Police Had Freed Man Now Held in Girl’s Kidnaping
A twice-convicted kidnaper out on parole was being held Wednesday after FBI tests linked him to missing Petaluma 12-year-old Polly Klaas, and grim authorities acknowledged they had the man in custody within two hours of her Oct. 1 abduction but let him go.
Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies encountered the suspect apparently alone on a country road about 20 miles from the Petaluma house where Polly was taken at knifepoint. They were suspicious enough to detain him for 40 minutes and run checks on him, but the deputies apparently did not know of the nearby kidnaping.
Last Sunday, a property owner reported finding evidence near the spot where deputies had questioned Richard Allen Davis, 39. The evidence was flown to the FBI crime lab in Washington and connected to Polly, according to a statement late Wednesday night by Petaluma police.
Davis was arrested Tuesday in a midafternoon raid by FBI agents and police on a house where he was staying on the Coyote Valley Indian Reservation near Ukiah, about 75 miles north of Petaluma.
At least 75 FBI agents and local authorities continued searching for the missing girl.
The discovery of the evidence and arrest of Davis were the first significant breaks in the two-month-old case, which has captivated Northern California and drawn international attention since Polly was abducted from her bedroom in suburban Petaluma while her mother slept in another room.
While the girl’s whereabouts remained a mystery Wednesday, relatives and thousands of volunteers who have devoted time to the case waited anxiously for news of her fate.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” said volunteer Maureen Dixon, who joined dozens of others in a tense vigil Wednesday at the Polly Klaas Search Center in Petaluma. “Name your emotion and it’s been here today,” volunteer Joanne Gardner added.
Early in the day, spirits sank after reports by some media that said searchers had found items of Polly’s clothing buried along with human remains. But authorities said they had found no remains related to Polly’s disappearance, and by evening a cautious optimism was restored.
Davis, 39, was jailed in Ukiah on a parole violation after his arrest Tuesday, a charge for which he can be held for up to 45 days. He has not been charged in the kidnaping.
Authorities--who also had Davis in their custody at least one other time after the kidnaping--refused to divulge details or discuss any evidence that may have been seized during their search of the 53-acre reservation and the home where Davis was staying.
“This is the prime suspect in the case,” Petaluma Police Sgt. Mike Kerns said. “We’re in the process of developing information that would link him to Polly’s abduction.”
Such information could come from the search of a vehicle seized at the home where Davis was arrested, said Rick Smith, an FBI spokesman. FBI technicians have flown in from Washington to examine the vehicle, which he would not describe.
The California Highway Patrol had arrested Davis on Oct. 19 for driving while intoxicated on U.S. 101 near the reservation, Mendocino County Dist. Atty. Susan Massini said. She said he was driving a white Ford Pinto matching the description of a car seen in Polly’s neighborhood shortly before her abduction.
Davis was jailed briefly and released later that day. Officers also impounded his car but failed to make a connection to the Klaas case.
“The officer who had him didn’t recognize him,” CHP spokesman Bryan Crutcher said.
KFTY-TV in Santa Rosa reported Wednesday night that on the night of Oct. 1, the Sonoma County deputies encountered Davis in a light-colored Ford Pinto that was stuck in a ditch on a dark country road.
Sonoma County sheriff’s authorities would not release further details Wednesday night. Polly’s home in Petaluma is located in southern Sonoma County.
Court records show that Davis--who has worked at jobs ranging from forklift operator to firewood vendor--has spent much of his adult life in state prison, beginning with a one-year sentence for a San Mateo County burglary in the mid-1970s.
Shortly after his release for that crime, he was convicted of kidnaping a woman at a Hayward train station and served nearly five years. Other charges in that episode--including sodomy and assault with intent to rape--were dropped after he agreed to plead guilty to the kidnaping charge.
In 1985, Davis was again convicted of kidnaping. San Mateo County prosecutors said he abducted a female acquaintance who owed him money, struck her on the head with a pellet gun and forced her to withdraw $6,000 from a bank account.
Sentenced to 16 years for that crime, Davis served eight and was paroled in June.
State parole officials said he moved to Redwood City, a suburb south of San Francisco, and lived briefly in a residential hotel. He enrolled voluntarily in a drug and alcohol treatment center, where he lived until shortly before his arrest.
“His criminal history and offenses are certainly serious, and so we supervised him intensively,” said Deborah Star, deputy regional administrator for the state Department of Corrections parole division.
Davis’ parole officer met with him monthly and was impressed enough with his conduct to relax his level of supervision beginning in October, Star said.
On Nov. 1, Davis received permission from his parole officer to visit a brother in Ukiah. He failed to return for a scheduled meeting Nov. 15, resulting in the parole violation on which he is being held, Star said.
Leaders of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians said Davis had been staying in a home on the reservation rented by Dick and Darlene Schwarm, who may be related to him. Iris Martinez, a member of the Coyote Valley Tribal Council, said that the tenants were not tribal members and that leaders had been trying to evict them for two years.
“It’s really devastating to us that someone like him could be here,” Martinez said. “We pray that she (Polly) is alive somewhere.”
Polly, a brown-eyed girl with shoulder-length brown hair, was abducted from her upstairs bedroom Oct. 1 during a slumber party with two girlfriends. As her mother slept in another room, the bearded kidnaper broke into the house, drew a long knife and tied and gagged the girls.
He asked which of the children lived in the house and demanded to know where valuables were kept. But instead of taking jewels and coins, he picked up the 4-foot, 10-inch, 80-pound Polly and carried her off.
Polly’s two friends were taken to the Mendocino County Jail in Ukiah on Wednesday, but authorities would not say whether they identified Davis.
The brazenness of the abduction horrified Petaluma and triggered a massive outpouring of volunteer help, galvanizing the town in a show of support that made national headlines. More than 8 million flyers bearing Polly’s picture and the artist’s sketch of the kidnaper have been printed in eight languages and posted everywhere from truckers’ mud flaps to bowling alleys to national parks. Actress Winona Ryder offered a $200,000 reward for the girl’s safe return.
Polly’s divorced parents, Marc Klaas and Eve Nichol, were in seclusion and issued a brief statement on the arrest.
Times staff writer Maura Dolan also reported from Petaluma. Researcher Norma Kaufman in San Francisco contributed to this report.
A suspect was arrested near the Coyote Valley Indian Reservation in connection with the Oct. 1 kidnaping of Polly Klaas from her Petaluma home.