Polly Klaas Was Kidnapped And Murdered In 1993, And Her Story Still Haunts Us 30 Years Later

On October 1, 1993, in the small California town of Petaluma, Richard Allen Davis abducted and murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Davis was out on parole and claimed to be visiting his estranged mother the day he broke into Klaas's home during a slumber party. He was later sent to San Quentin after receiving the death penalty.

The story of Polly Klaas's kidnapping and murder - as well as errors in police investigation - made national headlines. Polly's story led to the founding of social justice organizations and changes to federal law.

In the list below, we'll look into Polly Klaas's life, her tragic death, and how her killer was eventually brought to justice.

  • Polly Klaas Was A Seventh Grader With A Bright Future

    Polly Klaas Was A Seventh Grader With A Bright Future
    Photo: Unknown author / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    Polly Klaas was a 12-year-old 7th grader who loved theatre. Only months before her murder, she played “The Chief” in an elementary school stage adaptation of Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? Polly had even gone to visit her former theatre director the night she was abducted.

    A friend of Polly's later described her “unusual kindness and beauty,” as well as her ability to take on “mean girls.”

    Polly's parents, Marc Klaas and Eve Nichol, had been separated for most of the young girl's life, and she was spending the weekend at her mother's house in Petaluma the night of October 1.

  • Richard Allen Davis Kidnapped Polly During A Sleepover At Her Own Home

    Polly Klaas was having a slumber party with two friends on Friday, October 1, 1993. Polly's mother had already gone to bed, but the girls were still up playing board games.

    Around 10:30 pm, 39-year-old Richard Allen Davis broke into the home and entered Polly's bedroom holding a knife. Davis tied the girls up and placed pillowcases over Polly's friends' heads. He then told them to count to 1,000 while he kidnapped Polly.

    After the girls believed Davis was gone, they untied themselves and woke Polly's mother, who immediately called the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department.

  • Polly's Friends Initially Thought Her Kidnapping Was A Joke

    When Richard Allen Davis first entered Polly Klaas's room, her two friends thought it was a prank. The girls testified at Davis's trial, describing how surreal it was to have a bearded stranger interrupt their slumber party.

    Holding a stuffed animal, Polly's friend Kate McLean testified, "At first, I assumed that it was some kind of a trick or practical joke... [Later] I didn't find it too funny. I found it scary." McLean grew up to become a journalist and documentary filmmaker.

  • Police Questioned Davis Only An Hour After The Kidnapping

    Police Questioned Davis Only An Hour After The Kidnapping
    Photo: San Quentin State Prison / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    About an hour after Davis abducted Polly, a woman in Oakmont, CA, about 27 miles from Petaluma, called police to report someone lurking on her property. Two Sonoma County sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene to find Davis had crashed his car into a ditch.

    The deputies questioned Davis for approximately 40 minutes and even inspected his vehicle. Afterward, the deputies helped Davis pull his car from the ditch and told him to leave the area.

    What the sheriff's deputies didn't know was that Davis had hidden Polly in the woods near the ditch, and she was potentially still alive while they questioned Davis. Although the police station had put out an APB about Polly's abduction, the deputies had been listening to a different radio frequency.

  • A Partial Handprint And A Sweatshirt Led To Davis's Arrest

    One of the major clues authorities had to go on was a partial handprint left behind in Polly Klaas's room. They ran the print and came up with a match: Richard Allen Davis. The police connected him with the man who ran his car into a ditch the night Polly disappeared, and all the pieces fell into place.

    On November 28, the woman who called the police on October 1 found Davis's sweatshirt with duct tape in the pocket, along with a remnant of Polly's ballet tights. With these two pieces of evidence, authorities began one of the largest police searches in California's history in order to find Davis - and Polly's body.

    Davis evaded capture twice during the search for Polly. Besides the car incident that took place on October 1, 1993, he was also arrested for drunk driving two weeks later. Davis only spent a night in prison, despite violating his parole.

  • Davis Led Police To Polly's Body, Which Was In A Ditch Near Highway 101

    On December 4, 1993, Polly's body was found in Cloverdale, CA, 50 miles away from Petaluma. Following his arrest, Richard Allen Davis led authorities to the shallow grave where he had buried the girl under some lumber.

    Davis claimed he killed Polly after authorities rescued his car from a ditch on October 1. He said he hid her in the woods while police were there, then took her to Cloverdale and strangled her in the same spot where he buried her; however, the exact timeline of the events following Polly's abduction has never been fully confirmed.

    The doctor who examined Polly Klaas's body reported she had been strangled, but due to the degree of decomposition, they couldn't tell if there had been any sexual assault.