Murder of Polly Klaas

Murder of Polly Klaas
Polly Hannah Klaas
Born January 3, 1981 (1981-01-03)
Fairfax, California
Died October (1993-11) 1993 (aged 12)
Petaluma, California
Nationality American

Polly Hannah Klaas (January 3, 1981 – October 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 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.[1]



On October 1, 1993, Klaas invited two friends for a sleepover. Around 10:30 p.m., she opened her bedroom door to fetch sleeping bags, when she saw a man with a knife. He tied the girls up, told Klaas' friends to count to 1,000, and then kidnapped Klaas. Over the next two months, about 4,000 people helped search for her. TV shows such as 20/20 and America's Most Wanted covered the kidnapping.

At the time, Davis was a wanted man: the California Highway Patrol had issued an all points bulletin for a violation of parole for a previous crime; any police officer encountering him was to arrest him on that charge. (The 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.)

During the search, police officers encountered Davis in a nearby rural area, where his Ford Pinto was stuck in the mud. Unaware of the APB, the local police let him go after calling his driver's license number in to their dispatcher (which only returned his driving record, and not his criminal record). It is believed that he promptly drove to an isolated spot, killed Polly, and buried her in a shallow grave.

On November 30, police arrested Davis for violation of parole during routine patrol and the arresting officer recognized him from police sketches. As his palm print had been found in Klaas' bedroom, he was charged with the crime. Four days later, he led police to Polly's body near Cloverdale. Davis said that he strangled her from behind with a piece of cloth. Although there was no method to scientifically validate this statement, as the body had decayed for three months, it was consistent with the evidence.


Richard Allen Davis was tried and convicted in 1996 of first-degree murder and four special circumstances (robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and a lewd act on a child) of Polly Klaas. A San Jose, California, Superior Court jury recommended the death sentence for Davis on August 5, 1996. At his formal sentencing by a judge, Davis provoked national outrage by taunting his victim's family. He is currently on death row in San Quentin State Prison, California.

Winona Ryder

Actress Winona Ryder, who had been raised in Petaluma, offered a $200,000 reward for Polly's safe return during the search. After Polly's death, Ryder starred in a film version of Little Women and dedicated it to Klaas' memory, since the novel had been Polly's favorite book.[2]

In December 2002, during Ryder's sentencing for shoplifting, her defense attorney mentioned Ryder's efforts during the search. The prosecution attorney countered that statement with the remark, "What's offensive to me is to trot out the body of a dead child." Ryder was visibly upset by this, and the prosecution attorney was admonished by the judge. Marc Klaas later defended Ryder's character and expressed outrage at the prosecutor's comments.[3][4]


Klaas was cremated and her ashes spread over the Pacific Ocean by her family.

In the wake of the murder, Polly's father, Marc Klaas, became a child advocate and established the KlaasKids Foundation.[5] He has made himself available to parents of kidnapped children, and has appeared frequently on Larry King Live, CNN Headline News, and Nancy Grace.

Five years after Klaas' murder, a performing arts center was named in her honor in Petaluma.[6]

The story of Klaas' kidnapping and the manhunt for Davis was depicted in episode 1, season 1 of The FBI Files documentary show, titled "Polly Klaas: Kidnapped"[7][8] (which premiered October 20, 1998).

In the wake of the murder, politicians in California and other U.S. states supported three strikes laws, and California's Three Strikes act was signed into law on March 8, 1994.[9]

In 2004, Klaas' paternal grandfather, writer Joe Klaas (who, coincidentally, was best known for having co-authored a book about missing aviator Amelia Earhart) endorsed California Proposition 66 to "fix the flaw in the [Three Strikes] law". His son, Marc, opposed the law.[10]


External links

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