Month Day
October 01

A 12-year-old girl is kidnapped, leading to California’s “three strikes” law

Polly Klaas is abducted at knifepoint by an intruder in her Petaluma, California, home during a slumber party with two friends. Despite a massive manhunt and national attention, there was no sign of the missing 12-year-old or her abductor for two months.

Eventually, investigators found some children’s clothing in the northern California woods, along with a car that had gotten stuck at this same location on the night of the kidnapping. The car was traced to Richard Allen Davis, who had previous convictions for burglary, assault, and kidnapping. He had been sentenced to 16 years in prison but had managed to get out on parole in a fraction of that time. The California justice system subsequently received heavy criticism for his release, including complaints from three of his past victims who appeared on ABC’s television show Primetime in January 1994.

In the initial investigation, the FBI forensic team had found only one useable piece of physical evidence at the Klaas home: a partial palm print on Polly’s bunk bed. The print was matched to Davis, who confessed to the crime and led detectives to Polly’s burial spot when faced with the evidence against him.

During his trial, Davis became a public figure representing the evils of crime. His face was featured in advertisements for at least three Republican candidates in California congressional races who sought to portray their opponents as “soft” on crime. When he was convicted of murder in May 1996, Davis extended both of his middle fingers to a courtroom camera. When he was sentenced to death four months later, he jumped up in the courtroom and accused Polly’s father, Marc Klaas, of molesting her. Klaas lunged at Davis but was stopped by police. There is no evidence to support Davis’ accusation.

After his daughter’s murder, Klaas lobbied to bring about California’s “three strikes” law, which would give life terms to criminals with three felony convictions. However, the law was not drafted very artfully because it mandated that even those convicted on nonviolent felonies could be sent to prison for life. Upon learning about this aspect of the law, Klaas disassociated himself from the lobbying effort, but California voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot initiative anyway. In many cases since, individuals charged with crimes such as bigamy or even stealing a slice of pizza have faced life in prison under this law. Klaas and his family have become outspoken advocates in favor of revising the law, but lawmakers, wary of being dubbed soft on crime, have shied away from dealing with the issue.

Klaas has also become an outspoken advocate of the death penalty. He said of his child’s murderer: “The last thing Polly saw before she died was Richard Allen Davis’ eyes. The last thing Richard Allen Davis will see is my eyes, I hope.” Davis remains on death row at California’s San Quentin prison.


FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.


Suicide bombers stage attacks in Bali

On October 1, 2005, suicide bombers strike three restaurants in two tourist areas on the Indonesian island of Bali, a popular resort area. The bombings killed 22 people, including the bombers, and injured more than 50 others. This was the second suicide-bombing incident to rock more

Lawrence of Arabia captures Damascus

A combined Arab and British force captures Damascus from the Turks during World War I, completing the liberation of Arabia. An instrumental commander in the Allied campaign was T.E. Lawrence, a legendary British soldier known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence, an Oxford-educated more

Nazi war criminals sentenced at Nuremberg

On October 1, 1946, 12 high-ranking Nazis are sentenced to death by the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg. Among those condemned to death by hanging were Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi minister of foreign affairs; Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo and chief of more

Yosemite National Park established

On October 1, 1890, an act of Congress creates Yosemite National Park, home of such natural wonders as Half Dome and the giant sequoia trees. Environmental trailblazer John Muir (1838-1914) and his colleagues campaigned for the congressional action, which was signed into law by more

Roger Maris breaks home-run record

On October 1, 1961, New York Yankee Roger Maris becomes the first-ever major-league baseball player to hit more than 60 home runs in a single season. The great Babe Ruth set the record in 1927; Maris and his teammate Mickey Mantle spent 1961 trying to break it. After hitting 54 more

Jimmy Carter is born

On October 1, 1924, future President James Earl Carter is born in Plains, Georgia. Carter, who preferred to be called “Jimmy,” was the son of a peanut farmer and was the first president to be born in a hospital. Carter was raised a devoted Southern Baptist and graduated from the more

Mao Zedong proclaims People’s Republic of China

Naming himself head of state, communist revolutionary Mao Zedong officially proclaims the existence of the People’s Republic of China; Zhou Enlai is named premier. The proclamation was the climax of years of battle between Mao’s communist forces and the regime of Nationalist more

Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow dies

Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow drowns off the North Carolina coast when a Yankee craft runs her ship aground. She was returning from a trip to England. At the beginning of the war, Maryland native Rose O’Neal Greenhow lived in Washington, D.C., with her four children. Her more