Polly Klaas Case: Here's how 1993 Bay Area murder of 12-year-old transformed criminal justice system

Polly Klaas, 12, was kidnapped from her Petaluma home 30 years ago. Her body was found two months later.

Tara Campbell Image
Monday, October 2, 2023
How Polly Klaas' 1993 murder changed the criminal justice system
The family of 12-year-old Polly Klaas is marking 30 years since her kidnapping. How did Polly's case transform the criminal justice system?

PETALUMA, Calif. (KGO) -- The family of 12-year-old Polly Klaas is marking 30 years since her kidnapping.

On October 1, 1993 she was taken from her home at knifepoint in Petaluma.

She was having a sleepover with her friends at the time.

Polly's body was found two months later.

Now, her murder has had a profound effect for missing children and crime prevention shaping groundbreaking measures in California and across the country.

MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Suspected child killer in 1987 Vallejo cold case arrested. 'I hope he rots in Hell'

Fred Cain III, suspected of killing 6-year-old Jeremy Stoner in Vallejo back in 1987, is now in jail after being arrested in Oregon.

But, how did Polly's case transform the criminal justice system today?

Mark Klaas, Polly's father, recalled the moment he knew his daughter was gone talking with 20/20's JuJu Chang this week.

"They didn't have to tell us anything Christ. They walked in and the tears were in their eyes," Mark said.

Decades later, he described the haunting memory.

"I remember that Eve (Klaas, Polly's mother) started crying, the cops were crying. I wasn't crying, but I said we need to tell our family, so I made a phone call and said, 'you know, it's over she's dead'."

MORE: Serial killer convicted of Bay Area murders in 1970s dead at 79

Notorious Bay Area rapist and killer John Arthur Getreu, 79, died in a Stockton, California prison.

Richard Allen Davis was identified as Polly's killer. He led investigators to where he left the young girl's body.

Davis was sentenced to death, but the death penalty is on hold in California.

Marc Klass moved to action starting the Polly Klass Foundation, and helping to transform criminal justice.

"The Polly Klaas murder case was a huge shift in the criminal justice system across the United States. It was the beginning of the victims rights movement," said Steven Clark, a legal analyst and says the three strikes law is among the most notable of changes.

"Richard Allen Davis was a career criminal and he was out of jail and what three strikes law did was, we're going to be putting people away forever who commit a series of violent felonies," Clark said.

MORE: DA pushes for new trial in 1992 murder of Laurie Houts after judge dismissed cold case

The case is also credited with helping lead to the establishing of the Amber Alert.

"The Polly Klaas case really spoke to a lot of change in law enforcement ...and how they conducted these investigations including Amber alerts so people could quickly respond to a kidnapped child," he added.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live