NEWSMAKINGNEWS

CLOVERDALE, CALIFORNIA.
 WHERE HAVE ALL THE YOUNG GIRLS GONE?


by Virginia McCullough


Where have all the young girls gone?

Long time passing
Gone to graveyards every one
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

 

When a stranger enters the small town of Cloverdale, California, he is greeted with the sign "Where the vineyards meet the Redwoods".  The Cloverdale Historical Society together with the Greater Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce publishes a folder entitled "Historical Highlights: A brief walking tour of Cloverdale, California." This publication details the history of the town and emphasizes the businesses that sustained its economy.

"Far up in the valley, where the hills draw together, with the Russian River flowing between, is snugly nestled the town of Cloverdale.  Northernmost community in Sonoma County, it was long the home of the Pomo Indians with its chief village, Makahmo, at the confluence of Sulphur Creek and the Russian River.  Later, with the coming of the Spanish it became Musalacon territory."

This unique community was incorporated in 1872 and seven years later the newspaper  Cloverdale Review, now called the Cloverdale Revelle, was founded by W. J. Bowman.  Numerous businesses flourished, including a cigar factory, steam beer brewery, tanbark sales, wool production, and cattle ranches.  Grape vineyards and orange groves covered the terrain and by 1870 the Geysers located 16 miles east of Cloverdale had become a major tourist attraction.  Stage coaches filled with eager sightseers ran back and forth until they were replaced by the iron horse in 1872.   Resorts such as Alder Glen Springs and the world famous Pop McCrays entertained people from all over the United States and Europe.

Certainly the politicians, residents and businessmen of Cloverdale have a great deal to be proud of in their booming community.  They also have a cloud that hangs over their heads that is an integral part of the city's past.  Within a 2.3 mile area from the Dutcher Creek Road to 215 North Main Street in the downtown area, three young, beautiful girls were discovered brutally murdered.

On October 16, 1975, Susan Lori Dye, a pretty 19-year-old Santa Clara girl, was found stuffed under the Dutcher Creek Road overpass.  Susan was an independent young lady  who was hitchhiking home  in the company of her 2 1/2-month-old German Shepherd puppy.  The "Hippie Era" was coming to a close but the country was still  enchanted with memories of the Summer of Love.  Susan had left Crescent City at 10:00 a.m. and arrived in Cloverdale in the late afternoon hours with puppy in tow. She may have purchased fruit at a fruit stand or store.  Several residents said that she may have purchased dinner at a local restaurant.  One witness said that Susan was offered a ride by a white male but Susan declined saying that she had a way to go and she was not afraid to hitchhike at night because she had her dog with her.  She was dressed in a medium blue ski-type sweater with white stripes around the upper chest, blue jeans with suede leather leg extensions and hiking boots.  On her back she carried a back pack on a frame with a sleeping bag.  The next day Susan Lori Dye's body was found under the Dutcher Creek Road overpass.

In Cloverdale there were rumors that a local man, a known schizophrenic, was taken in for questioning.  It was alleged he was known to have molested the daughter of his wife at the time.  He was supposed to have a small shed which was taken down and destroyed shortly after Susan Lori Dye's body was discovered.

Three weeks later on November 8, 1975 The Weekly Grapevine, a local newspaper, carried a small article with Susan Lori Dye's picture asking anyone who had seen her or had information about her to call Detective Sgt. Erne Ballinger at the Sonoma County Sheriff's office at (707) 527-2127.  Coincidentally Sgt. Erne Ballinger would later play a prominent role in the preliminary hearing of Richard Allen Davis charged with the murder of Polly Hannah Klaas whose body was discovered just a short way from the Dutcher Creek Road overpass in December 1993.  The murder of Susan Lori Dye remains unsolved.

The residents of Cloverdale must have experienced deja vu when they picked up their newspaper on May 26, 1982 and saw the beautiful smiling face of Sara Geer staring back at them.  Sara looked remarkably like Susan Lori Dye although Sara was only thirteen years of age and a 7th grade student at the local Washington School.  Her body was found in an alley between Main Street and Cloverdale Blvd about 10:50 a.m. Monday morning by a nearby resident.

