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Elizabeth Diane DOWNS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Shot her three children in order to make herself available for the man she obsessively loved
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 19, 1983
Date of arrest: February 28, 1984
Date of birth: August 7, 1955
Victim profile: Her daughter Cheryl Lynn, 7
Method of murder: Shooting (.22 caliber Rugger semiautomatic pistol)
Location: Lane County, Oregon, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years in 1984. Downs escaped on July 11, 1987, and was recaptured on July 21. She received a five-year sentence for the escape
photo gallery 1 photo gallery 2

United States Court of Appeals
For the Ninth Circuit

Elizabeth Diane Downs v. Sonia Hoyt

Elizabeth Diane Downs was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1984. This was her punishment for the shootings and attempted murders of her three children. One of them died as a result of her actions. At the time of the incident, Downs told authorities that there was an attempted carjack. Of course, this later proved to be a lie. In 1987, Downs escaped prison and was on the run for a short period of time before being recaptured.

In the spring of 1983, Diane Downs shot her three children, with all intentions of killing them. To make the story of the attempted carjacking more realistic, she went so far as to shoot herself in the arm. However, witnesses saw Downs’ car as she drove the children to hospital in an attempt to save them. She was so desperate for help that she drove a mere 5 miles per hour. Her calm demeanor at the hospital raised red flags. And it all came to a head when one of her surviving children, unable to speak after suffering a stroke, expressed fear and an increased heart rate when Downs came to visit her. Forensic evidence didn’t support Diane’s story either. She was arrested 9 months after the shooting.


Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs (born August 7, 1955) is an American convicted murderer. She shot her three children, killing one, and then told police a stranger had attempted to carjack her and had shot the children. She was convicted in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison.

Downs briefly escaped in 1987 and was recaptured. She is the subject of a book by Ann Rule and a made-for-TV movie based upon it, both called Small Sacrifices. She was denied parole in December 2008 and again in December 2010.

Early life

Elizabeth Diane Frederickson was born in Phoenix, Arizona to Wes and Willadene Frederickson on August 7, 1955. She alleges that her father molested her when she was a child. She graduated from Moon Valley High School in Phoenix where she met her future husband, Steve Downs. After high school, she enrolled at Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College in Orange, California, but after a year was expelled for promiscuity and returned to her parents’ home. On November 13, 1973, she married Steve Downs. They were divorced in 1980, about a year after the birth of Stephen "Danny" Downs.

Downs was employed by the United States Postal Service assigned to the mail routes in the city of Cottage Grove, Oregon before her 1983 arrest and trial.

By accounts of friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and eventually by the surviving daughter Christie, Diane Downs was an unfit parent who put everything before her children and was especially cruel to Cheryl, who told a neighbor of her grandparents shortly before her death that she was afraid of her mother.


On May 19, 1983, Downs shot her three children, Stephen Daniel (born 1979); Cheryl Lynn (born 1976); and Christie Ann (born 1974). Downs drove the children in a blood-spattered car to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. There was blood spatter all over the inside of the car but none on Diane. On arrival at the hospital, Cheryl was already dead. Downs herself had been shot in the left forearm. Downs claimed she was carjacked on a rural road near Springfield, Oregon by a strange man who shot her and her three children. Investigators became suspicious because they decided her manner was too calm for a person who had experienced such a traumatic event.

Their suspicions heightened when Downs went for the first time to see Christie, who was unable to speak after suffering a stroke. Christie's eyes glazed over with apparent fear and her heart rate jumped dramatically. They also discovered that immediately upon arriving at the hospital, Downs had called Robert Knickerbocker, a married man and former colleague in Arizona with whom she had been having an affair.

The forensic evidence did not match Downs' story; there was no blood on the driver's side of the car, nor was there any gunpowder residue on the driver's panel. Knickerbocker also reported to police that Downs had stalked him and seemed willing to kill his wife if it meant that she could have him to herself; Knickerbocker stated that he was relieved that Downs had left for Oregon and he was able to reconcile with his wife. Downs did not tell police she owned a .22 caliber handgun, but both Steve Downs (her ex-husband) and Knickerbocker (her ex-lover) said she did own one.

Investigators later discovered she bought the handgun in Arizona, and although they were unable to find the actual weapon, they found unfired casings in her home with extractor markings from the same gun that shot the children. Most damaging, witnesses saw Downs's car being driven very slowly toward the hospital at an estimated speed of five to seven mph, contradicting Downs' claim that she drove to the hospital at a high speed after the shooting. Based on this and additional evidence, Downs was arrested nine months after the event, on February 28, 1984, and charged with murder and two counts each of attempted murder and criminal assault.


Prosecutors argued that Downs shot her children to be free of them so she could continue her affair with Knickerbocker, who let it be known that he did not want children in his life. Much of the case against Downs rested on the testimony of surviving daughter Christie, who, once she recovered her ability to speak, described how her mother shot all three children while parked at the side of the road and then shot herself in the arm. Christie was eight years old at the time of the murder and nine years old at the time of the trial.

Downs was found guilty on all charges on June 17, 1984, and sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years. Psychiatrists diagnosed Downs with narcissistic, histrionic and antisocial personality disorders. Most of her sentence is to be served consecutively. The judge made it clear that he did not wish Downs to ever regain her freedom.


The surviving children eventually went to live with one of the prosecutors of the case, Fred Hugi. He and his wife Joanne adopted them in 1984.

Prior to her arrest and trial, Downs became pregnant with a fourth child and gave birth a month after her 1984 trial to a girl she named Amy. Ten days before her sentencing, the baby was seized by the State of Oregon and adopted soon after. She was renamed Rebecca "Becky" Babcock.

Downs escaped from the Oregon Women's Correctional Center of the Oregon Department of Corrections on July 11, 1987, and was recaptured in Salem, Oregon on July 21. She received a five-year sentence for the escape.

After her escape, she was housed in the New Jersey Department of Corrections Clinton Correctional Institution. In 1994, after serving ten years, Downs was transferred to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. While in prison, Downs has earned an associate's college degree in general studies. As of 2010, she is located in the Valley State Prison for Women.

Author Ann Rule wrote the book Small Sacrifices in 1987, detailing the life of Downs. A made-for-TV movie called Small Sacrifices, starring Farrah Fawcett as Downs, was released in 1989.

Diane Downs's last child, born shortly after her trial concluded, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on October 22, 2010 and '20/20 July 1, 2011.

Parole hearing

Downs's sentence makes her eligible for parole consideration after serving 25 years. Under Oregon law, as a dangerous offender she will be eligible for a parole consideration hearing every two years until she is released or dies in prison.

In her first application for parole in 2008, Downs reaffirmed her innocence. "Over the years," she said, "I have told you and the rest of the world that a man shot me and my children. I have never changed my story." Downs's first parole hearing was on December 9, 2008. Lane County District Attorney Douglas Harcleroad wrote to the parole board, "Downs continues to fail to demonstrate any honest insight into her criminal behavior...even after her convictions, she continues to fabricate new versions of events under which the crimes occurred." She alternately refers to her assailants as a "bushy-haired stranger", two men wearing ski masks or drug dealers and corrupt law enforcement officials.

Downs participated in the hearing from the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California. She was not permitted a statement, but answered questions from the parole board. After three hours of interviews and thirty minutes of deliberation, Diane Downs was denied parole. Downs was eligible to reapply for parole in 2010.

Downs faced her second parole hearing on December 10, 2010. She was denied parole, and under a new law will not be eligible for parole for another ten years. She will have to wait to apply for parole until 2020, when she will be 65 years old.


Mommy Murderess

She looks like a model out of the pages of Cosmopolitan or Vogue, a woman with a Cover Girl complexion and a Pepsodent smile.

But behind the attractive facade lies a cunning, sinister killer who according to court testimony shot and killed one of her daughters and seriously wounded her second daughter and her son.

