PETALUMA, Calif. -- The parolee accused of killing 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 kidnapping.
In a detailed confession, twice-convicted kidnapper Richard Allen Davis said he returned to the scene and picked up Polly, then took her 40 miles to Cloverdale, Calif., and strangled her, a law enforcement official said yesterday. 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 kidnapping 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 kidnapping 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 kidnapping, defended his officers yesterday 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 kidnapping, 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 kidnapping 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 killing 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 kidnapping to find his estranged mother, then decided instead to kidnap Polly. Police said they do not know the kidnapper'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, 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, Calif. -- some 27 miles from Petaluma -- saying that a prowler was outside.
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 kidnapping in Petaluma was broadcast on a different frequency than the channel the deputies were using, and they had no idea the abduction had occurred.
According to Davis' confession, by the time the two deputies found him, he had already taken Polly from the car and stashed her in the woods nearby. After pulling Davis' car from the ditch, they ordered him to leave the area.