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New details revealed on the California kidnapping that changed history | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey


She was called “America’s Child.” And after her murder 30 years ago, the nation mourned — and the way America treats kidnappings and child safety was changed forever.

Her name was Polly Klaas. She was 12 when a career criminal snatched her on Oct. 1, 1993, from her sleepover party in Petaluma, and the rarity of a total stranger pulling off a kidnapping rather than an acquaintance triggered such horror that the story went national.

The FBI, police and thousands of neighbors launched the most intensive search of its kind at the time for a missing child, drawing in then-President Bill Clinton and celebrities from Wynona Ryder to Johnny Cash. The search only ended two months later when Polly’s decomposed body was found stuffed below a pile of scrap lumber in Cloverdale. 

She had been left there by 39-year-old Richard Allen Davis, who had an eight-page rap sheet for kidnapping, burglary and crimes against children, and to this day he’s never explained why he took the child. He is on Death Row for the crime. 

By the time a memorial was held in Petaluma on Dec. 11 for the dimpled small-town girl with a glowing smile, the “America’s Child” nickname had stuck — and Davis was reviled as a bogeyman come to life. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson and senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were among those paying homage, and as the overfilled church crowd wept on live TV, Joan Baez sang “Amazing Grace” and Linda Rondstadt sang Polly’s favorite song, “Somewhere Out There.”

Now, a generation later, Polly’s death is remembered mostly by those old enough to have watched as the drama unfolded.

But this anniversary carries a couple of milestones.

A book on the case will be released on Oct. 3, giving never-before-seen details, including a suspect that led investigators down the wrong path before a lucky break snared Davis. And Polly’s father, Marc Klaas, says he intends to close the KlaasKids Foundation he started after Polly’s death to help hunt for missing kids and prevent kidnappings.

“My own tragedy around Polly’s death is becoming increasingly difficult as the years go by, and the tragedy of others is hard to carry over time,” said Klaas, who is now 74 and lives in Sausalito. “I am not as young as I was and I would like to have something else in my life besides tragedy and advocacy.”

His foundation has conducted 500 missing-child searches and trained more than 1,600 volunteers in search and rescue techniques. But there are now many other nonprofits that also help with child abductions, including another started after the kidnapping, the Polly Klaas Foundation.

“This whole 30th anniversary is very difficult for me,” Klaas said. “I’ve been looking through hundreds of pictures of my daughter and I get infuriated. It’s the promise lost, the whole idea that something so horrible can happen to someone so innocent.

“After Polly’s tragedy, my wife, Violet, and I consciously decided we would try to create meaning out of her death, and we got involved in a lot of legislation and work that I believe helped cut crime.”

Among the causes Klaas pushed were laws creating public registries for convicted sex offenders, more severe prison sentences for people convicted of crimes against children, and the pioneering 1994 California “three strikes” law requiring life sentences for criminals convicted of three or more violent felonies. The three strikes law was softened to give more latitude to judges after legislators determined it was too harsh, but Klaas says he is proud of its legacy and would still like to see punishment stiffened further for longtime offenders — like Davis.

“Davis should never have been out on the street, and I think it’s outrageous that the governor has put a moratorium on executions,” he said. “There are people who deserve to die for what they did. Like Davis.”

Klaas said he intends to close his foundation by the end of next year, “and then one thing I’m totally going to do is buy a guitar and learn how to play; I love the blues.” But he plans one more big action before then — releasing a search and rescue manual on the anniversary of Polly’s kidnapping.

Other reforms that grew out of the search for Polly and its aftermath are speeded-up police and FBI responses to kidnappings, and forensics techniques in detecting latent palm and fingerprints. Polly’s abduction also forced media organizations to reckon with the question of why they gave outsize attention to the disappearance of a white girl from middle-class suburbia while overlooking similar kidnappings of non-white children. It’s a subject that is still regularly debated.

Author Kim Cross said immersing in the saga for her upcoming book, “In Light of All Darkness,” took its toll. 



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