating in its official resolution that it hoped "the memory of this special child will forever be a part of the community of Petaluma." The resolution also noted that the designation was appropriate since "theater and performing arts held a special place in the heart of Polly Hannah Klaas."

According to Jim Carr, Director of the Petaluma Parks and Recreation Department that oversees the Center, "The building was that of an old church that had been converted into a small performing arts theater. The City Council felt they needed to perpetuate her name because she had touched the lives of so many people and the theater was a natural place to do it because it has been used for children's theater in the past. The building is located right across the street from the City Hall complex."

The building of the Polly Hannah Klaas Performing Arts Center is in a state of disrepair as of this writing and the Polly Hannah Klaas Performing Arts Theater Company has been formed to raise funds to renovate it.

Carr says that Petaluma residents have been powerfully affected by Polly Klaas' tragedy. "We were so heavily involved with Marc, Eve and Polly's sister," he notes. "The whole community suffered with them. To this day, it's severely impacted the way people look at it when they see people hanging around our parks and changed how people are about letting children go out by themselves. They keep a close eye on their children. Before they might have allowed them to run around free. Those days are ended."

Police Probe John Karr's JonBenet and Polly Klaas Obsessions

John Mark Karr, the odd character who recently confessed to the media about being alone with JonBenet Ramsey when she died, was also obsessed with the 1993 murder of Polly Klaas. When authorities in Sonoma County, California raided Karr's Petaluma home at 2004 Chetwood Avenue in April of 2001 looking for child pornography, they found a copy of Polly Klaas' death certificate. Karr told detectives that he had letter from her killer, 52-year-old Richard Allen Davis in addition to five pornographic images on his computer.

According to published reports, Sonoma County sheriff's Lt. Dave Edmonds said Karr expressed an "apparent fascination" with Polly Klaas and JonBenet, and "presented ideas about what the murderers of Polly Klaas and JonBenet Ramsey must have thought and felt." Twelve-year-old Polly Klaas had lived with her mother in Petaluma at the time when Davis entered her home and abducted her.

Richard Allen Davis is now on death row in San Quentin State Prison. Police searched his cell on Aug. 17 and 18th, but found no evidence of correspondence between Davis and Karr. While the prison monitors incoming and outgoing mail from death row inmates, the mail is only monitored for content. Davis has been incarcerated since November of 1993 when he was first arrested in connection with the murder of Polly Klaas.

Investigators wondered about some connection between Karr and Davis and also between the murders of JonBenet Ramsey and Polly Klaas. At this point in time, they have not found any indication that either man was part of a larger criminal pedophile network that targeted attractive girls for abduction, rape and murder.

Karr told detectives that he was planning to write a book on the Polly Klaas case. Laura Knutson, Karr's ex-wife confirmed that Karr was fascinated with both the JonBenet and the Polly Klaas cases and spent a great deal of time reading about both murders.

The residents of Petaluma were none too happy to hear about John Mark Karr's obsession with Polly Klaas. The brazen abduction and brutal murder of the popular 12-year-old deeply shocked the community. The last thing the citizens wanted was a potential connection to the infamous JonBenet Ramsey case.

For Polly's father, Marc Klaas, it was beyond disturbing. "This is getting creepier by the minute," Klaas told the Washington Post from Southern California, where he was campaigning for Jessica's Law, an initiative that would force many sex offenders to wear satellite-tracked monitoring devices for life and restrict where they could live.

After Polly's death, Klaas became an advocate for child safety, forming the foundation KlaasKids.

"I had gotten myself at a place in my life where I remember the good things," he said. "This is just dragging up the really hideous stuff all over again in about the most disturbing way you could even imagine."

Bortnick, Barry, Polly Klaas: The Murder of Americas Child, Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, NY, 1995.
Spiering, Frank, Who Killed Polly? Monterey Press, Monterey, CA, 1995.

Anguished dad says life in ruins since Klaas death,

Killer of Polly Klaas sentenced to death,

Richard Allen Davis, Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, 

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1 comment:

  1. What an extraordinary story. And I especially like this part the best:

    A couple of weeks after the abduction, Polly's paternal grandfather said, "She was the right age. She could be easily sold. There is no question in my mind that she was going to be sold."

    Witnesses reported seeing a fellow other than Davis near the Klaas house near the time of the crime and a gray Honda parked in front of the home. From these tiny bits, the author hypothesizes that a conspiracy was hatched to kidnap a fair-skinned child to pleasure men in Saudi Arabia, Asia, or Latin America. The conspirators hired Davis to kidnap Polly, then spirited her away. Realizing so much fuss was being made over the missing youngster, they then planted another body with clothing from the Klaas household. They also counted on Davis' memory being so poor that he would not reveal his financiers. Or perhaps they knew he would abide by the convict's code of silence even if it meant his own death.

    The scenario would make a good fictional mystery. But Polly Klaas' death is hard, cold reality, not fiction. Fingerprints, forensic anthropology, and dental records definitively established that Polly Klass was the corpse they found on the embankment.

    Very neat, as well as very inspiring, too. I like it. :)


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