Oregon law enforcement authorities have never encountered anyone quite like Elizabeth Diane Downs. From the moment she was arrested on Feb. 28, 1984 to the moment she was convicted on June 19, Downs maintained she was innocent of the shooting, that a stranger or strangers trying to commandeer her car, shot her and her three children on the night of May 19, 1983, along a rural road near Springfield.

Yet, right from the start, Lane County authorities considered Downs a prime suspect in the shootings. They seriously doubted her story that a "shaggy- haired stranger" flagged her down and then demanded her car keys. Downs claimed that when she pretended to throw her keys into some bushes, the stranger became unglued, pulled out a gun and shot her and her three sleeping children in the car. The man fled on foot.

Downs suffered a bullet wound in her left arm, although authorities contended it was self-inflicted to throw suspicion off her. Her daughter Cheryl Lynn, 7, was fatally wounded, and her other two children -- Christie Ann, 8, and Stephen Daniel, 3, sustained near paralizing injuries from the shootings.

Lane County Sheriff's Deputies arrested Downs Feb. 28, 1984, as she entered the Cottage Grove post office where she worked as a part-time letter carder. A Lane County Grand Jury indicted Downs on one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and two counts of first-degree assault.

Downs' 31-day jury trial in Lane County Circuit Court in Eugene was one of the most widely-covered murder trials in Oregon history. Downs played to the cameras lined up outside the Lane County courthouse when she arrived and departed each day, forever smiling and waving to the assembled reporters, photographers, television cameramen and spectators. She seemed to bask in the spotlight outside the courtroom.

But inside the courtroom, Downs was taking a beating from some unrelentless prosecutors who had obviously done their homework and some key witnesses who shot holes through her story. The most damaging testimony came from her own surviving daughter, Christie Ann.

On the witness stand Christie Ann Downs testified her mother stopped the car off a rural road, got out of the car and went back to the trunk. The girl then testified her mother opened the trunk, shut it and returned to the car with something in her hand. Seconds later, she heard the first shot.

When asked by Frederick A. Hugi, Lane County Deputy District Attorney, how she knew her mother fatally shot her sister, Christie Ann replied in a quivering voice: "I watched her .....My mom did it."

Then, under Hugi's questioning, Christie Ann tearfully told the jury that her mother leaned over the back seat of the car and shot her brother, Danny, and her.

Despite some pointed cross-examination by Downs' attorney James C. Jagger, Christie Ann denied anyone coached her or told her to lie about the shooting. Jagger had suggested in his opening remarks that others had told the girl what happened the night of the shooting and that she had been led to believe that her mother committed the acts.

Testifying in her own defense, Downs later denied she shot her children because they stood in the way of her and her former lover. The prosecution contended Downs shot her three children because her ex-boyfriend in Chandler, Ariz., didn't want any part in a woman with three children.

She insisted she loved her three children, that she never cared enough about any man to want to harm her children.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated 36 hours before returning its unanimous verdict: Guilty of murder for the shooting death of Cheryl Lynn Downs. Guilty of attempted murder in the shootings of Christie Ann Downs and Stephen Daniel Downs. Guilty of first-degree assault for the attack on her three children.

Downs, who was carrying her fourth child at the time, showed little emotion as the verdict was read by Circuit Judge Gregory G. Foote. She was later sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years.

But authorities hadn't heard or seen the last of Elizabeth Diane Downs. On July 11, 1987 -- three years after she was sentenced -- Downs pulled off a daring escape from the Oregon Women' s Correctional Center in Salem. Authorities said she scaled two, 18-foot fences surrounding the prison, climbed under a pick-up truck, and waited several minutes before calmly walking away. Prison officials later said they believe Downs wore several layers of clothing to avoid puncture wounds from the barbed wire atop the fences. A tattered striped shirt was found under the pick-up truck where Downs reportedly hid after scaling the prison fences.

An alarm hooked to the outside fence rang briefly at 8:40 a.m. that morning, but prison officials didn't think anything of it, saying the sensitive alarm went off accidentally at least once a day due to anything from a strong wind to a bird. However, when a nurse arriving at the prison 15 minutes later reported seeing a suspicious woman climb out from under a pickup truck and walk away, saying she believed the woman was Diane Downs, prison guards did a quick emergency roll call and discovered Downs missing.

A massive search of the Salem area was launched. Ironically, Downs, wearing civilian-type clothing, was picked up hitchhiking, virtually right across the street from the women's prison and adjacent to Division 2 headquarters of the Oregon State Police. The unwitting couple that picked up Downs drove her to the site of a restaurant at State and 24th streets, three blocks from the prison, where Downs got out.

The couple would later tell authorities Downs said she needed to get to a phone quickly because her boyfriend had just been injured in an automobile accident.

Downs' escape triggered a multi-state search which surprisingly ended 10 days later back in Salem -- less than a half mile from the prison. Indentations on a piece of paper found in Downs' cell were analyzed by the FBI. Using an electrostatic process, the FBI was able to enhance the indentations on the paper, which included an address of a house and a map showing its location.

Oregon State Police conducted a driveby surveillance of the run-down house for two days. Then, state and local police served a search warrant on the house and found Downs and four men inside. The four men were charged with hindering prosecution.

In November, 1987, Downs was transferred to the Correctional Institution for Women, in Clinton, N.J., a maximum security prison. In exchange, Oregon prison officials agreed to take two New Jersey criminals.

Downs made news again in September, 1991, when Marion County Circuit Judge Duane R. Erstgaard denied her request for a new trial. Erstgaard wrote his decision in a letter to Downs' attorneys, saying she was adequately represented by lawyers in her trial and appeal. The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld her convictions in February, 1987.

But Elizabeth Diane Downs, whose story was the subject of at least two novels and a made-for-television movie, continues to maintain her innocence in her never-ending efforts to overturn her 1984 convictions from her new home -- the Washington State Women's Correctional Institute in Gig Harbor, Wash.


Elizabeth Diane Downs

The Crime

The crime Diane Downs was accused of was committed on the evening of May 19, 1983.   It occurred when she was driving home with her three children.  On their journey they were stopped and attacked by a stranger in the Springfield area of Lane County, Oregon. 

The stranger approached Diane and demanded her car.  When she refused to hand over the keys he leaned into the car and fired killing one of the children and wounding the other two.  He then turned back to the mother.  They struggled and she was shot, as the attacker fell back during the struggle, Diane jumped back into the car and immediately drove to the nearest hospital.   

Some nine months later the Lane County District Attorney's office rejected this account.  The mother was charged with the crime, tried, and subsequently convicted.  At her trial the State claimed Diane fabricated a ' bushy-haired stranger ' (a term in fact she never used) and that she shot her own children to convince her lover (Robert Knickerbocker) to leave his wife. 

This was a theory conceived by the State and inaccurately attributed to Diane who finds the theory repulsive.  This relationship as far as Diane was concerned, was over.  She had moved to Oregon 1,200 miles away to make sure it was over and was in a new relationship with someone else and heavily pregnant when  arrested. 

Prior to Diane's arrest the investigation was experiencing major financial difficulties.  As result of budget cuts the investigation was reduced to a minimum and a number of Investigators were withdrawn from the case. There had been no arrests after almost a year. Media, as well as public pressure to solve the crime was growing, giving added impetus and frustration to the Investigators.  There was an obvious need for expediency in the D.A.'s office and it was at this point of 'melt down' that Diane was arrested and charged with the crime. 

Lane County District Attorney Pat Horton assigned Deputy Prosecutor Fred Hugi to his 'first' homicide.  Judge Gregory G. Foote would also preside at his 'first' senior trial following his promotion from juvenile judge to senior judge status.  A somewhat odd promotion considering there were other judges available and the fact that as a juvenile judge, Foote had denied Diane access to her children.  This was the first of many anomalies regarding this case that have never, to this day, been answered with total satisfaction.  Defense Attorney James C. Jagger had been recommended to Diane's father as Defense Attorney for Diane.  When Diane’s father became apprehensive about James Jagger’s capability however.  He attempted to engage the more formidable Defense Attorney Melvin Belli for the task.  Belli accepted but Judge Foote would not await the Attorney’s return from abroad.  Consequently an outraged Belli was forced to withdraw.  

