Tuesday, 16 July 2024

Life of dedicated officer and family man to be celebrated Saturday

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Michael Meese's life will be celebrated in a memorial service scheduled for Saturday, December 12, 2009, in Santa Rosa. Courtesy photo.
 

 

 

 


KELSEYVILLE – Lives are a series of moments – many of them small, but some that are so significant that they become defining for individuals.


On a day in late 1993, as Michael Meese – then a sergeant with the Petaluma Police Department – walked with murder suspect Richard Allen Davis through a field near Cloverdale, he was about to find himself up against one such defining moment.


Meese would play a key role in solving the October 1993 abduction and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, a young girl whose story encapsulated every parent's worst nightmare and led to passage of the state's “Three Strikes” law. Davis led Meese and other investigators to the girl's body in that Cloverdale field.


In his diary of Davis' 1996 trial, Polly Klaas' father, Marc, wrote, “Of all the players involved in this crime, three are particularly significant; Polly the victim, Davis the killer and Meese the cop.”


Marc Klaas recounted how that, two weeks after his daughter's kidnapping, Meese “put his arm around my shoulder, looked deep into my eyes and said, 'I'll get her for you Marc. I'll find her and I'll bring her home.'”


Meese would do just that. His doggedness in following the case would lead to a confession from Davis, later convicted of the girl's murder and sentenced to death.


When he died Nov. 23 in Kelseyville after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer 35 days earlier, Meese was eulogized across the nation for his work to bring Davis to justice.


But, as Meese's wife, Michelle, will tell you, Michael Meese's career and life went far beyond that day and that investigation.


“There's so much more to the man than the Polly Klaas case,” she said.


And that life – which saw travel, humor, many friendships and love of NASCAR – will be commemorated this Saturday, Dec. 12, at a memorial service beginning at 1 p.m. in the Burbank Auditorium on the Santa Rosa Junior College Campus, 1501 Mendocino Ave.


The community is welcome.


“We expect a huge crowd,” Michelle said Wednesday evening. “My husband touched a lot of peoples' lives.”


Several speakers will celebrate Michael Meese at the Saturday service, including Marc Klaas, who became friends with Meese and would go on to become a force in advocating for legislation to protect children and crime victims.


Also to speak are family, former colleagues and one of Meese's students from the Santa Rosa Junior College administration of justice program, where he became a full-time instructor in 2008. Michelle said that her husband told her following his diagnosis about how much he would miss his students.


A reception will follow at the college's art gallery, where there will be an open microphone. “I think I'm going to learn some things about my husband I may not know,” Michelle said.


She said she's received many messages from people whose lives her husband touched, including crime victims who knew him as a sympathetic police officer who listened to them and tried to help.


Meese was born in Detroit and raised in Libertyville, Ill. He dropped out of high school and joined the Army at age 17.


Despite leaving school early, Meese loved learning, according to his wife. He would get his GED and an associate's degree while in the Army. In 1993 received his bachelor's degree from St. Mary's College. While the Klaas trial was under way, he was working on his master's degree in public administration, which he received from the University of San Francisco in 1996.


He was always reading, and became an expert in military and war history. Michelle said he could look at a ship, tell you its weight and other specifics.


Meese also was studying for his PhD, but he withdrew from that program when he learned of his cancer.


He began his law enforcement career in 1981when he joined the Petaluma Police Department, where he would spend the next 15 years.


In 1996, when the Klaas case was over, Meese joined the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office staff as an investigator. He later would take a job as assistant chief of the University of Nevada Reno Police Force before returning to Northern California to be chief of the Hopland Rancheria of Public Safety in Mendocino County.


Meese cared deeply about the tribal community, said his wife, who was told by one of his colleagues that he had done a lot of important work in the area of tribal law.


The couple met during the Klaas case, many years before they were married. Both also had ended up moving to Reno at about the same time, and shared a fence in their neighborhood. Beginning as friends, they later began dating, and when he accepted the job in Hopland, Michelle said she chose to follow him back to California.


When he was coming back to work in Hopland, a friend suggested Meese check out Lake County as a place to live. Michelle's parents retired on Cobb, so she was familiar with the county.


The couple were raising his granddaughter, Victoria. “What a wonderful place to raise your children,” said Michelle. “Lake County is a special place.”


The couple would get married at sunset on July 4, 2005, overlooking Clear Lake. “It was really quite beautiful,” Michelle said.


Their marriage wasn't a long one, but she said it was a quality union, and she'd trade that quality for quantity any day.


He loved cooking, she loved baking – and he loved eating the baking, she said – and they enjoyed taking trips in their fifth wheel travel trailer.


About his many cases he often was silent, said his wife. “He kept a lot of that private.”


He did talk about the Klaas case, however. She said he often received requests to discuss it.


Meese also kept all of his case files and materials. “He never wanted to get rid of it until Richard Allen Davis is put to death,” she said.


At one point he asked her to scan all of the case photos he had, and she noted an eerie resemblance between a picture of Davis' mother and the young victim. Davis has accused his mother of severely abusing he and his siblings.


The case came back into sharp focus earlier this year, when Davis appealed his death sentence to the California Supreme Court.


Davis' counsel argued several grounds for overturning the conviction, from prosecutorial misconduct to an allegation that Meese had not told Davis of his right to have an attorney present before he admitted killing the girl in a videotaped confession.


However, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction, dismissing the suggestion that Meese had erred.


Here in Lake County, Meese's life went on. Michelle said he put 100 percent into everything, including his work as president of the Buckingham water district board, where he was trying to help improve the way the district did business, which gained him some opponents in the community.


He had been feeling ill since late summer, and when his skin became jaundiced he went to see the doctor. On Oct. 19, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, with a tumor found to be blocking his liver's bile duct.


Chemotherapy followed, and there was some hope for a little time, although Michelle noted, “We were realists.”


Meese would end up having just over a month left. At one point he turned to his wife and asked her if she thought anyone would come to his funeral, a concern which caught her off guard.


In the time he had, he was able to tell his friends and colleagues about his diagnosis. The accolades, notes and messages that resulted were overwhelming, Michelle said. The fact that he got to hear and read them in life was a gift.


She said he would cry after reading each of the letters and messages he received and afterward would say, “I had no idea.”


Even his opponents in the water district were quick to share their condolences, she said.


Meese also was a huge NASCAR fan, and he got to watch the last race of the season just before he died, Michelle said.


In addition to Michelle, Michael Meese leaves behind sisters Mindy Beers and Marilyn Rasco; his sons, Todd and his wife Sheri Meese of Hidden Valley Lake, and Frank Meese of Reno, Nev.; grandchildren, Victoria Meese, Jolon Cisneros, Tiyanna Meese, Ceceilia Meese and Kendra Meese; and a great many friends, colleagues and admirers.


The family has asked that, instead of flowers, contributions be made to the college fund for Victoria Meese or to the Debra D. Meese Scholarship Fund through the SRJC Foundation, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa CA 95401.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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