Taken in the night: Polly Klaas kidnapping and how Winona Ryder offered $20K for her return

When you’re a kid, slumber parties are fun and exciting. You plan to stay up all night, giggling and gossiping about your school crush, while stuffing your face with greasy pizza and candy. You might shield your eyes with a blanket as you try to brave through a scary movie, or play a game to determine your future.

It’s all harmless, good-hearted entertainment, and it’s all a part of growing up. It was the kind of fun-filled night 12-year-old Polly Klaas planned for her sleepover, before a dangerous real-life boogeyman would crash the party and snatch the blossoming young girl from her bedroom and take her into the night, where she would remain forever.

The monster interrupted Klaas’ sleepover on October 1, 1993. The pre-teen was hosting a slumber party with two close friends at her mother’s home in Petaluma, California. The night started off normal and the girls were safe and snug inside the secured home, or so they thought. As they played a board game called Perfect Match—a game about finding your dream date—in Klaas’ bedroom, a bearded stranger appeared before them holding a knife in his hand.

Polly Hannah Klaashttp://theangelprojectstories.blogspot.com/2016/02/polly-klaas.html

Posted by The Angel Project on Monday, January 27, 2014


At first Klaas’ friends thought she was pranking them, until the man threatened them. He tied them up, and placed pillowcases over their heads. He told Klaaus’ two friends to count to 1,000 as he carried her out of her room while she cried in his arms, begging him not to hurt her sister or mother.

Klaas’ mother slept just a few rooms away when her daughter was forcibly taken away from her. She would be startled awake by one of the friends 20 minutes after the kidnapping—the length of time it took the girl to wriggle free from her restraints—and learn the shocking details of what had happened to her daughter.

The news of the young girl’s kidnapping spread around town quickly, and within 30 minutes police sent out an APB (All Points Bulletin) detailing the suspect, and the information was broadcasted on the local news.

Despite the immediate attention, the news hadn’t made it to the Santa Rosa area just 20 miles away, where a babysitter would notice a suspicious car broken down in a ditch near her employer’s property. The babysitter immediately notified the homeowner, who checked out the situation for herself.

She called 911 and eventually police came to investigate the property. They searched the vehicle and interviewed the man behind the wheel, and found nothing suspicious. So, they let the man go.

What Santa Rosa police didn’t know was that a young girl had been kidnapped by a man who fit the exact description of the stranger who was just in their presence.

While police could have found answers to Klaas’ disappearance that night, things would remain a mystery for two more months. Over 5 million flyers with Klaas’ smiling face were distributed throughout the country, and search parties of over 4,000 people set out to bring the little girl home. The case received national attention when it was featured on 20/20 and America’s Most Wanted.

The media reports caught the attention of actress Winona Ryder (Stranger Things), who grew up in the same town at Klaas. She took a strong interest in the case, because she saw herself in the young girl. When she saw a video of the missing girl acting in a school play, she told People, “I started acting when I was 12, Polly’s age. I got a real sense of déjà vu.”

Coincidentally, a teacher told Klaas that she reminded her of a former student—Winona Ryder—and it filled her with giddy excitement. According to Klaas’ friend, her biggest dream was to meet Ryder one day.

She never did get the chance to meet the star, but Ryder would offer a reward of $200,000 for the girl’s safe return. In November 1993, a woman—the same woman who called police about a suspicious man on her property the night of Klaas’ disappearance—would find a pair of torn ballet tights on her property. The tights matched the same ones that Klaas was wearing when she was kidnapped.

Authorities immediately focused their sights on the suspicious man from that night. His name was Richard Allen Davis, and he had a long rap sheet of kidnapping—and his palm print matched a print found on Klaas’ bunk bed the night of the crime. Soon, the predator would break down and confess to kidnapping and murdering the 12-year-old child by strangling her to death.

In December, Davis would lead authorities to the body of Klaas. She was hidden under some brush along Highway 101, and her body was badly decomposed. Cloth and pieces of rope were found in her hair, which supported Davis’ confession of strangulation.

Police believe that Davis had already murdered Klaas when crashed his car into a ditch on October 1, 1993. He was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death. He currently resides in San Quentin State Prison.

Following the death of Polly, her father created the Klaas Kid Foundation, a leading child-search organization in the nation. The kidnapping and murder of Klaas helped bring forth the “Three Strikes” law in California, which requires a criminal to be sentenced to life in prison after three felony convictions in CA.

And although she would never live to meet her favorite actress, she would forever be connected to her. Ryder would go on to dedicate her performance in Little Women to Klaas, because the story was Polly’s favorite book. 

[Feature Photo: Handout/Klaas Kids]