So began I believe, what would lead to the illegal and wrongful conviction of Elizabeth Diane Downs.  This grave injustice was the result of an investigation that was not just flawed, but was grossly corrupt.  Supported by a conforming and naive judiciary of  wrongdoing in a trial where perjury was applied at will.  Where the Judiciary and the Prosecution engaged in duplicitous behavior in order to pursue an individual rather than any sense of justice.  The Defense was left wonting also, to the point where Diane (later) filed for 'ineffective assistance of counsel'.  Try as he may, James Jagger nevertheless allowed glaring holes in the Prosecutions case to go by without question or even protest (which he later admitted to).  Prosecutorial flaws and lies that no doubt influenced the outcome of the trial.  On the Homepage I suggested this was a case of 'designer justice'.  It is my view that Diane Downs was found guilty 'before' she entered court.  And that those who were charged with prosecuting this case thought fit to merely provide a plausible account of 'guilt'.  But even in this endeavor, as will be shown, they failed miserably.


This crime was committed in frenzy.  It was not the work of a cool and callous calculating mother as suggested by the Prosecution.  If that were the case such a mind would not have chosen this kind of scenario. Incredible that having committed such a crime they would then rush their victims to hospital where they may recover. There are far better alternatives that would provide a much greater opportunity to distance yourself from such a crime.  It makes no sense.  Besides, if the intention was to kill all the children as the Prosecution suggested, then the approximate distance of '9 inches' from which the gun was said to have been fired, is hardly sniper range.  In the trunk of Diane's car was a .38 handgun, a far better choice of weapon (if one were to have a cool head intent on murder) than the established .22 semi-automatic Ruger they say was used in the crime.  And if we are dealing with this kind of mentality, why would you mess up a brand new car if an old one was available at home?, as was the case with Diane.


Diane Downs: Her Children Got in the Way of Her Love

by Joseph Geringer

Blood-Splattered Auto

Even though the sun had long set over the verdant hills of Springfield, Oregon, Thursday, May 19, 1983, remained as warm at night as it had at noon. There was a quiet to the evening, the kind of languishing stillness that sometimes thresholds a storm. But, the night staff at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital felt no oncoming torrent, and, after so-many years fighting unpredictable emergencies they often found themselves with an innate power to feel something sinister in the air. And, the professionals they were, they were always ready.

Nothing had pre-armed them, however, for the drama that unfolded at their literal doorstep at approximately 10:48 p.m. No warning had come until the red late-model Nissan bearing Arizona license plates careened into the emergency drop-off, bleating its horn to scare the devils from hell. The skeleton night shift all heard it; their faces told them immediately that what they had anticipated – a quiet night in ER – was not to be. Dr. John Mackey, physician in charge, and the two nurses – Rose Martin and Shelby Day – felt the familiar adrenaline. Receptionist Judy Patterson rolled back her typewriter ledge and quickly forgot about the routine insurance forms she had been updating.

In the driveway, just beyond the double automatic doors of ER, a blonde woman in her twenties waved them on; she looked ashen in the fluorescent tube lighting, and she wildly pointed to the interior of her car.

"Somebody just shot my kids!" was all she seemed to know how to say. Patterson, hearing the mother's words, did what she always did in emergencies involving violent crime: She dialed for the police

Nurses Martin and Day teetered when they looked through the windows of the Nissan. Side panels were soaked in blood and amidst the blood lay three small children, one in the front passenger seat, two in the back. First glance told the nurses the children had been shot at very close range. A golden-haired child up front, a girl, couldn't have been any more than seven or eight, the RNs apprised; of the two in the rear, one was a girl, maybe a trifle older than the other, and a boy, merely a toddler.

This call was unexpected, and it was bad, very bad. Personnel from intensive care were summoned to assist ER, and a swat-like team of white-coat professionals – including top surgeon Fred Wilhite -- volleyed to the scene as the trio of injured youngsters were carried in by weeping nurses and pale interns. As reinforcement came, Dr. Mackey explained the situation to them in two taut words, "Chest wounds!"

Two of the children still breathed, although strenuously; the boy gasped for air. The child found slumped in the front seat appeared beyond help; despite frantic efforts by the doctors at the operating table, the damage had been lethal. She was pronounced dead moments after being wheeled to Emergency.

Only later did the medics learn the children's names and ages– Christie Downs, 8; Cheryl Ann Downs, 7; and Danny Downs, 3 – but names and ages didn't matter yet; in fact, they were the least important factor of this hour, this night, this calamity. What mattered is that someone without a heart had deliberately attempted to murder three kids in cold blood, and, despite the odds, despite a fate that looked gloomy, the caretakers hastened to keep that fate at bay and beat it at its own game: with deliberate intention.

Skilled hands attended to the two operable victims. Feeling the children succumbing to severe blood loss and lack of oxygen, they performed tracheotomies on them to free the flowing blood and salvage much-needed air. Machines began to pump the little hearts and revitalized the other organs. Despite the children's fragile condition, Mackey and his experts kept them alive. Miraculously.

Author Ann Rule, who relates the tragedy in her excellent book, Small Sacrifices, writes, "One child was dead (Cheryl). One child (Christie) had defied the odds and lived through profound blood loss, heart stoppage and delicate surgery. One child (Danny) seemed stable, but was at risk of paralysis. Who in the name of God could have aimed a pistol at three small children and pulled the trigger?"

The Bushy-Haired Stranger (BHS)

Their mother, Diane, didn't supply an answer. She told hospital receptionist Patterson that she and her family had been driving home from visiting a friend in nearby Marcola when a man, a "bushy-haired stranger" type had waved down their car on a lonely span of highway. Thinking he needed help, Diane paused to inquire. And that was when, said a tearful Diane, the man pointed his gun through her car window and loosened its barrel on her three helpless offspring.

Both Springfield and Lane County police responded. To them she exacted the tale of the ambush and an odd description of the vagabond. Reacting to the story, the departments issued an emergency watch on the city and county roads, fearing that there might be a madman roaming the outskirts of Springfield, its lanes and byways. Squads drew into action and the area described by Diane as the point of attack – in the vicinity of Marcola and Old Mohawk Road, a desolate spot – became the center of a manhunt.

Since the crime had been purported to have occurred in the county, members of the Sheriff's Office for Lane County became principle investigators. Sergeant Robin Rutherford was the county's first man to approach the children's mother at the hospital. When he arrived, the nurses were tending to her arm, which bore a series of small, superficial wounds – marked between the elbow and the wrist – from where she had tried to ward off the gunman's blows. Seeing that Mrs. Downs' injuries were minor and that she seemed to be in an unusual state of calmness – in fact, she seemed in full control of her senses -- he asked that she come with him to point out the exact spot, the best she could in the dark, of the crime.

The site she located by memory, near where two rural roads converged, was, according to Ann Rule, a "most desolated spot (where) the river pushed by in the dark on one side; on the other, a field of wild phlox trembled in the wind..." It was not a spot a young woman with three children should have stopped her car to speak to a stranger.

When Diane returned to the hospital, she was given the terrible news about her middle child, Cheryl, as well as the status of her other two children. She took the news with grace, but her attitude stunned the hospital personnel who had expected her to turn hysterical; she seemed too accepting. When told that Danny had a chance of surviving, she replied in an almost-perplexed manner, "Do you mean the bullet missed his heart? Gee whiz!"

The Investigation Begins

Detectives who spoke with her in a private room at McKenzie-Willamette were equally surprised at her attitude. One investigator, a sharp, keen-witted veteran of the county's homicide squad who was aptly named Dick Tracy, found her unlike other women whom he had encountered after similar crises. In fact, he later defined her as "very rational, considering what she had undergone." Together with his partner on the case, detective Doug Welch, who also found Diane Downs too stoic for a mother whose entire brood was just shot, Tracy conducted an interview to garner some personal background on the mother and her children as well as to begin building a chronology of events leading up to the shooting.

