Some women are destined to be mothers.
“With all due respect, while it may appear I no longer struggle with the cosmic ‘why’ or ‘how,’ the truth is that I have been asking how and why since 10:35 p.m., May 19, 1983.”
And some women are destined to be both… Like Diane Downs.
Downs’ Early Life
Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 7th, 1955.
At the age of 14, and whilst attending Moon Valley High School in Phoenix, Downs underwent a metamorphosis of sorts…
Downs dropped her first name (Elizabeth) and insisted on being called Diane, she cut and died her hair bleach blonde, and she began wearing more provocative clothing. This transformation inevitably caught the attention of Downs’ classmate, 16 year old Steven Downs – much to the dismay of her strict conservative parents, Wesley and Willadene.
The pairs courtship lasted after their respective graduations – during which time Steven enrolled in the Navy and Diane attended Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College. It was here that Downs allegedly cheated on Steven and was expelled for promiscuity just one year into her studies.
Despite the first of many instances of infidelity, the relationship survived.
Downs returned home to her parents after her college dismissal and after a while Steven returned home from the navy. On November 13, 1973, the pair ran away together and wed.
However, the union was tumultuous. The pair often fought over issues like money and infidelity. The pair separated on numerous occasions, during which time Downs would flee back to her parents home before inevitably reconciling with Steven.
Becoming a Mother
Despite the marital problems, Downs gave birth to the pairs first child, a daughter named Christie Ann, in 1974 – just 1 year after their union.
In 1975, the pair welcomed their second daughter Cheryl Lynn.
After the completion of this pregnancy, Steven had a vasectomy – however, Downs managed to conceive a third child. Instead of carrying the child to completion, Downs decided to have an abortion. She named her aborted child Carrie.
In 1978, the Downs family moved to Mesa, Arizona.
During this time, Downs began having multiple affairs with her male co-workers and soon fell pregnant. In December 1979, Stephen Daniel “Danny” Downs was born. Steven, knowing full well the child was not his paternally, accepted responsibility for the child.
Two years later, Downs and Steven divorced.
In an attempt to earn money and support her family, Downs decided to become a surrogate mother. Unfortunately, she failed the applicants psychiatric examination. The tests showed Downs to be psychotic – a fact she would often brag about to friends and family.
Despite her poor mental health, Downs gave birth to a daughter through surrogacy on May 8th, 1982. She named the child Jenifer and she has since been raised by her surrogate family.
Downs was not material to her biological children…
Neighbours continuously voiced concerns about the trios care, claiming they were forced to wear inappropriate clothing in Winter and were frequently starved.
By age 6, Downs’ eldest daughter, Christie Ann, was left home alone to care for her siblings whilst her mother worked and carried out her affairs.
However, it was Cheryl Lynn who suffered the worst abuse at the hands of her mother – she even discussed her fear of Downs to her grandparents and neighbours shortly before her death.
Robert “Nick” Knickerbocker
It is often hard to determine a catalyst for a horrific crime – however, in the case of Downs, one could conceivably pinpoint the rejection from Robert “Nick” Knickerbocker as the motivating factor.
In 1981, Downs began working as a carrier for the U.S. Post Office. It was during this time she met her co-worker Nick, who Downs later described as the man of her dreams.
After the two began a relationship Downs demanded Nick leave his wife – however, put off by her controlling behaviour, Nick instead ended the affair.
Downs refused to accept the end of their relationship.
During a visit to him in April 1983, Nick rejected Downs for the final time – expressing his disinterest in “being a daddy” to her children.
So Downs devised a plan to get her children out of the picture…
On the 19th of May, 1983, Downs and her 3 children were taking a drive.
At approximately 10.30 p.m., Downs stopped her car at the side of an isolated road near Springfield, Oregon, shot her children multiple times, and then shot herself in the left forearm.
Downs drove her blood spattered car to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital.
Upon arrival, 7 year old Cheryl Lynn was pronounced dead.
3 year old Danny was paralyzed from the waist down and 8 year old Christie Ann suffered a stroke after the shooting – however, both survived.
“On the night of May 19, 1983, my children and I went to see a friend to take her a newspaper clip. On the way home, a stranger was in the road.”
“I stopped because he was flagging me, and I thought he was in trouble or thought that he was hurt. When I stopped, he approached the car, and by the time I got out of the car, he was standing beside the car, and he assaulted us. He asked for my car, and I made a smart remark and perhaps I shouldn’t have […]. So he assaulted me and my children, and from that point, I took the kids to the hospital.”
