By Marc Klaas
This is a textbook example of how not to recover a kidnapped child. On the evening of Pollyís abduction, Petaluma Police issued an all-points-bulletin outlining the events surrounding the crime. An attached stipulation read: Not for press release. The Sonoma County Sheriffís Department did not transmit the communication over their radio frequencies, as the press monitored these channels. Therefore, when Deputies Howard and Rankin encountered Pollyís killer less than two hours after the crime, they did not know a child was missing.
Dana Jaffe returned home from work at about 11pm, drove up Pythian Rd., took the right fork and continued up the heavily wooded road to her house. She chatted with the baby-sitter for a few minutes and wrote her a check. The baby-sitter got into her car and started down the driveway toward highway 12. About a quarter of a mile from the house she noticed a white Pinto, headed up the hill, parked diagonally off the side the narrow dirt road. A stranger, hunched over the right rear bumper of the Pinto approached the eighteen year old baby-sitter. She stopped and cracked the driver side front window about an inch and said, "What the f*** are you doing here? Canít you read? This is private property." In a loud domineering voice the man said, "Iím stuck. I need some rope." The bearded stranger with the matted gray hair had intense body odor and was wearing dirty blue jeans and an inverted black sweat shirt. "Whatís up this road?" he demanded. The baby-sitter sped away to the nearest pay phone to call Dana Jaffe and warn her about the scary stranger with twigs and leaves in his hair.
Approximately fifteen minutes later Dana grabbed a baseball bat and got into her car with her twelve year old daughter. They passed the Pinto, but did not see the ominous stranger. She went to a pay phone and called the Sheriff.
Forty-five minutes later, two deputies followed Dana Jaffe home in separate squad cars. Fifty feet beyond a private security gate, the deputies encountered the killer standing in the middle of the narrow dirt road looking frustrated. Ms. Jaffe and her daughter continued up the hill to her house. The deputies parked their cars and fixed a spotlight on the man, now wearing a long sleeve light colored button down shirt. Deputy Rankin contacted dispatch, reported the Pintoís license number and asked that a vehicle registration check be run. He felt uncomfortable about the situation and grabbed his baton before exiting his vehicle.
Deputy Howard stopped fifteen feet away from the killer, who fixed his gaze on the officers and said, "What the f*** are you doing here?" Informed that he was trespassing on private property, the killer said that his car was stuck in a ditch. Deputy Howard approached the profusely sweating trespasser and smelled a definite scent of alcohol. Rankin patted down the stranger with twigs in his hair, felt dampness in his belt and groin area and said that he smelled a slight odor of alcohol. Neither deputy conducted a sobriety test. The killer fumbled in his wallet and produced his driverís license. Richard Allen Davis said that he was traveling from the Bay Area to visit his brother in law in Redwood Valley, seventy five miles north. He said that it looked like a beautiful area and he was sightseeing. It was after midnight and pitch black outside. The deputies decided not to run a background check.
The deputies searched the white 1976 Pinto and discovered three or four twelve ounce cans of beer in a paper bag on the floorboard of the front passenger seat. They found torn clothing in a light blue duffel bag. The interior of the Pinto was disheveled. The killer grabbed a can of beer out of the car, opened it in front of the deputies and took a sip. Deputy Rankin told him to pour it out.
Dispatch informed Deputy Rankin that the license plate on the Pinto did not match the registration. The deputy re-checked the license plate and realized that he had submitted the wrong number. He did not follow up.
The killer told the deputies to "Push my car out of the ditch." The deputies tried, but failed. They told him to call a tow truck. The killer did not have enough money to pay for a tow. Deputy Rankin drove up the hill to Ms. Jaffeís house and borrowed a chain that they attached to the bumper of the Pinto. They used Deputy Rankinís car to free the stuck Pinto.
The deputies ordered the killer to back down the driveway, turn his car around and leave the property. The Pinto followed Deputy Rankinís squad car down the hill. The Pinto turned around and the deputies told him to drive away. The driver got out of the Pinto and turned toward the deputy. Over the PA system, Rankin ordered Davis to get back into the car, leave the property and not return. He shrugged his shoulders, got back into the car and headed down Pythian Road. At the Highway 12 intersection, the Pinto turned south, away from Redwood Valley and pulled off the side of the highway. The deputies followed him, noticed that he was parked near the intersection, and continued on their merry way.
Ironically, Rankin and Howard commute together three days a week. They never mentioned the incident again, but they did fantasize about capturing Pollyís abductor. I believe Polly was dead during this brief encounter, so I donít think the deputies could have saved her. However, they could have spared my family and all of the people who were searching so desperately for her safe return sixty-five days of gut wrenching agony by simply putting two and two together.
If it were not for the fact that Pollyís tragedy was rapidly unraveling, this scenario would be worthy of the Keystone Cops. Unfortunately, nobodyís laughing.
KlaasKids Foundation P.O. Box 925, Sausalito, CA 94966
Copyright © 2002 KlaasKids Foundation For Children. All rights reserved.