To that point, they had determined that the bullets that had been fired at the kids were .22 caliber, shot from either a handgun or rifle; detectives suspected a handgun. Powder burns on the children's skin indicated that the angry weapon had been fired at an extremely close proximity, especially those on the deceased girl, Cheryl, who had been in the front seat. Blood splayed across the car's doors, seats, windows and elsewhere indicated that the murderer had discharged the gun from the left, or drivers' side, which agreed with Diane's story claiming the intruder had reached in through her window.

About the mother herself, the detectives learned that she was 27 years old, was a mail woman for the U.S. Postal Service and worked the Cottage Grove division. Having previously been a letter carrier in Chandler, Arizona, she recently divorced there (from a man named Steve Downs) and, after obtaining a work transfer, relocated to Oregon to be near her parents, Willa and Wes Frederickson. The Fredericksons were former Arizonians who had moved to Oregon years earlier. Wes Frederickson was also a post office employee.

Diane sketched for her interviewers a quick history of that evening: According to Diane, she and her children had eaten a fast dinner at home, then left their small duplex home at 1352 Q Street in Springfield, bound for a co-worker's home on rustic Sunderman Road. The friend, Heather Plourd, had told Diane a few days earlier at the workplace that she was thinking about buying a horse, and Diane had found an ad in the newspaper about horse rentals that she figured Heather might appreciate seeing. Not knowing Heather's phone number – they weren't intimate friends – Diane decided to bring the advertisement herself. The drive, she explained, offered a good opportunity to get the kids out of the stale house for a couple of hours.

On the way home after a brief chat with Heather and her husband, Diane thought that she would cut through Old Mohawk Road to the main highway. She thought it might be fun to go sightseeing; the kids enjoyed watching the moon from the unlit countryside. It was then, after she turned onto Old Mohawk, that she spotted the man. He was standing in the center of the gravel road, signaling, as if for help. She described the man as " his late twenties...about five feet, nine, 150 to 170...dark hair, a shag-wavy cut and a stubble of a beard." He wore "a Levi jacket (and) an off-colored T-shirt."

She braked and got out of her car. It was then that the stranger produced a pistol from under his jacket and demanded that she turn over the keys to her automobile. She refused, but in retaliation, said Diane, he reached past her in through the driver's window and opened fire on her family. When he then tried to reach for the car keys, she fought back, outstepping him. But, as she slipped back into her car, he fired one more time, at her now, striking her arm. Slamming the gas pedal, her Nissan sped off and away. Her children were hurt, she could see that, and thought only one thing: to get them to the hospital as quickly as possible.


Tracy's mind had wandered a moment while Diane spoke. He had read the doctor's report on his treatment of Diane's arm injury: "A single bullet entered her left split in two as it shattered the radius, and then exited, leaving two smaller wounds." As she related her getaway from the man on the road, how the bullet struck her arm, he couldn't help thinking that the place where she was wounded is the exact same place other killers have shot themselves to make it appear that they were attacked by a phony assailant.

But, he was not – would not! – pass judgment until the evidence was in. And that would not be for some time.

Before the interview ended, Diane agreed to sign a search warrant on her home. She admitted she owned a .38 caliber pistol, which she kept for protection on her delivery route, and a .22 caliber rifle for home safety, but both were unused. One lay cold, hidden under rags in her trunk, the other collected dust on a shelf in her home.

Meanwhile, police around the hospital were busy. In the driveway, they prepared the red Nissan Pulsar with the Arizona license plates for transporting to the crime lab; for further investigation. In the morgue, Sergeant Jon Peckels photographed the wounds on the dead girl. Behind ER, detective Ray Poole collected evidentiary bloody clothing removed from all three children. All personnel assigned to this particular homicide knew, without a doubt, the weekend ahead would mean little leisure time and a lot of pounding on doors, question-asking and rattling of brain cells to figure out this confounding, irritating and heartbreaking mystery.

Because three helpless children had their bodies savagely blown open by a gunner, the policemen didn't mind the overtime one bit. They wanted the killer – now.


Several nurses and an investigator were bedside when Diane Downs was finally allowed into the intensive care unit to see Christie, one of her two surviving children. The spectators noted that, as she squeezed her daughter's hand, murmuring, "I love you," she did so as devoid of warmth as an icicle; her words were passed through clenched teeth. Paul Alton, the investigator, noticed something else: that the child's eyes, peeking from above an oxygen mask, took on the glaze of fear when spotting her mom approaching.

"I happened to glance at the heart rate monitor – the pulse – when Diane came in," said he. "The scope showed Christie's heart was beating 104 times a minute (but) when Diane took hold of her...that scope jumped to 147!"


Friday morning, plainclothesmen checked with the Plourds to ensure Diane and her kids had visited them the previous evening as Diane had asserted. Mrs. Plourd confirmed the visitation, as well as the reason for it: to give her an ad about horses.

Under the supervision of Tracy and Kurt Welch, state troopers searched Diane's Springfield residence, requisitioning several items, including a diary that they found, the aforementioned rifle (a Glenfield .22 caliber located where Diane had said) and a box of standard .22 caliber shells, same as those taken from the children's bodies.

One particular item, however, interested Dick Tracy: a photo of a young man in a beard that shared space atop the television with other pictures of Diane. Tracy was cognizant of the fact that Diane had made a phone call to a man in Arizona, a former boyfriend supposedly, not long after arriving at the hospital. Before she knew the state of her children, before alerting her ex-husband and the father of the children, she acted as if compelled to call this Arizona man.

Tracy, studying the photo of the man, wondered if he was looking at the object of Diane's urgent phone call.

Interesting Side Bars

Fred Hugi of the District Attorney's staff sensed something foul almost immediately after assigned by County DA Pat Horton to prosecute the case. In preparation for what the DA knew would eventually lead to a murder trial, it was Hugi's job to follow the revelations of the case as they surfaced from the origin. As far as Hugi quickly ascertained, the fetus of something evil had taken form in the embryonic blackness of that rural roadway in Lane County. Whatever happened Thursday night, the facts began to come to light in a most suspicious manner and unlike those explained by the mother, Diane Downs.

Hugi, relatively new to the DA's investigative squad, nevertheless knew mischief when he saw it. And he saw it first in the faces of two perplexed, scared youngsters, strapped to tubes and cords for life in a lowly lit hospital room. Never one for sentiment, even he was surprised when he felt tears rolling down his cheeks as he gazed upon Christie and Danny Downs. And when he heard from Paul Alton the reaction of Christie when she had seen her mother for the first time since the shooting, he knew it was not the normal reaction of any child who, in pain and surrounded by foreign faces, would have been overjoyed to see the one person in their life to rekindle their spirits.

Hugi ordered a round-the-clock guard on the children. He also commissioned a child psychologist to remain at Christie's side during the day, to build up a trust that the child may, when more hale, confide in her the events on Mohawk Road.

Doubt in the mother's story was building. Over the coming days, her version of what happened that night changed slightly. Her placement of the killer when he fired the gun altered in several re-tellings as did her own actions in the face of the supposed gunman. When Doug Welch interviewed Steve Downs, Diane's ex-husband in Arizona, Welch learned that Diane owned three, not two, weapons – and one was a .22 caliber handgun, which Diane did not mention.

Welch found Steve Downs an open, erstwhile talker who seemed glad to be rid of his ex wife who, he said, liked to bed-hop. An electrical contractor living in Chandler, Arizona, he carried no grudge and seemed to be happy just to live his current bachelor life. He admitted that he and Diane were "still friends," but that their occasional phone conversations never extended beyond the kids' health and scholastic welfare. He seemed genuinely upset with the bad news and sincerely, fatherly hopeful that Christie and Danny would pull through. He made immediate plans to fly to Oregon to see them.

