An American man named Richard Allen Davis was found guilty of kidnapping and killing a 12-year-old girl from her mother’s Petaluma, California, home in October 1993. The story of Richard’s arrest on ABC’s ’20/20: Taken in the Night’ begins with an initial mistake by the authorities that may have resulted in the child victim’s death. To present a full picture of the events, the episode includes interviews with the victim’s friends, family, and law enforcement representatives.
Who Is Richard Allen Davis?
On June 2, 1954, in San Francisco, California, Robert Davis and Evelyn Smith welcomed Richard Allen Davis into the world. He is the third child in a family of five; his older brothers are Donald and Ronald, and his younger sisters are Darlene Schwarm and Patricia (who passed away when he was 14). Richard had a difficult upbringing and experienced many challenges. His mother punished him and his siblings severely, even burning their hands on a hot stove, for a variety of crimes. His parents struggled with alcoholism.
After he and his siblings were taken to live with their maternal grandmother by Evelyn, who had separated when he was nine, he witnessed many violent arguments between his parents. Richard and his sisters chose Robert as their custodial father after their parents divorced when Richard was eleven years old, even though Robert was frequently unable to give sufficient care. The home was difficult because of their father’s mental illness, hallucinations, and violent tendencies. Richard also took offense at his father’s two second marriages.
Richard was drawn into a life of crime in his early adolescence. When he was just 12 years old, he was on probation for burglary and forgery, and when he was 15, he committed the same crime again. In his sophomore year of high school, he dropped out. According to reports, he told a therapist that stealing helped to soothe his internal “tensions.” When he was seventeen and scheduled to face in court for motorcycle theft, he was given the choice between joining the US Army or the California Youth Authority. After serving for 13 months, he chose the latter and was granted a general discharge.
Richard was present at a party held at the home of 18-year-old Marlene Voris on October 12, 1973. She was found dead from a gunshot wound and had left seven suicide notes. Although the police surmised that she committed suicide, the victim’s acquaintances were adamant that Richard was the murderer. He was arrested shortly after Marlene’s untimely death while trying to pawn stolen goods. He subsequently served six months in county jail after confessing to a string of burglaries in La Honda.
Richard was released after completing just a year of his sentence when he was arrested again for burglary on May 13, 1974, five weeks after his first arrest. This time, he was given a sentence of six months to fifteen years. He had been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and avoidant personality disorder, according to court documents. Richard went to see his sister and brother-in-law, Darlene and Richard Schwarm, who lived in Ukiah on the Coyote Valley Indian Reservation, over the third weekend in August 1993.
His bus came to a stop at a notoriously drug- and transient-friendly Petaluma terminal near Walnut Park and Wickersham Park. He bought his brother-in-law’s 1979 Ford Pinto hatchback during this visit. After making this purchase, he quit his employment without warning, and from September to November 1993, he routinely made several visits to Ukiah with his newly acquired automobile. He told his employer he was in Petaluma visiting family. Twelve-year-old Polly Klaas had two friends over for a sleepover on October 1, 1993.
Richard Allen Davis Remains on a Death Row
When Polly went into her bedroom at around 10:30 at night to get the sleeping bags, she was met by a scary-looking stranger with a knife. Before kidnapping Polly, Richard shackled the girls and gave her companions the order to count to 1,000. A large search effort involving over 4,000 people, including volunteers and law enforcement, was initiated in the next two months. High-profile TV shows like America’s Most Wanted and 20/20 raised awareness of the kidnapping across the country.
Richard was listed as a wanted fugitive at the same time as the California Highway Patrol sent out an all-points alert for a parole infraction pertaining to an earlier offense. Any law enforcement official who came into contact with him was directed to arrest him on these grounds. Interestingly, the bulletin was only available to CHP radio users on the CHP channel. Following this occurrence, law enforcement procedures were changed to guarantee that these alerts were aired on all police channels.
Richard was found by local authorities in a neighboring rural region during the intense search, his Ford Pinto stuck in the mud. The local authorities should have arrested him, but they released him without informing the APB about his parole violation and without calling their dispatcher to confirm his driver’s license. Richard is thought to have moved quickly to a remote area, where he killed Polly and buried her in a shallow grave.
During a regular sweep on November 30, police arrested Richard for violating his parole. The arresting officer recognized Richard from police sketches connected to the Polly case. Richard was later accused of the crime because his palm print was found in Polly’s bedroom. He guided the authorities to her remains near Cloverdale four days later. He admitted to using a piece of fabric to strangle her from behind. While the severely decomposed corpse over several months hindered scientific confirmation, his assertion matched the accessible data.
In 1996, a jury found Richard guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, and attempting to commit an indecent act against her. Regarding the homicide, the jury determined that the claims of burglary, robbery, kidnapping, and attempted indecent act on a juvenile were true special circumstances. The jury further determined that he intentionally injured the victim severely, that he knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was 14 years of age or younger, and that he used a deadly and dangerous weapon while committing these crimes.
Moments after being found guilty of murder, he allegedly displayed no remorse and even made an offensive gesture in front of the court cameras. Just before receiving his death sentence in late September 1996, Richard again caused a commotion in the courtroom by accusing Polly’s father of abusing his young daughter. He overdosed on opiates and was found comatose in his prison cell in July 2006, but he lived. On June 1, 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld his death sentence. As a result, the 69-year-old is still detained at the Adjustment Center of San Quentin State Prison on California’s death row.
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