"SONOMA COUNTY SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAM" Top 5 Page for this destination Petaluma by JeanCooke

Petaluma Travel Guide: 58 reviews and 152 photos


1980, November 27, Shauna May, age 25, did not show up to keep a lover's rendezvous in the parking lot at Point Reyes Park. When she failed to return that night, the worried family called police.

Whipped by ferocious winds, a fire storm erupts in the dry Oakland hills and helpless people watch their homes and memorabilia disintegrate in flames. Sunday, October 20, 1991, will be remembered as the worst fire involving loss of life and property. Frantic relatives of fire victims call authorities reporting missing loved ones.

During a slumber party in October of 1993, 12 year old Polly Klaas is abducted at knife-point from her Petaluma bedroom in front of her friends, while mom sleeps in the next room. Three months later, a woman finds clothing on her rural Pythian Road property near Los Gullicos with strong suspicion the clothing is Polly?s. A search effort is called and Sonoma County Search and Rescue is called by the FBI and Petaluma Police Department.

Pagers go off all over Sonoma county alerting Search and Rescue volunteers (unpaid) to call in because their expertise is needed yet again. The Sonoma County Sheriff Department Search and Rescue Team consists of Explorer Scouts as young as 14, and adult community members. Stamina, reliability and good physical condition are prerequisites. Desire to reunite loved ones and compassion is the common thread among this diverse group. SAR (Search and Rescue) responds any time day and night to find lost people, whether walkaways from a nursing home, young children wandering off, mushroom pickers who fail to note landmarks or pig hunters caught in the enthusiasm of the chase. Sometimes the search is for a body or police evidence, other times the crisis involves the young or frail lost for nights in freezing temperatures.

James J. Cooke joined SAR in 1978. Training courses from the Washington State Emergency Management Institute in search management coordination, tracking lessons, along with tramping through the woods on many searches taught Jim map and compass, and attention to small details. Jim says, ?Turned out I was good at organizing and running a search with a large number of people and limited resources. When we find a missing person, I get immediate feedback as to how good a job I did. I enjoy SAR because it is a classic mystery and I enjoy trying to solve the puzzle.?


Marin County SAR arrive at Point Reyes November 27, 1980, when Shauna May?s family reports her missing. Sonoma County SAR arrives the next morning to help search miles of trails.

By dusk, a Marin County Explorer Scout team finds the body Shauna May. Within the hour another search team finds the decomposing corpse of 22-year-old New Yorker, Diana O'Connell, who disappeared while hiking in the park a month earlier. Both women had been killed by gunshots to the head. Armed park rangers patrol with the rest of the teams, because no one knew if the killer was still around. About a mile away, another search team finds Richard Stowers, 19, and Cynthia Moreland, 18. Both victims had been murdered execution-style. In September the couple told friends they were hiking at Pt Reyes National Seashore and never returned. An initial search proved fruitless.

Sheriff?s deputies were disturbed by the murders. There was no thought or connection to the other killings around SF until much later. The ?Trailside Killer? name came from these murders.

Marin County Explorer Scouts and SAR teams were emotionally traumatized for years after the finds.


Sonoma SAR came for mutual aid in the aftermath of the Oakland fire. During a helicopter survey of 4 square miles where 2500 structures burned, Jim Cooke was shocked by the total devastation. Cars and appliances melted where they stood. Aluminum vehicle engines flowed down streets leaving a metallic puddle frozen in time.

Oakland Public Works spray painted street names at intersections because street signs burned and disappeared. Search priority was given to areas where most people were reported missing. The remains were only small bones which used to be people. Teams were brought to the first site so they knew what to look for. To search effectively, SAR teams spray painted drives with the date, team number, if and how many remains were found.

Over the next few days the number of missing dropped as more family members found each other.


The FBI assumed more evidence and possibly a body was on the Pythian Road property. SAR was called because Sonoma County Search and Rescue had enough man power and skill to search the area. Jim Cooke, Search Manager, from Monday through Saturday coordinated 500 volunteers from all over California, the FBI, Petaluma Police, Red Cross, Salvation Army, horse and dog teams, divers, vets, Port-a-potties, and anthropologists for Indian burial sites. After an initial fast ground search the effort intensified.

Richard Allen Davis was under FBI observation but by Wednesday it was clear he did not have Polly. Davis was arrested Wednesday night but was not talking. The FBI profiler thought Davis would put the body where he could observe whether she was found. With no place else to search, the massive search effort continued at Los Gullicos.

Torrential rains stopped and the cool air was icy. One horse slipped and fell on ice, broke a leg and blocked the trail for half hour while the horse ambulance came and winched him out.

Late Saturday night Jim met with Petaluma Police Chief Dennis DeWitt. Davis had confessed that Polly?s body was in Cloverdale off the freeway and within sight of the road just like the profiler thought.

Calling off the massive search now became the problem. Team members were notified at area motels, campgrounds and homes. The FAA was called to restrict airspace over Cloverdale instead of Los Gullicos. It took all Sunday to break down communications, logistics, services and computers.

Jim viewed the Cloverdale site. The time was close to Christmas. Some FBI men went into Cloverdale and bought poinsettias and placed them where Polly had lain. There was not a dry eye in sight.

These nationally recognized stories are presented because of high recognition. Many more stories of dedication and selfless service from SAR members happen while people sleep and are unrecognized because of their very local nature. Many stories end happily with the safe return of loved ones. I find it unfortunate that the more famous stories are tragedies.

  • Intro Written Aug 8, 2001
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  • VinceB's Profile Photo
    May 16, 2005 at 4:09 PM

    Sorry to say, Buona Sera Italian restaurant was destroyed by fire about a year ago. Giacomo's is still great Italian food, though!


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