Welch asked Steve Downs if he knew who the Arizona man might be, and the former spouse, not surprised by the question, replied that he must mean the married guy with whom Diane had been having a torrid affair for some time before leaving Arizona. He was a postal worker in Chandler and, whatever happened in their love life, the tryst finally severed. The man returned to his understanding wife, but Diane still seemed to carry the torch, hot and heavy. Her infatuation with this married man was maniacal, it seemed, but he didn't seem the type to leave a doting wife for a woman with three growing, hungry kids.

When Welch asked about weapons the couple had owned, and which ones Diane had taken with her to Oregon, Downs told him that Diane had "a .22 rifle, a .38 revolver and a .22 Ruger Mark IV nine-shot semi-automatic pistol." She used to practice her shooting at the local Chandler-area range. Why she carried guns? She was a woman and felt she needed protection on her route, Steve Downs suggested.

Then detective Welch felt he had to ask the obvious: "Steve, would your ex-wife harm your kids in order to get [the married] back?"

"No way!" the other shook his head. "She loves those kids."


When questioned afterwards, Diane denied she still owned the .22 caliber.

Evidence Begins to Tell the Tale

No one in the DA's office, especially Fred Hugi, believed that there had been an aggressor on Old Mohawk Road. Since the beginning of time, wrongdoers have used mythical abductors and thugs as alibis to cover their own or a close friend's crime. In law enforcement jargon, these make-believe violators are niched under the all-encompassing term bushy-haired stranger, "the guy who isn't there," says author Ann Rule, "the man the defendant claims is really responsible...Of course the BHS can never be produced in court."

Rule points to a satirical remark authored by Hugi in the midst of the Downs case. Hugi had side mouthed, "We estimate that if the BHS is ever caught, the prison doors will have to be opened to let out all the wrongly convicted defendants."

Paul Alton, Hugi's central fact-finder, summed up his and the investigators' misgivings: "I don't buy it...She goes out to Sunderman to see Heather Plourd, she decides to go sightseeing and heads toward Marcola...Suddenly, she decides she'll veer off on the Old Mohawk Road. Say we buy the story that she's sightseeing. Even if it's almost pitch dark, she's sightseeing...How do we explain that the shooter knew she was going to be there? If he's following her in his own car...he could trail her onto Old Mohawk. But she tells us that the stranger is [in front of her, standing in the road] waving her down. How does he get there?"

To the trained hawkshaw's eyes, the picture was incorrect – incomplete – even retouched. If the killer wanted the car, wouldn't he have shot the driver (Diane) first? She was the adult and would have been his biggest obstacle, not the three tiny kids huddling in the car. What would a "bushy-haired stranger" have to gain in shooting Christie, Cheryl and Danny Downs?

Over the weekend, forensic scientist James O. Pex from the Oregon State Police Department had examined the interior of the Downs automobile to produce some thoughtful findings. As reported to Hugi and his squad, Pex had found a couple of .22 caliber U-shell copper casings, ejected after firing. No bullet had penetrated the body of the car, indicating that all bullets – between the children they suffered five bullet wounds -- had hit their live marks. Blood smeared the side door of the front seat where Cheryl had tumbled after being shot, and pools of blood stained the rear seat where Danny and Christie had been hit. But, Pex apprised, "No blood at all on the driver's side, no smears on the steering wheel."

If a bullet had hit Diane as she was getting into her car, as she said, it would have been reflex for her to grab that wound with her idle hand. There would have been blood on that hand, then, as she tried to steer the car from the scene, blood on the steering wheel.

Also: When a bullet is fired, he explained, the barrel discharges a small amount of smokeless gunpowder frontwards towards the target. Such powder particles were detected in three angles of the car – on the right panel and in a sweep along the back seat. There were no particles, however, on the driver's panel.

What did all this mean? It could very well mean that whoever did the shooting had been seated in the driver's seat.

And that Diane Downs shot herself just before she reached the hospital.

Diane's Letters

A scouring of the entire crime area had failed to produce the murder weapon, but ejected casings from a spent .22 caliber (matching those in the car) were discovered in the vicinity. Divers even plunged into the Mohawk River that runs through the topography, but could not find the gun. Unfortunately, the river churned here and ran a rapid course that time of year, in the spring, and experts determined that had the gun been tossed into the waters, it would have been flushed away miles on the river's current. Hugi, who figured the courts hadn't much of a case against Diane Downs without the murder weapon, even went to look for the gun himself. He waded along the river, turned over loose stones, kicked through the reed grass, scuffed the toe of his shoe through the ditch alongside the road to upturn loose soil – but nothing.

To sink his spirits further, he learned that Christie Downs had suffered a stroke, a direct symptom of the gunshot wound. Her speech was distorted and, the physicians told him, she may never speak again. The left side of the brain, the side that controlled the ability to speak, had been injured. But, there was hope, albeit slight. Doctors prayed that, because she was so young, they could reverse the deterioration with therapy and restore her slurring tongue.

There was no gun to condemn Diane. And perhaps the only live witness to the murder, the murderer's own daughter, would be unable to accuse her mother. But, Hugi, more than ever believed that Diane was guilty when he was shown the diary and the letters confiscated from her home. They both reeked of a longing for the Arizona man, her lost love, a man who, by the tone of the pages, had deserted her. The cause of his desertion may have been – and the diary hinted this – that his wife had simply stepped in to put the clamps down. 

 One passage caught Hugi's attention. It was dated April 21, less than a month before the crime on Mohawk Road. Like so many entries, it was written in the form of a letter addressed to someone else, but used as a meter to weigh her own thoughts on such a thing. This passage, like most of the others, was addressed to her former lover, and read:

"What happened? I'm so confused. What could she have said or done to make you act this way? I spoke to you this morning for the last time. It broke my heart to hear you say 'don't call or write'. ...I still think of you as my best friend and my only lover, and you keep telling me to go away and find somebody else. You have got to be kidding..."

Hugi resolved to get to the bottom of this business. He kept asking himself, who is he, and is he involved in any way in the murder scheme? He doubted it, but yet he could not get over the feeling that her obsession with this ex-boyfriend  had driven her to lift that gun against her own children. They were obstacles in the path of singly obtaining him – and if he was correct in his guesswork, would the man's wife be Diane's next victim?

Diane's letters were visions of fantasies; they spoke of masturbation engendered by thoughts of her one true lover. In one letter, between references to sexual self-pleasure, she rhymes:

"I love you more/than could your wife/Yet it's brought sorrow/to my life/I just keep hoping/and hanging on/How much longer/can I be strong?"

Perhaps she could "be strong" no longer, Hugi wondered.

Before the weekend ended, he dispatched two of his investigators to Chandler, Arizona, to find out who this man of her wet dreams really was.


The week of May 23rd was a sad one, yet it brought optimism. Cheryl Downs' funeral took place on the 25th to much bereavement from family, intimate friends and the Springfield community. But, yet good news came from McKenzie-Willamette Hospital: both Christie and Danny were out of danger. One of Christie's arms was paralyzed and her speech was garbled for now, albeit doctors believed capable of being revitalized; Danny would probably be crippled for the rest of his life, but his brain had not been affected and he would live.

Both kids had been lucky, totally-against-the-odds lucky.

Diane in Wonderland

Doug Welch and Paul Alton were dispatched to Arizona to use their professional experience to dig up Diane Downs' past – and anyone, including her former lover, who came along with the shovel work. Their trip during the last weeks of May proved fruitful. They learned just what they wanted to know about their central suspect, Ms. Diane Downs.

One of the first things they accomplished was proving that neither Steve Downs nor the mysterious Arizona man were Diane's "bushy-haired stranger". Witnesses verified seeing them or being in their company in Arizona at the precise hour of the crime.

The detectives also spoke with several of Diane's former co-workers from the Chandler branch post office. Their opinions of her varied. Some, it was clear, didn't like her at all; no one praised her. "Some of the informants describes a woman with a single-mindedness, a channeling of ambition that they had rarely, if ever, encountered," pens Ann Rule in Small Sacrifices. "Others disagreed; Diane Downs had been flippy dippy, up and down, mad and sad. A few – a very few – witnesses spoke on her behalf, and then only with faint praise."

