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Everything to Know About Polly Klaas, the Girl Kidnapped from a Slumber Party and Killed
12-Year-Old Polly Klaas was kidnapped from a slumber party at her home in 1993. The town of Petaluma honors her memory 30 years later.
Sunday, Oct. 1 marked the 30th anniversary of the death of Polly Klaas, a young girl from California, who was kidnapped from a sleepover at her own home and murdered. Her killer still sits on death row today.
On Oct. 1, 1993, Polly Klaas was having a slumber party in her Petaluma home with two of her friends when an intruder broke in and held the girls at knifepoint. As her mother slept in the room adjacent, the two friends were bound with electrical wire and gagged with cloth. The man then took Polly and fled.
"It was like a boogeyman came in and stole her out of that house," Vail Bello, a former detective sergeant for the Petaluma Police Department, told ABC’s 20/20.
In a call to 911, Polly’s mother, Eve Nichol, sounded confused. “Uh, apparently a man just broke into our house and took my daughter,” Eve is heard saying during the call that night.
The prosecution said during the murder trial that Eve thought it was a joke at first, per the Los Angeles Times. The gravity of the situation soon came to light.
Kim Cross, a journalist and author of In the Light of All Darkness: Inside the Polly Klaas Kidnapping and the Search for America’s Child, explained how Polly’s kidnapping and murder profoundly impacted how the Federal Bureau of Investigation responds to child abduction cases in the U.S. According to Cross, it was the first time the FBI used special technology to collect fingerprints, clothing fibers, and other evidence, which was otherwise not traditionally used, per an excerpt of her book published by the Los Angeles Times.
“We put everything into this case, I mean everything,” former FBI special agent Eddie Fryer told 20/20.
While investigators’ quick response helped to identify who took Polly, their efforts didn’t lead them to the conclusion they were hoping for.
Who killed Polly Klaas?
On Nov. 27, 1993, two months after Polly was abducted, Dana Jaffe was hiking with a friend on a mountain trail near her secluded home in Sonoma County when she discovered a man’s sweatshirt, a pair of girl’s red tights, a pieced of knotted white cloth, and a used condom.
“I thought ‘this is maybe a crime scene,’” Jaffe told 20/20.
Larry Pelton, a former detective of the Petaluma Police Department, arrived at the scene and immediately thought the white cloth matched what was used to gag the girls at Polly’s home two months prior. Further investigation proved he was right.
Jaffe told 20/20 that she recounted to police a night back in October when she found a disheveled trespasser on her property.
The encounter on file identified the trespasser as Richard Allen Davis.
Davis’ lengthy criminal history included a previous kidnapping for which he served time.
"It had everything you would think an offender would have on his record for somebody for a crime like that," Freyer said of Davis’ rap sheet. "And he'd only been out for about six months."
Davis admitted to kidnapping and killing Polly and led investigators to where he left her body in a field in Cloverdale, a town roughly 50 miles from Petaluma.
After detectives recovered Polly’s body, Davis was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, burglary and attempted lewd act on a child, which made him eligible for the death penalty, according to ABC News.
"There were tears in their eyes. And I'll never forget this. I remember that Eve started crying. The cops were crying, and I didn't cry, but we said, 'We need to tell our families,'” Marc Klaas, Polly’s father, told 20/20.
Is Richard Allen Davis still alive?
In his final statements to the court, Davis made a bizarre comment, saying “I would also like to state for the record that the main reason I know that I did not attempt any lewd act that night was because of a statement the young girl made to me while walking her up the embankment: 'Just don't do me like my Dad.'”
This prompted Polly’s father to lunge at Davis, which got Marc Klaas escorted out of the courtroom.
“He made those statements to Marc Klaas just to be malicious and hurtful to a father who just lost his daughter,” Freyer said.
Davis remains on death row today, as capital punishment was suspended by the governor of California in 2019, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
"It makes me so angry, you know, it really does," Marc Klaas, Polly’s father, told Fox’s Bay Area station KTVU. "You know, I’m still dealing with major anxieties, 30 years later."
KlaasKids Foundation Shuttering
Marc Klaas has spent the last 30 years advocating for families who have missing children. In 1994, he founded KlaasKids, an organization whose professional search and rescue team has assisted in finding missing people for more than 1,500 families, according to the organization's website.
However, Marc Klaas recently announced that his organization will cease its efforts in 2024.
“We’ve been doing it for 30 years,” he told The Press Democrat. “I’m 74, and I don’t want to be doing this for the rest of my life.”
Marc Klaas said he wants to take time for himself, now focusing on the lasting memory of his daughter.
The town of Petaluma has memorialized Polly, who would have been 42 this year, through the Polly Klaas Community Theater.
"She wanted to pursue acting. That’s what she wanted to do. And she was pretty good at it,” her father told KTVU. “She was really coming into her own as a human.”