Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Polly Klaas

A Trespasser

Davis spoke coherently.  He did not look or act drunk and he was not given a Breathalyzer test.  The police asked Dana Jaffe if she wanted the man arrested.  She said she just wanted him shooed off of her property.

He would be happy to leave, Davis said, but as he showed Rankin and Howard, his car was stuck in a ditch.  The helpful police borrowed a chain from the homeowner and freed Davis' Pinto.

In so doing, they may have, however innocently and inadvertently, helped ensure the death of a terrorized child.

By 9:00 the following morning, forensic experts had identified a palm print from Polly's room as that of Richard Allen Davis.  However, this information was kept from the media, as was the story of Davis' midnight "sight-seeing" and his encounter with the deputies.

Later that same day, a Petaluma print shop owner named Bill Rhodes started  forming a citizens' group to search for Polly.  He also printed thousands of circulars with her photograph and description plus a police number to call if someone had any information about the kidnapped child's whereabouts.

Polly Klaas
Polly Klaas

Two days after the abduction, the television show {America's Most Wanted} ran a segment about  the case.  Pictures of Polly and sketches of what Gillian and Kate said the intruder looked like were posted in supermarkets, on telephone polls, and shoved into mailboxes everywhere, not just in California but throughout the world.  Police with bloodhounds combed surrounding areas for some sign of the lost little girl.  Phone calls poured in from people hoping they had relevant information.  Soon the Polly Klaas Center was organized out of Bill Rhodes' original efforts.  It was a place where tips were taken and search parties were organized.  The town of Petaluma sprouted with purple ribbons because purple was Polly's favorite color.

As was standard in such cases, both Eve Nichol and her ex-husband, Polly's father, Marc Klaas, took polygraph tests.  Both were ruled out as suspects.

Actress Winona Ryder
Actress Winona Ryder

The actress Winona Ryder, the thin elfin brunette who had starred in such diverse motion pictures as Heathers, The Age of Innocence, Reality Bites and Little Women, put up a $200,000 reward.  Ryder's adolescence in Petaluma was not entirely pleasant.  As a freshman at Petaluma High School, some teenagers jeered her as a "faggot" and shoved her face into a locker.  She believed that she had been attacked because, slender and short-haired, she had been mistaken for an effeminate male.  As a result of this assault, she began home study.  

Ryder told America's Most Wanted that she felt connected to Polly "because this happened in the community I was raised in" and said, "I am lucky to be in a position to get things out there and financially offer what I can.  I obviously want Polly back safe."

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