What emerged after the postal interviews was a postcard picture that might have been beautiful had its colors not run together. She appeared to be a headstrong woman, but headstrong in a tilted way; her priorities were overblown and, most of all, out of sync. She jumped in the sack with men right and left, but refused to deliver copies of Playboy to customers on her route.

Diane's former lover worked at the Chandler station, too, but the investigators interviewed him separately, at his home. To his credit, they liked him; they liked his honesty and directness. He insisted that his wife be there at his side while he candidly discussed even his sexual experiences with his old flame. His wife, he said, knew the history and had forgiven him. The couple had reconciled and he wanted nothing more to do with Diane Downs.

While the memory of his extramarital affair was undoubtedly painful to him, he answered the detectives' questions cordially and succinctly. He had met Diane at work in late 1981 after her divorce from Steve Downs. The man was magnetized by the female's sexy gestures and her revealing clothing. Loving his wife, he was nonetheless taken with this new girl at the mail bin who blared easy virtue in loose midriff and sans bra. Their friendship evolved overnight into a string of sleazy hotel room encounters.

He admittedly expected the affair to end swiftly as had all her relationships – none of them had lasted with other men he knew she had gone with. But as the months rolled on, he found that she was not intending to let go; in fact, she was pulling tight on his private time and urging him to divorce his wife as soon as possible. Suddenly, it dawned on him he was up and over in a relationship he never intended to move from off the bedsprings.

He tried to break their seeing each other, but each time Diane protested violently. "The affair continued and continued," he said, "and I was with Diane all day at work, and I'd be with her all night long and it was every day for months. I basically didn't have time to think, you know. I was with Diane all the time."

Welch and Alton then noted something that Diane's ex-lover added that hit a high-note because it complemented what their boss Fred Hugi had been contemplating all along – that the Downs children may have gotten in the way of their mother's love life. Despite her pleas, he refused to see when she was with Danny, Christie and Cheryl. "I wouldn't be with her if the children were around," he explained. "It was an affair – it didn't seem right."

After battling guilt for many months, the man decided to say adios to Diane. The girlfriend's remonstrations had been incessant, and one night in February, 1983, he severed them. "Diane asked me who I loved the most – her or my wife. I said I loved my wife. She blew up. She ranted and raved and screamed at me. I'd never seen anyone act that way before."

When he raced home, Diane followed him, even up the steps of his own home with his wife present.

"She pounded on our door all night long," his wife recalled. "Then she called on the phone." But, she reappeared the following day, confronting the wife on the stoop. "She began to tell me what I should do about my marriage, my relationship with my husband – everything...I slammed the door in her face."

It had been what the husband called "the final straw" and he never saw her again.

Not long after that chaotic night, Diane put in a transfer to Oregon. She relocated to Springfield to be near her parents.

But, the letters and the phone calls to her old boyfriend continued.


One thing more. The lawmen asked if he had any knowledge about guns that Diane might have owned. He did. One of them, he said, was a .22 caliber handgun.

But, Diane continued to deny she owned it.

Elizabeth Diane Downs

Diane Downs was born August 7, 1955, in Phoenix, Arizona. Her parents Willadene and Wes Frederickson named her Elizabeth Diane. (As the years passed she trimmed her name to simply Diane.) Having wed as teens and still in their teens when Diane came along, the parents awed at their having a human life to maintain; and while they loved their baby, they fell short in their ability to emanate a warm fondness a child inherently expects.

As a school student, Diane was bright but not one of the in-crowd. Disciplining, old-time-Baptist parents forbade trendy clothing and fads, resulting in their daughter being considered a washout. Wherever she went, she was the "square," the ugly duckling.

According to Rule's Small Sacrifices, Diane's father allegedly molested her when she was 11 years old. Diane told authorities that the occurrences never led to fornication, but she was fondled and caressed. On weekends, Diane claimed that he took her on rides to the desert; once away from civilization, he would make her remove her blouse and bra as he watched.

Diane said that these perversions ended as quietly as they had begun, and Wes Frederickson became more of a typical father -- as if cessation would eradicate all memories. He allowed her to enroll in a charm school when she was fourteen. And that was the beginning of a new Diane, one who – with her hair cut stylishly and her garb up to date – the local boys began to notice. And Diane, hungry for love by this time, responded by being the babe with the flashy eyes, swaying hips and silly, come-hither giggle.

Steven Downs, one of the boys at Moon Valley High, fell instantly in love with the pretty and now suddenly shapely blonde, Diane. The pair became an item and roved together, everywhere they went, arm linked in arm. After graduation, they parted for a spell – he to the Navy, she to Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College. They corresponded regularly, but if Diane had promised to "save it" for Steve, she had weakened, for she was expelled from the religious school after a year for promiscuity.

Steve returned home and the couple wed on November 13, 1973.

From the starting gun, the marriage was, at best, shaky. Steve worked half the time and Diane found her high school sweetheart less a noble escape and more of a repetition of her domineering papa. She had wanted love and realized too late that Steve was not that love.

She found solace when she became pregnant; carrying a baby made her feel for the first time that she was actually in charge of a love that was all-dependent on her. It was a feeling of power she'd never before realized, and she relished in the delight that she was the helmswoman of her own path to total love. But, after Christie was born in October, 1974, it was back to serving Steve his meals – nevermind that she had a baby to care for and worked part-time at a local thrift store, too. To keep from falling apart emotionally, she needed to feel that emotion once again of the seed of love stirring inside her. She again became pregnant. Cheryl Lynn followed her older sister into this world on January, 1976.

Unhappily Married

Throughout 1976 and 1977, Diane took the kids and ran away from Steve several times, but she always came back. Steve would hunt her down to one of her many relative's homes. But, once reunited, it was monkey-chasing-weasel time all over again. He was unhappy, she was unhappy, but the marriage waned on.

"(Diane) waited for something to happen," writes Rule. "Hostile but passive, she was both bored and angry. Life was passing quickly by her; none of the things she promised herself had come true."

She decided again to conceive – but not Steve's baby. By that time, 1978, the family had moved to Mesa where both Diane and Steve worked for the same mobile home manufacturer. On the assembly line Diane found her "stud," whom she passionately seduced. Her tummy swelled again and she floated in wonderland, drugged on love. Danny was born four days after Christmas, 1979.

Even though the child was not his, Steve accepted the boy as his own. Still, the marriage had reached its ebb and, within a year, the Downses decided to divorce. Diane moved in with the father of Danny, and it was during this time she began to change. Now out of the wifely manacles imposed by society and the Baptists, she seemed to ignore her duties as mother, also. The opiate of her children's love had worn off. She preferred to work, to stay away from home, to throw the youngsters on any babysitter she could find.

One sitter relates an incident that, even though she didn't know it at the time, foreshadowed tragedy. "Diane put everything before those kids. If Danny wanted attention, she would push him away...but the worst thing was – one time, I caught Cheryl jumping on the bed, and I said that was not permitted. I made her sit in a chair and think about it. Cheryl sat quietly for awhile, and then she looked up. 'Do you have a gun here?' 'Of course not. Why?' 'I want to shoot myself. My mom says I'm bad.'"

Diane finally found a full-time position with the U.S. Post Office in 1981 and was stationed in Chandler. It was there she met a married man and fell in love. But, for once, it was the other party, not Diane, to make the decision when and where the love affair would end.

As she had done mentally to her own kids, her lover physically walked out of her life.

Caught unawares, she ran home to Oregon, but not quite understanding, nor acceptant of the fact, that this time she didn't have it her way.

Loose Threads

In June, Assistant DA Fred Hugi met with his investigative squad to review its findings. Whether or not to arrest Diane Downs was the issue unsettled. He wanted to see her taken in, but not at the expense of the county office, which would take extreme heat were the case thrown out in pre-trial. Nevertheless, Hugi and his men were convinced she was guilty, but they feared that without the presence of a murder weapon or a viable witness who literally saw her do the shooting, much of what they had gathered to date would be, in all fairness, considered circumstantial evidence and unacceptable in an American courtroom.

