Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Polly Klaas


About 300 children, mostly girls, disappear in the U.S. each year.  Why did Polly's disappearance garner so much attention as compared to similar tragedies?  Many believed it had to do with the sheer audacity of the kidnapper who invaded a child's bedroom to grab her.  On a deep level, it connected with everyone's childhood fear of the bogeyman — a fear that Polly was known to share.  

Artist Jeanne Boylan
Artist Jeanne Boylan

Days stretched into weeks.  Artist Jeanne Boylan created a new sketch of the abductor, which was widely distributed.  Psychics were consulted for their otherworldly aid.  Publicly, spokespeople remained optimistic that Polly Klaas would be found alive and well.  Privately, there was a sinking certainty that she was already dead.


Jeanne's sketch of the abductor
Jeanne's sketch of the abductor

On Oct. 19, 1993, Richard Allen Davis was arrested for drunk driving.  Neither the arresting officers nor his jailers noticed his resemblance to the sketches of Polly's abductor.  They let him leave after a little under five hours.  He drove away in his 1979 white Pinto.

A benefit concert for Polly was held Oct. 25. Guest performers included such pop culture heavyweights as Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, singer Charlie Musselwhite, and comedians Wavy Gravy, Michael Dugen, and Robin Williams.  Williams conducted the auctioning off of celebrity items.  From both ticket sales and the auction, $12,000 was raised.

Alas, as is always the case in times like these, the unscrupulous took advantage of public distress.  Many scam artists were out, claiming to raise money for the search for the young lady but pocketing the money.

On Nov. 11,  the Polly Klaas Foundation received non-profit status.  A grateful Marc Klaas made Bill Rhodes the president of the newly formed organization.

Then, nine days later, shocking stories about Rhodes surfaced, forcing him to resign.  A woman filed a civil suit in which she accused him of molesting her several times when she was nine years old.  The police revealed that, whatever the truth or falsity of the suing woman's claims, Rhodes was a registered sex offender.  He was convicted of masturbating in front of female children in 1967.  The next year he was arrested for threatening four young girls with a knife and forcing them to undress, then blindfolding and fondling them.  He was acquitted on the latter charges.  However, they are chillingly similar to the crime against Polly.

Is it possible, many wondered, that Bill Rhodes, who had rallied to Polly's cause so early in the case, was her kidnapper?  Perpetrators of crimes often get a special thrill out of pretending to assist in the investigation.  Involvement in the search would also put the offender in a perfect position to throw the sincere investigators off of the true scent.

Police soon cleared Rhodes of any involvement in Polly's disappearance.  Rhodes supposedly told others that he had gotten involved in the search for her in part to make up for his past. However, the sickening revelations cast a further pall over an increasingly desperate search.

On Nov. 28, Dana Jaffe and two friends were hiking around her property when they happened upon several items in a brushy area.  They included a dark sweatshirt, red tights that were knotted up, a "Rough Rider" condom wrapper with an unrolled condom nearby, strips of binding tape, and an item made of white cloth that looked like it had been made into a hood.  She remembered the trespasser on the night of Polly's disappearance.  Could they be linked?  She was chilled by the possibility.  "The tights and the white pieces of cloth made me feel like they were really out of place," Jaffe remarked.  "I didn't like the way they looked.  They looked like they were ties or gags."  A stunned Jaffe turned to her hiking partners and asked, "Do you think this is Polly?"

She phoned the police about her find.  A review of her trespassing complaint led cops to the identity of the fellow found and let go: Richard Allen Davis, the same man whose palm print was in Polly's room.

Davis was arrested two days later. He did not try to cover his face from the scrim photographers but neither would he answer any questions about Polly Klaas.  

Both Kate and Gillian easily picked Davis out of a lineup.

Finally, on Dec. 4, Davis confessed to both the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas.  He also led investigators to the body.


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