Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Polly Klaas

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.   

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