The body of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, whose kidnaping touched off a two-month search that drew nationwide sympathy, was found near Cloverdale on Saturday after the suspect in the case told police where to look.
At a news conference Saturday night, a shaken Petaluma Police Chief Dennis DeWitt and FBI Special Agent Jim R. Freeman gave few details of the discovery but said they were announcing that “Polly Klaas is dead.”
The body of the girl with wavy brown hair was found within sight of U.S. 101 about 35 miles north of her home, they said. The break in the case came when Richard Allen Davis, who was arrested in the case Tuesday, told an investigator where the body could be found.
Volunteers, who rallied behind the Klaas family and mounted a massive search for the missing girl, were devastated by the discovery.
Gary French, a leader of the grass-roots search effort, said the 80 volunteers gathered at the Polly Klaas Foundation on Saturday night were “deeply saddened by the tragic news. . . . Our hearts have all been touched by Polly and we will carry her memory forever.”
French said he had spoken briefly with Polly’s parents, and he passed on their thanks for the public’s support. He also lauded the Petaluma Police Department and the FBI for their “undaunted search for Polly” and the arrest of Davis.
In an unusually emotional moment, DeWitt told reporters: “I think it’s affected us all greatly. . . . When you help and you care, it takes a toll.”
Davis, 39, a twice-convicted kidnaper who had been paroled, has not been charged in the Klaas case, but authorities indicated that they will file charges of kidnaping and possibly murder this week.
Police announced Friday that Davis’ palm print had been found in Polly’s bedroom.
The police and FBI have not disclosed a motive in the case and declined to say how the girl died or how long her body had lain at the heavily wooded site.
The location of the body heightens the mystery of what happened Oct. 1, the night Polly was kidnaped while she was having a slumber party with two friends.
About an hour after Polly vanished, Davis was questioned by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies when his car was stuck in a ditch on a dirt road east of Santa Rosa, more than 30 minutes from Petaluma.
The deputies, unaware of the kidnaping, searched his car and checked for warrants, then pulled his car from the ditch and let him go. Authorities have not disclosed where they believe Polly was at the time.
Last Sunday, the property owner who first reported Davis on her land on the night Polly was kidnaped found a sweat shirt and other evidence tying Davis to the kidnaping. Two days later, Davis was arrested at the Coyote Valley Indian Reservation, north of Ukiah.
Since then, the FBI and local authorities had been conducting a major ground search in the two locations, east of Santa Rosa and on the reservation. But until Davis broke this silence, they had not focused on Cloverdale.
The news spread quickly Saturday night across Petaluma, a small, Sonoma County town, where residents have been riveted by the case. Flyers bearing Polly’s radiant face and an artist’s sketch of the suspect are plastered in virtually every Petaluma storefront, as well as in parks and car windows. Thousands of residents donated time and money to the ambitious search effort.
Lynn Wright, manager of the Steamer Gold Restaurant, said Saturday evening began on “a very upbeat note, with lots of Christmas parties and good cheer.” Then came the announcement that Polly’s body had been found.
“We just got word and I can tell you the morale here has fallen very, very low,” Wright said. “We all had high hopes they would find her--find her alive. It’s just too awful to believe.”
Nearby, Dave Campagna struggled to serve ice cream cones to a long line of patrons at Baskin-Robbins while coping with the “incredible shock” he felt at the news that Polly was dead.
“It’s just so horrifying,” Campagna said. “Everybody was involved in this. When they have her funeral, I’m sure the whole town will be there.”
At a Chevron service station across town, feelings of sadness blended with anger--and a desire to see Polly’s killer pay.
“It’s so sad, but it happened, and the important thing now is to make sure the guy who did this is punished,” said Chuck Jose, an attendant at the station. “The scary thing is, how many more guys are out there on the street, just like him? What kind of world is this?”