Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Polly Klaas

Kidnapped from Home

Scenic view of Petaluma, California
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.



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