The story of a MOTHER who was beaten to death by a “hairy stranger” of her three children has made sensational headlines.
Police issued a warning to the gunman – but a series of clues soon convinced them that Diane Downs had in fact shot the children.
DownsBorn Elizabeth Diane Frederickson, she was a 27-year-old divorced postal worker when she arrived at a hospital in Oregon in May 1983.
She had a bullet wound in her hand, and the three children in the back of the car covered in blood were all shot at close range.
Cheryl, seven, is dead, and sister Christie, eight, and brother Danny, three, are clinging to life.
Their mother told a horrifying story of a violent carjacking on a dark and deserted country road.
She told police that a man had come out of the bushes and she stopped to see what he wanted.
He said, “I want your car,” pushed her aside and began shooting at the children, Downs claimed.
She said she faked throwing her keys, was shot during a struggle and then jumped in the driver’s seat and ran to the emergency room in Springfield.
Although her account’s assessment is far-fetched, police have issued a warning to the public to watch out for a dangerous gunman.
Not long after, her story began to unravel.
‘Sightseeing in the dark’
Downs told police she went to see a horse friend in the Marcola area, and came home after dark.
She said she took the detour from Marcola Road to Old Mohawk Road “to visit some places”.
Then, Doug Welch, local Lane County detective Doug Welch: remember ABC’s 20/20.
“There are some things that don’t make any sense.
“Why would a mother go sightseeing when it is dark? Why would a mother with three children sleeping in her car stop her car for a stranger or anyone for that matter?
“Why did she hurt her arm? And the children – one was shot to death and the other two were seriously injured.”
‘Emotions are smooth and too calm’
Welch, who was present at his first murder, said he immediately suspected Downs.
Police and hospital staff thought she was too calm for someone who had just gone through such trauma.
“It was wrong in the first place,” he told Inside Edition in 1989.
“This is a woman who is completely indifferent about the welfare of her children.
“She was just emotionally flat and preoccupied with something else.”
He told 20/20 it was “a very interesting interview” on the night of the recording and that there were “a lot” of problems with her story.
At the end of the interview, “we know she lied.”
‘Vomiting with words’
While her two surviving children lay in hospital, Downs gave a bizarre series of media interviews to deny shooting them.
On one occasion, she said, “Why would I take my kids to the hospital?
“Didn’t I make sure they were dead and then cry crocodile tears?
“It’s crazy to think that I would do such a thing and then turn witnesses against myself – it’s crazy.”
Her denials only made the police more suspicious.
“I used the phrase ‘vomit’ when talking about Diane because she talks a lot. Too much for her good,” Welch said afterward.
“I think that was one of the things that ended up hurting her case. She doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.”
Local TV journalist Anne Bradley Jaeger recalls: “The more she talked, the more she talked, and the more often it didn’t make any sense.
“As if she thinks that if she keeps talking enough, that you’ll believe her.”
When Downs arrived at the hospital, she coldly complained that her children’s blood had damaged her car.
Dr Steven Wilhite, who operated on the injured Christie, recalled that among many alarming comments that night.
“She said things to me like ‘Boy, this has really ruined my vacation,'” the surgeon recalls.
“And she also said, ‘That really screwed up my new car. I got blood all over the back of it.”
The forensic examination further cast doubt on her story.
There was no blood splatter inside or outside the driver’s side, as expected after the struggle she described.
Police believe she shot herself from a distance from the vehicle and disposed of the gun at another location before arriving at the hospital.
.22 caliber cartridges were dropped off at the crime scene, but the murder weapon was never found.
Downs denied that she ever owned a gun.
But she ex-husband Steve Downs said she was carrying a .22 pistol when they broke up and she moved to Oregon.
Detectives also spoke with Robert Kickerbocker, Diane’s former lover, known as Nick.
He told them he knew Downs was in possession of a .22 pistol.
Downs also changed her story about the car robber.
First saying it was a stranger, in later accounts she said the man called her by her name indicating he knew who she was.
In the years that followed, Downs foolishly claimed that a convict had been hired by a local attorney to “teach her a lesson” because she had discovered a drug racket.
A breakthrough occurs when detectives find a motive in her secret diary.
They reveal that she is obsessed with Knickerbocker, a married man with whom she had an affair in Arizona, where she used to live.
Downs writes that she wants him to move to Oregon to be with her, but he doesn’t want the kids around.
“We believe the motive for the shooting was to bring Nick up here to Oregon to be with her,” Detective Welch told 20/20.
“Diane sees the children as a burden or an obstacle to Nick’s arrival.
“And as long as he says he won’t father anyone’s children, they have to go.”
She said Knickerbocker promised to leave his wife but he told Downs investigators tracked him down and wrote letters he returned unopened.
The only witness to the shooting was eight-year-old Christie, who suffered a near-fatal stroke.
Her brother Danny, who was paralyzed, was believed to have been asleep when he was shot.
For months, Christie was unable to tell police what she saw.
Finally, after months of treatment, she gradually began to describe what she remembered.
She told detectives she did not see a man the night she was shot.
A judge placed her and Danny in conservatorship.
Downs was arrested in February 1984, nine months after the shooting, and put on trial in May.
The witness indicting the star is Christie.
When asked if she remembers who shot her, she simply replied: “My mother.”
Downs was found guilty in June, but her sentence was delayed by another twist – she was pregnant and due to give birth.
It is alleged that she seduced a man in her mail, hoping her pregnancy would win the jury’s sympathy.
Jaeger, a local TV reporter, recalls: “She knew that, if she got pregnant, people would look at her and say, ‘How can a woman who loves children so much have such a baby? Can you kill your own child?”
In an unusual media appearance, Downs said: “I’m pregnant because I miss Christie and I miss Danny and I miss Cheryl so much.
“I’ll never see Cheryl again on Earth and I’m just, you can’t replace children, but you can replace the effect they give you. And they give me love, they give I’m satisfied, they give me a reason to live and a reason to be happy.”
Her baby Amy was given to adoptive parents, who renamed Becky Babcock.
Remarkable, Christie and Danny were accepted by the lead prosecutor in their mother’s trial.
Downs was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years – but in 1987 she escaped from prison.
Police found her ten days later living with the husband of another inmate.
Downs and some of her family continue to maintain her innocence, and claim a convicted felon has confessed to shooting the children.
She is in prison in California after being denied parole in 2008 and 2010.
We pay for your stories!
Do you have a story for the American team The Sun?
https://www.the-sun.com/news/4611567/diane-downs-chilling-clues-stranger-shooting/ 7 chilling clues in the Diane Downs case after she told police a stranger on an empty street shot her three young children