In Light of All Darkness: Inside the Polly Klaas Kidnapping and the Search for America's Child by Kim Cross
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: October 3, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Non-fiction, Crime
The Polly Klaas kidnapping and murder in California was thirty years ago, but is still known today as the event that changed how the criminal justice system responds in child abduction cases. Kim Cross documents the aftermath of the Klaas kidnapping alongside the actions of investigators, police, and the FBI in her new book In Light of All Darkness.
It was 1993 and 12-year-old Polly was taken from her home in front of two friends at a slumber party. The case quickly made national headlines. As someone who lived on the opposite side of the country at the time I knew only the broadest strokes of what happened. In Light maps the entire sequence events, not with a sensationalistic eye, but with journalistic detachment and attention to detail.
Of those details, there are many that are maddening, such as local authorities having the suspect in their possession shortly after the kidnapping, but having no grounds to keep him in custody. But while there are big emotional moments it’s the smaller aspects that stick. Namely, the fact that there were eyewitnesses to the crime. Two 12-year-old girls who had been threatened with their lives, bound and gagged, but were now the only lead the police had. The pressure on them was intense, from interviewing that began almost immediately to working with a sketch artist and having to take polygraph tests. There were no guidelines in place for dealing with juveniles as witnesses and while the girls weren’t treated badly neither was there any understanding of PTSD and the impact of trauma on memory.
Memories encoded after the traumatic event, when the brain shifts back into a more normal state of processing, are more malleable, susceptible to corruption by information that comes in after the traumatic experience.
Amidst the personal impact of Polly’s abduction and murder, Cross goes into intimate detail of the processing of the crime scene and what little evidence there was. There were so few clues left behind that investigators had to get creative in their forensic techniques. In an effort to get a palm print off a bedpost a process that is now common using superglue was tried for the first time.
Much of what is accepted practice today was first used by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the weeks after Polly’s disappearance. Cross is to be commended for combining her commitment to forensic specifics with compassion and respect for victims and their families. There are no crime scene or victim photos, no salacious details, but for those interested in the technical side of investigative police work In Light of All Darkness is absorbing reading.
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