Not enough to convict.

The team examined what they had collected so far, among the evidence a small number of .22 caliber bullet casings found on Old Mohawk Road, a very graphic display of carnage in Diane's red Nissan Pulsar, the estimation of the bullets' paths from an accepted authority, a diary that screamed Diane's obsession for ex-lover, her letters colored with pornographic daydreams, and testimony from two men (Steve Downs and former lover) who swore she indeed owned something she continued to disclaim: a .22 caliber handgun.

The most expressive piece of evidence came from the pen of forensic expert Jim Pex who wrote that it was his estimation that some of the unfired 22 caliber shells found in Diane's home had once been worked through the mechanism of the same gun that shot the children. Impressive this, but until the very gun was retrieved, Hugi knew, the court could refute it.

Investigators had also been able to shed doubt on Diane's story that she immediately raced for the hospital after the attack on her kids. By testimony of hospital personnel, she arrived outside ER that fateful night at roughly 10:48 p.m., screaming. "Somebody just shot my kids!" Estimated time she had left the Plourds' home was, according to Heather Plourd herself, 9:45 p.m. The detectives knew that the shooting, then, must have occurred at approximately 10:15 in order to give Diane enough time to re-gather her senses, survey the condition of her kids, then drive (as she had claimed) immediately to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital to reach it by 10:48 p.m. But, in the meantime, a witness had come forward, explaining that he had seen what he was sure was Diane's red Nissan, near 10:20 p.m., moving very slowly  -- five to seven miles an hour – along Old Mohawk Road.

"The car," said witness Joseph Inman, "wasn't being driven critically."

Another telling tale, but, so far...just a tale.

But, the legal wheels behind Hugi believed also that Diane was guilty, and the DA maneuvered the wheels to spin to show his support of the long hours his assistant was dedicating to catch a child killer. In Lane County, a grand jury assembled behind closed doors. The panelists wanted to hear directly from those main players – that list of testifiers that Hugi had given the DA – among them her former lover, Mr. Inman, Heather Plourd, Jim Pex and others, eventually Diane Downs herself.

Other positive things were happening. County Judge Gregory Foote placed the two surviving Downs youngsters in the protective custody of the state's child services bureau. This meant that, for the meantime, Diane was not allowed to see her kids. That she felt she was being treated like a criminal was, in reality, a nose-thumb by Hugi after she violently threatened to remove the children from the hospital and take them away if detectives wouldn't stop hounding her.

Danny, still confined to his bed, was given full protection by the police department until he would be medically released, at which time he would follow his sibling into a suitable foster family. The home where Christie was transported was kept a secret, her whereabouts known by only a few authorities.

"Princess Die"

In the middle of the grand jury's summons process and the ongoing search for more evidence, in particularly the vanished gun, the sheriff's office announced layoffs. State funds dropped and Paul Alton was laid off. Doug Welch and another of Hugi's top men, Kurt West, were given a month's notice. All of Hugi's investigators, in fact, were let go or redeployed.

Throughout the coming winter and into the spring of 1984, Diane was fast becoming the media's favorite star. Newshounds had picked up on her plight. Some medium distrusted her, but to most she was a bouncy maiden maybe not in distress but picked on by mean old Uncle Sam who couldn't find the bushy-haired beast of mythology. Because she looked a little like Princess Diana, she became the darling fashion plate of the American Pacific Coast.

Less trivial papers called her "Princess Die."

But, Hugi saw her as anything but a princess, a good or a bad one. She was more like the wicked witch, creating havoc at every point in life. Her kids had been swept from her custody, she was indignant, and sought revenge. She balked to the press that she was misunderstood, was a victim of prejudice and harassment. Ignoring her bravado, Hugi let her talk, refusing to back down. For that matter, he endeavored to bite her every footstep. And that is why he chose to let investigators Welch and West turn up the heat before they surrendered to the layoff. They dogged her.

Finally, Diane Downs called for what she hoped would turn into a peace treaty, a meeting with the two detectives to explain her side of the story and pass on further information she had not divulged since the night of the attack on Old Mohawk Road. At first, the detectives bought it, hoping this new revelation might produce something startlingly new. But, sensing they were being conned, the session led to what would become known, according to Ann Rule, as "the hardball interview."

At the parley, Diane explained that she believed the killer was someone she might have known; he had called her by name. If true, this information would have made a great impact on the entire case. But, to the two men gathered in their office with her, it was a clear charade, an attempt to delay the proceedings she felt moving against her and possibly even throw the investigators off her trail altogether. Insulted, her listeners turned the table and fell upon Diane verbally with such an interrogation that she was left the deceived instead of the deceiver.

Why was she telling them this now? She didn't know. How did he know what road she was going to take home from Heather's? She didn't know. Was he a friend from Oregon or Arizona? She didn't know. What purpose would he have to kill her kids? She didn't know. Did she really rush to the hospital immediately after the kids were shot or did she pause a while? She didn't know. Why didn't she try to stop the gunman when he began blasting away at the kids in the Nissan? She didn't know the answer to that either.

And when they asked her point blank if she tried to kill her kids because they ruined her chances with her lover...well, she had an answer to that. She called them names and threatened them and told them they were all "f—ed up". And stormed out.

Whether or not it was a ploy for sympathy – just in case she needed some in the event of a jury trial – or whether she merely needed to feel that "love" once again within her – she went out and got pregnant, once again from one of her favorite studs. She made sure to explain the symbolic meaning of her action to a TV reporter: "I got pregnant because I miss Christie, and I miss Danny and I miss Cheryl so much...You can't replace children – but you can replace the effect that they give you. And they give me love, they give me satisfaction, they give me stability, they give me a reason to live and a reason to be happy..."

And a reason to perhaps escape death row, Hugi sneered, watching her performance on the tube.

Paula Krogdahl, the counselor put in charge of mentally raising Christie from her nightmares was making excellent progress in the meantime. The child began to talk, to remember, to face reality. While Krogdahl tiptoed through her treatment, avoiding the murder scenario for a long time, she got Christie to speak about her family life, and her mother. Christie admitted that Diane had hit her and her brother and sister "lots". And when the day had come, the therapist asked her to recall what happened the night of what Christie called "that terrible thing":

"Was there anyone there that night that you didn't know?" asked Krogdahl, referring to the stranger on the dark road.

"No," the girl answered.

"Were Danny and Cheryl crying?"


"Why wasn't Cheryl crying?"


A pause, then, softly:

"Do you know who was shooting, Christie?"

"I think----" But Christie could not muster the words. Krogdahl didn't push and let it go, for now.

Hugi decided to bite the bullet. Experts told him that he had enough evidence, and they believed he had a strong case. But, he would need to have to recreate that "terrible thing" in court, piece all the puzzle fragments together in such a way so that the panel of jurors saw what he saw – and totally believe.

The grand jury was wrapping up after nine months of interviews; they had spoken to, quizzed, and deliberated on the words of many – including Diane Downs – and balanced at the end of those nine months the tomes of testimony they possessed. They handed down an indictment: one charge of murder, two charges of attempted murder, and two charges of criminal assault.

The state of Oregon was going for the child killer's throat.

On February 28, 1984, police cuffed Diane as she was alighting from her car in the parking lot of the post office.

Preparing for Battle

District Attorney Pat Horton, along with Lane County Sheriff David Burks, hosted a press conference following Diane's arrest. Horton told the press, "The one thing that underscored this investigation is patience. The real in the courtroom."

Reporters were there by the droves, salivating over the battle indeed to come. Their newspapers and their magazines already announced that Diane Downs had been taken into custody and that, hell, the look-alike Princess Di might very well be a murderess after all. Time magazine was there, and the Washington Post was there, and journalists from city papers as far away as New York City were there. Most were professional in their reporting, while some, tabloid-like, tumbled across both Springfield, Oregon, and Chandler, Arizona, finding anyone who knew Diane Downs, or even talked to her once.

