Chris Smith: Petaluma’s late Polly Klaas stays with us 25 years later

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Polly Hannah Klaas would be nearly 38 had a real-life monster not crept into her room during a sleepover in Petaluma and carried her away.

It was 25 years ago that two of the 12-year-old’s school friends, who’d been tied up and ordered by intruder Richard Allen Davis to count silently to 1,000, called out to Polly’s mom in the next bedroom.

A quarter of a century later, Vail Bello, back in 1993 a lead Petaluma Police Department detective on the case, wonders “if I drove past her killer on the way to the call that night?

“That’s a question that will haunt me until my final days.”

The search for Polly was in its second month when Davis gave up a partial confession and led officers to her body near Cloverdale.

Retired detective Bello isn’t alone as he aches while pondering how close we came to being able to rescue Polly, and while imagining Davis eating and breathing and passing time at San Quentin 25 years later.


WILLIE’S BIRDS: Nearly lifelong Petaluma hair stylist Beverly Blank cares to refine the story of how Willie Benedetti, the local ag personality who died last week at 69 struck upon a name for his business.

Back in the 1960s, Beverly worked with Benedetti’s late mom, Aloha, at King’s Beauty Salon on Liberty Street.

Beverly remembers when Willie, barely a teen-ager, raised and sold turkeys for a Future Farmers of America project.

One day, Beverly and Aloha were busy with patrons when Willie and a couple of buddies walked in and plopped onto the chairs with the hair dryers.

Willie announced that he needed to come up with a name for his new turkey business.

“We were all trying to conjure up a name,” said Beverly, who back in the ‘60s went by the last name Wengen.

She said an idea came to her. And she said to young Benedetti, “Well, your name is Willie, and they’re your birds. So they’re Willie Birds.”

Willie Benedetti assigned that name to the fledgling poultry business that today sells tens of thousands of turkeys across America. In 1980, his mom, opened a restaurant in a former hofbrau in Santa Rosa and she named it Willie Bird’s.

Hairdresser Beverly, who still works at King’s Salon at 77, for decades loved to pester Willie for the royalties she was owed for hatching the name.


KEPT HER GRACE: As fractured as we’ve become, you would hope there’d be no debate over who was buffoonish and who gracious in Monday’s White House press conference exchange between President Trump and former Press Democrat reporter Cecilia Vega, now a rising star at ABC News.

Seen the video? Vega rises from a chair in the Rose Garden to ask a question and Trump says right out loud, “She’s shocked that I picked her. She’s like in a state of shock.”

“I’m not, thank you, Mr. President,” replied Vega, who joined the PD in 2000 and was a standout in our newsroom when she left in 2004. She became a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle and then switched to TV journalism.

It appears Trump thought she said, “I’m not thinking ...”

The President retorted, “I know you’re not thinking. You never do.”

“I’m sorry?” Vega said. And Trump told her to go on with her question.

One of the two was a picture of professionalism and civility. The other, what can you say?

You can reach columnist Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and

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