The Polly Klaas case captured America’s attention in the fall of 1993. It was uniquely horrifying: A lovely 12-year-old girl kidnapped at knifepoint from her own bedroom while her two friends watched helplessly. Polly was missing for two months before her body was recovered near an abandoned sawmill outside of Petaluma, California. The media couldn’t get enough: A child disappeared without a trace from the safety of her home. The story was on the cover of People and featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” Petaluma native Winona Ryder offered a reward for Polly’s return. Polly’s father, Marc Klaas, a bereft man desperate to find his only daughter, made supporting families of missing children his life’s work and appeared in scores of interviews.
In this deeply compelling and carefully reported book, journalist Kim Cross examines why the Polly Klaas case struck such a chord and the lasting impact it has had on investigative techniques. Through dozens of interviews, Cross dives into the nascent use of DNA as a means of identifying and ruling out suspects, and how the Klaas case informed behavioral science used to profile unknown subjects. The case also changed how child witnesses were treated. . The two friends—who were at Polly’s house that night for a sleepover—were subjected to repeated harsh interrogations and lie detector tests in the weeks after the kidnapping. This sparked a national conversation among law enforcement officials, leading to trained child interviewers and a new set of protocols to protect children who witness crimes.
In Light of All Darkness is a fascinating and heartbreaking read as Cross captures the terror and sadness the Polly Klaas case evoked 30 years ago. In the aftermath, parents feared letting their children play outside or even leaving their windows ajar. Polly’s mother, Eve Nichol, was a follower of spiritual leader Ram Dass, and held out hope until her daughter was found, lighting a candle in the window each evening. “You can’t grow a new heart,” she said. “But when you have a big piece torn away, you can either fill it with anger and rage, or you can fill it with love. I just have to try and choose love.”