The newspaper article stated that Sara was killed due to traumatic injury and no exterior wounds were present.  However two separate sources told this reporter that Sara Geer had cigarette burns to her upper left arm in the week preceding the killing.             

Sara had a best friend named Linda who would later tell a Cloverdale mother about the traumatic life Sarah led.  Linda would tell this compassionate mother "Sara never wanted to go home! She would walk the streets all alone at night for hours and hours.  The [Cloverdale] police would pick her up and take her home.  They did it often.  They had to know!!  They had to know!!"  Linda said, "That church, with the ivy growing on in, on Main Street.  She spent hours on the front porch of that church waiting for her mother to come at night.  Once she spent four hours there.  She was afraid to go home because of her mother's boyfriend."

It was Linda's own sister who had loaned Sara the garment that had been used to strangle her.  It was Linda's own sister who discovered Sara's body and then Linda came to the scene where her best friend lay.

Linda asked, "No one was there for this child.  Where were they?  Where was the school?  Where was the church?  Where were all those organizations?  Where were you, where were all of you who get paid to protect children when this child was being tormented, tortured, and abused?"

Sara Geer was murdered May 23, 1982.
Sara Geer's body was found May 24, 1982
Sara Geer's body was cremated May 26, 1982.
Cloverdale Police Department's official report issued July 13, 1982.
The final report was issued July 19, 1982.

At the time of her best friend's death, Linda wrote the following poem:

SARA, LET'S PLAY

She was my best friend.  Only 13 years old.  
But very pretty
and very nice.  
Oh, how we used to play - go horseback riding,

go to the arcade, go to parties, laugh and stay in a daze.
But now she's gone to rest and stay.  She is now dead.  
No more play.

Oh, why did she die?  She was so young, so pretty.  
I wish I could
see her again playing in the arcade.  
What's happening in this world?

Too many deaths, not enough love and caring.

Sara Geer's murder remains unsolved.

It would happen yet again in Cloverdale.  This time, however, it would shake Cloverdale and the world to its very core.  The most publicized kidnapping since the Lindberg kidnapping would rock California and its reverberations would be felt around the world.  Unlike the ignored Sara Geer and the almost forgotten Susan Lori Dye, this young victim would make history as "America's Child".  Polly Hannah Klaas was kidnapped from her own bedroom on October 1, 1993.  One hour later Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff's would help and assist her kidnapper, Richard Allen Davis, to escape law enforcement hands.  In December of 1993 Davis said that he choose Cloverdale to murder and dispose of Polly Hannah Klaas.

It is said that the third time is the charm.  Perhaps that is true because Richard Allen Davis confessed to killing "America's child" less than one mile from the Dutcher Creek overpass that was the final resting place of Susan Lori Dye.  This horrible murder brought international publicity to the blossoming town of Cloverdale.  It was publicity that no one in Cloverdale wanted.

A memorial to Polly Hannah Klaas sprang up at the place where her body was found.  It was a tribute that the parents of Polly Hannah Klaas did not appreciate and did not want.  Marc Klaas and Eve Nichols requested that it be dismantled and the monies and energies channeled elsewhere to honor their daughter.  Within one month of Polly's body being discovered on Dutcher Road on the outskirts of Cloverdale, California, the memorial to Polly was dismantled by volunteers of the Polly Klaas Foundation of Petaluma, California.  The Foundation and the parents of Polly Klaas suggested that the contribution of concerned citizens be redirected elsewhere to honor the life that Polly led rather than the place where her body was found.

The poem that follows expresses their thoughts about the Cloverdale memorial:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the mornings hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die.

But die they did!  Three young, beautiful, special girls in a 2.3 miles radius of each other in the quiet, small community of Cloverdale, California.  Please remember Susan Lori Dye, Sara Geer and Polly Hannah Klaas. 

By Virginia McCullough © 9/4/00
*Song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Pete Seeger © Click.
Map to Dutcher Creek Road, Cloverdale, California. Click.