Downs claimed a strange man with bushy hair flagged her down that night. When she stopped, he attempted to carjack her. When unsuccessful, he shot her and her children before fleeing. In a terrified state, Downs raced to the hospital as fast as she could…
Or so she claimed.
Upon Downs’ arrival, Police and hospital staff began observing suspicious behaviour…
Downs’ exhibited a calm nature, which is odd after such a traumatic event. In addition to this, she seems disinterested in the condition of her children – in fact, most of her energy went into attempting to contact Nick.
Police decided to investigate Downs further and several pieces of evidence were uncovered…
The Circumstantial Evidence
It was determined a .22 calibre handgun was used in the murder. The gun in question has never been found – however, police determined Downs once owned a gun of the same calibre.
Downs’ wound was superficial (a shot arm resulting in a single broken bone) – which is of course far less sever than the injuries sustained by her children.
Downs had a history of violent and disturbing behaviour – Nick claimed she had stalked him after their breakup and even went so far as to threaten his wife.
Speaking of Nick, when police seized Downs’ diary, they discovered numerous exerts dedicated to Nick and her displeasure over their relationship ending due to the presence of her children.
Found in her room alongside her diary was a unicorn Downs purchased a few days prior to the attack. Her children’s names were inscribed on it – almost as if it were a shrine.
Forensic Evidence / Eye Witness Testimony
Police determined the blood splatter present in the car did not correspond with Downs’ version of events. As well as the blood spatter, the gun powder residue was inconsistent.
Shortly after the shooting, a man came forward and claimed he overtook Downs on the road the night of the shooting. He remembered clearly because the car was traveling at such a slow speed (between 5-7 mph).
However, the most damning piece of evidence came from Downs’ surviving daughter, Christie Ann.
The stroke Christie Ann suffered after the shooting left her unable to speak in the subsequent months. Whilst recovering, Downs would visit her daughter, during which time doctors noticed Christie Ann’s obvious signs of fear – including her vital signs spiking.
On the 28th of February, 1984, and after an intensive 9 month long investigation, the now pregnant Downs was arrested and charged with 3 counts – murder, attempted murder, and criminal assault.
Downs’ trial began on the 10th of May, 1984.
The now 9 year old Christie Ann took the stand and testified against her mother – confirming that she was, in fact, the shooter.
Court appointed psychiatrists diagnosed Downs with narcissism, histrionicism, and antisocial personality disorders – or in laymen’s terms,
Basically, she’s anti-social, meaning no conscience, no remorse—so you can do what you want, and you never worry about it afterward. Secondly, she’s histrionic […] meaning she loves to be onstage. And third, the narcissistic personality disorder means the narcissist feels entitled to whatever he or she wants, and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt.
Downs alleged during her trail that her father was sexually abusive toward her since the age of 12 – a claim which he and Willadene have strongly denied. Despite this, her parents (and particularly her father) maintained Downs’ innocence.
The courts did not share this opinion
On the 17th of June, 1984, after a short 6 week trial, Downs was convicted on all charges and sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years with the possibility for parole after 25 years.
She was 9 month pregnant at the time of her sentencing.
Downs gave birth to a girl she named Amy one month later in July. She was later adopted and renamed Rebecca “Becky” Babcock.
Becky has since stated on her parentage,
“It was gut-wrenching. It changed me. My innocence was gone. It was very scary to have any relation to that woman… That’s what really scared me… To feel any sort of connection to such a monster. A part of me was afraid that that’s where I came from, does that mean where I’m going? […]. When I was young, I worried that I would be like Diane Downs. As I grew up, I realized nature is not gonna win over nurture.”
Christie Ann and Danny were adopted by the cases lead prosecutor Fred Hugi and his wife Joanne in 1986.
On July 11th, 1987, Downs scaled the 15 foot razor wire fence surrounding the Oregon Women’s Correctional Centre.
She was on the run for 10 days.
Down was eventually recaptured in Salem, Oregon. An additional 5 years was added to her sentence.
She was subsequently transferred to a New Jersey state penitentiary.
Downs’ first parole hearing took place in December, 2008. After a 30 minute deliberation, she was denied. Downs’ second hearing took place in December, 2010. Her parole was once again denied.
Downs’ next hearing will take place in 2021. She will be 65 years old.
Hi there! I’m Heather and I’m a recent graduate achieving the title of Master of Arts with Honours in English and Film Studies. Along with my degree, I have acquired a HNC in the Social Sciences. In my free time I love to cuddle with my dog and immerse myself in all things True Crime and I am the new Crime Writer here at INTROVERT.
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