The parolee accused of murdering Polly Klaas has told police the 12-year-old girl was alive and hidden in the woods nearby while sheriff's deputies helped free his car from a ditch shortly after the kidnaping.
In a detailed confession, twice-convicted kidnaper Richard Allen Davis said he returned to the scene and picked up Polly, then took her 31 miles to Cloverdale and strangled her, a law enforcement official said Monday. It is unclear how soon he returned or how long Polly remained alive.
For volunteers and law enforcement officers who mounted a massive search for Polly after she was abducted from her home Oct. 1, the revelation of how close she came to being rescued within hours of the kidnaping was one more cruel blow.
The FBI and Petaluma police are attempting to verify the details of Davis' confession, including his contentions that he chose his victim at random and that he never sexually molested the seventh-grader.
"He has admitted to killing and kidnaping her," said one law enforcement official. "We still need to find out just what happened."
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Ihde, whose deputies questioned Davis 90 minutes after Polly's kidnaping, defended his officers Monday and questioned the suspect's credibility.
"We don't know if Polly was dead then or killed subsequent to that," he said. "That's a factor that we do not know and something that we may never know."
According to authorities, after learning of the evidence against him, including a palm print lifted from Polly's bedroom that placed him at the scene of the kidnaping, Davis told police Saturday where they could find Polly's body.
Investigators discovered the body in a shallow depression near Cloverdale the same day--13 weeks after a bearded stranger took her at knifepoint.
During 10 hours of conversations with investigators, Davis insisted that he acted alone in kidnaping Polly. Davis told police he choked her to death at the same spot where her body was found--50 yards from busy U.S. 101.
After murdering the brown-eyed girl, he covered her body with lumber from an abandoned sawmill nearby.
Davis told police that he went to Petaluma on the day of the kidnaping to find his estranged mother, then decided to kidnap Polly. Police said they do not know the kidnaper's motive.
Police say that at 10:35 on the night of Oct. 1, a man wielding a knife entered the house where Polly lived through an unlocked door or window and found her in her bedroom playing a board game with two friends.
After tying up the girls, the man asked which one lived in the house and where the valuables were kept. He then escaped into the night taking only Polly. The girls freed themselves about 20 minutes later and woke Polly's mother, who called police.
About an hour after Polly was taken, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department received a call from a resident of rural Oakmont--about 27 miles from Petaluma--saying that a prowler was outside her home.
Two deputies responded and found that Davis had driven his car into a ditch in an apparent attempt to pull off the road. When he said he was "sightseeing," they questioned him for nearly 40 minutes and searched his car.
Because of a heavy load of radio communications that night, the report of the kidnaping in Petaluma was broadcast on a different frequency than the channel the deputies were using, and they had no idea that the abduction had occurred.
According to Davis' confession, by the time the two deputies found him, he had taken Polly from the car and stashed her in the woods. After pulling Davis' car from the ditch, they ordered him to leave the area.
"The contact that they had with Davis was a fairly routine type of call," Ihde said. "My belief is they acted very appropriately."
In the following days, when an early drawing of Polly's kidnaper and a description of his car were widely distributed, the deputies concluded that there was no connection to the prowler they saw that night. Later, a revised drawing of the suspect was issued.
While he was being questioned that night, Davis blurted out that he had changed his shirt because he had gotten it dirty trying to move his car. But it was not until Nov. 28 that the same property owner found his sweat shirt on the ground and again called the Sheriff's Department.
When a deputy found duct tape in the pocket of the shirt and went back over the earlier report, the discovery touched off a search for Davis and led to his arrest on the Coyote Valley Indian Reservation near Ukiah.
The FBI said it was withholding judgment on the accuracy of Davis' confession until investigators have examined all evidence collected in a painstaking search of the Oakmont and Cloverdale sites. An autopsy of Polly's body began Monday.
"We don't know what the situation was," said FBI spokesman Rick Smith. "We have to wait for the forensic examination to be complete."
Funeral services for Polly were pending, the family said Monday in a statement. They asked for contributions to the Polly Klaas Foundation in Petaluma in lieu of flowers.
The foundation announced that a public memorial service for Polly will be held Thursday evening at the St. Vincent De Paul Church in Petaluma.
Davis, 39, who has spent 14 of the last 18 years behind bars, was first sentenced to a year in prison for burglary in the 1970s.
Shortly after his release, he was convicted of kidnaping a woman at a Hayward BART station and served nearly five years in prison. Other charges in that case--including sodomy and assault with intent to rape--were dropped after he agreed to plead guilty to the kidnaping charge.
In 1985, Davis was convicted in San Mateo County of kidnaping a female acquaintance who owed him money. Authorities said he hit the woman on the head with a gun and forced her to withdraw $6,000 from a bank. He was sentenced to 16 years in that case, but was paroled this summer after serving half his sentence.
Taking up residence in Redwood City, he reported regularly to his parole officer. On the day Polly was kidnaped, he was given a pass to visit a relative in Ukiah, about 70 miles north of Petaluma.