When the Eugene Register-Guard found Diane's father, Wes Frederickson, the paper noted he was gallante to the end: "If my daughter did it, then I believe, in fact, she should pay. But nothing can take away the love a father has for his kids."

In the wake of the impending trial, Diane sought as her counselor the brilliant and highly esteemed attorney Melvin Belli; because of the high profile the Downs case generated, Belli wanted to take it on. But, he had personal plans, unbreakable, and would defend Diane only if the trial could be postponed a couple of months after the already-slated May, 1984 calendar. The courts refused to budge. Hugi had waited long enough and delaying it might mean delaying it again for the pregnant Diane to give birth. Too much work had been expended, too many peoples' time to delay the inevitable.

"Fred Hugi had twenty-four volumes of evidence, statements, follow-ups, transcriptions of tapes – a mountain of possibilities to be winnowed down, and shaped, and molded for his case," asserts Ann Rule in Small Sacrifices. "He would work eighteen- to twenty-four hour days. And so would the rest of his team."

Diane was forced to find another lawyer quickly. She chose criminal attorney Jim Jagger, a man noted for his down-home but effective manner.

What was to be a six-week trial opened May 10, 1984 in Eugene at the Lane County Courthouse, courtroom Number 3, the largest of the rooms of justice in the old building. The jury panel consisted of nine women. Judge Foote, the man who had taken Christie and Danny Downs from their suspect mother, presided. Young, intense, he was noted for his fairness.

The citizenry of the county turned out for the sensation; people across America were still divided over the guilt/innocence of Diane Downs – was she a martyr or a devil? – and those no-names who shared the spectator's seats with the paparazzi, the witnesses and the families felt honored.

In his opening remarks, Fred Hugi presented a motive – her fixation for a married man who felt that her kids should not be part of their fantasy life – and a method – the .22 caliber Ruger pistol that she bought in Arizona and denied having owned in Oregon. He read passages from her diary screaming her love for a man who didn't want her as she wanted him; and, to some titillation of the court, he read aloud Diane's masturbation poem. He promised to paint over the next weeks a real picture of the cruelty that made Diane Downs tick.

Counsel for the defense Jagger conceded, in turn, that there had been an obsession, but not so dark as to have led his client to destroy the three people she loved most in the world – even beyond lover – her own children. He pointed to her childhood, to her alleged molestation as a child, even to her promiscuity that he saw as a relevance to that dysfunctional experience. But, a murderess? No, for he intended to show that Diane's story of a man on the Mohawk Road with a gun was not a falsehood.

Courtroom proceedings paused on May 14 so that the jurors could experience for themselves the physical scene of the crime. Hugi transported them via a chartered bus to Old Mohawk Road, parallel to the river. Though daylight, the prosecutor accentuated the state of the road at the time of the shootings, relating the ebony of that night, the loneliness, the sparks of gunfire that shattered the gloom, the high emotion. Before the day ended, jurors were then led to the county auto pound to see the red Nissan death car; he wanted them to gaze into its interior and to feel the kids' terror.

Heartbroken Witness

Back in court during the week, the first of the state's witnesses were brought forth – they comprised mostly personnel from McKenzie-Willamette Hospital where Cheryl Downs died and where doctors struggled to save the other two Downs children.

Nurse Rose Martin recalled mother Diane's peculiar attitude toward what had just happened. "She asked how the children were, and I told her the doctors were in there working on them," Martin remembered. "And then she – the mother – laughed, and she said, 'Only the best for my kids!' and she laughed again and said, 'Well, I have good insurance.'"

Dr. John Mackey, who was in charge of ER the evening of the murder, described the children's chest wounds and the medical team's first, spontaneous efforts of life saving. He then recollected his observation of Diane: "She was extremely composed. She was unbelievably composed. I couldn't believe she was a family member. There were no, 'Why did this happen to me?'"

X-ray Technician Carleen Elbridge could not get over the fact that Diane, a mother of three severely wounded youngsters, complained about having to be seen in public without makeup.

Throughout the trial, witnesses came and went, each making an impact, some more than others. But, the highpoint – the turning point, the riveting point – came when Christie Downs was brought to the stand. Quivering, tear-streaked she was ushered to the stand by Fred Hugi. It was clear that he detested the moment, to bring a child face on against her mother, but the moment was needed if American Justice was to be played out.

Hugi, pale, jaw tight, but with a fatherly voice, led the examination of little Christie Downs. From time to time, he handed her Kleenex while she paused to wipe her cheeks; he waited until she regained herself whenever she broke down; usually after her eyes and her mother's momentarily met; he didn't rush her, and he remained gentle. When she spoke, and her voice might be muffled under her sobs, he clarified the question so that the jurors would completely understand the tintinnabulation of that tiny voice.

He loved this little child; it was obvious in the way he looked at her, spoke to her.

The courtroom inhaled, and didn’t seem to exhale until it was over. And then -- especially then -- breath came short.

Hugi began by explaining to the girl the importance of telling the truth on the stand; she understood. Giving her time to relax, and her voice to become sufficiently audible to the courtroom, he then asked her several routine questions about her family, her schooling, herself. Feeling that she was ready for the heavy stuff, he maneuvered into the day of the crime, her visit with her family to Heather Plourd's home on Sunderman Road in order to give Mrs. Plourd the clipping from the newspaper about horse rentals.

 Christie was visibly shaken. Hugi patted her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile. He gave her a moment to recover before proceeding. Reassuring that she was OK, he resumed his line of questioning about what Diane did with her children.

"She leaned over to the back seat and shot Danny," Christie said.

"What happened then? Hugi prompted her. "What happened after Danny got shot?"

The child caved in under her tears, and Hugi hugged her. Knowing this must come and wanting to get it over with, he gave her time to find her voice once again. Then quietly, sympathetically he went on. He gingerly rephrased his question, for by this time the court had already gathered what Diane Downs did after she shot Danny.

" Do you remember when you got shot?" Hugi asked her.

"Yeah," she answered.

"Who shot you?"

"My mom," she said simply.

Guilty As Sin

After that pathetic moment, the tone for the rest of the trial was set. Everything else, all other words, were anticlimactic. Diane Downs was as guilty as sin. Outside the walls of the courtroom, too, Americans who had refused to believe that a mother could consciously pull a trigger on three harmless children, her children, surrendered. She had been villified, justly, and the cross that they thought was being nailed together to crucify a martyr became suddenly an instrument of deserved justice.

On June 14, 1984, Judge Foote read aloud the jury's unanimous verdict. Guilty of attempted murder in the first degree. Guilty of a second account of attempted murder in the first degree. Guilty of first-degree assault. Guilty of another count of first-degree assault. Guilty of murder.

Oregon at the time did not impose the death sentence, but in the subsequent sentencing, the judge sought to deprive Diane Downs from the daylight of liberty forevermore. After decreeing a life term, plus an additional fifty years for using a firearm, he expressed, "The Court hopes the defendant will never again be free. I've come as close to that as possible."


Between the verdict and the sentencing, the court recessed while Diane gave birth to a beautiful child, whom she named Amy. The father of the baby denied her and, in time, a caring family adopted Amy.

In 1987, Diane briefly escaped from the Oregon Women's Correctional Center, where she had been incarcerated. After her recapture, she was transported to the high-maximum Clinton Correctional Institution in New Jersey, where she sits today.

Diane's former lover and his wife remain happily married.

Steve Downs still lives in Oregon.

The children, Christie and Danny, survived the ordeal. Danny is confined to a wheelchair, but is a happy boy. Christie has grown into a very content teenager. Both consider the ending of their story to be happy-ever-after.

In 1986, they moved into the home of their new loving adopted parents, Fred and Joanne Hugi.

This story is taken primarily from a book by Ann Rule entitled Small Sacrifices.



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