Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Polly Klaas

Bad Parents, Sadistic Child

Richard "Rick" Allen Davis was born, the third of five children, in San Francisco on June 2, 1954.  Both of his parents, Bob and Evelyn Davis, were alcoholics.  Evelyn was a strict mother and is believed to have disciplined Rick for smoking by burning his hand.

The couple divorced when Rick was 11. After their divorce, Bob, a longshoremen, won custody of all five kids "because of the mother's alleged immoral conduct in the presence of the children," according to a probation report on Richard. Young Rick moved around a lot, living variously in Chowchilla, Fremont, and San Francisco.  The bulk of his childhood was spent in the small village of La Honda.

Bob Davis would remarry three times and young Rick would resent all of his stepmothers.  These early negative relationships with maternal figures apparently resulted in a hatred of, and contempt for, females in general and a propensity toward violence against them.

Although he had wanted custody when their marriage dissolved, the elder Davis was sometimes either unable or unwilling to care for the kids so they shuttled between Mom and Dad as well as between paternal and maternal grandparents.  Bob Davis was evidently mentally unstable and sometimes suffered from hallucinations.  He is reported to have taken a gun outside the home and shot at mirages.  Young Rick grew up with little stability in his life and little affection.

Confused and deprived of the love and acceptance that is so crucial to children, Rick became a badly troubled and mean boy.  At an early age, he began torturing and killing animals.  According to Ruth Baron, who knew him because she had a son the same age, "He would douse cats with gasoline and set them on fire. He made a point of letting people know he carried a knife, and he used to find stray dogs and cut them."  

However, Rick did not completely lack the ability to care.  His younger sister, Darlene, remembered him as a responsible parent-substitute. "Rick brought me up," she claimed.  "He cooked and cleaned.  He was my father and my mother."

By the time he entered his teens, Davis was already deeply into a life of crime.  He was thrilled by danger.  He told a psychiatrist that stealing was a surefire way to relieve whatever "tensions" were building up inside of him.  

He dropped out of high school in his sophomore year.

At 17, a sullen Davis found himself in front of a judge who told the young recidivist that he could either go to the California Youth Authority or join the U.S. Army.  He chose the army.

Stationed in Germany, he worked as a military truck driver.  He also resumed committing a variety of petty crimes.  The army eventually caught up with him and he was given a less than honorable discharge after 13 months of service.  His thick, beefy arms were now covered with a variety of black tattoos.  Many of the tattoos were of spider webs.

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