The Diane Downs Story: 1983 Murder Case Focuses on Mom

PHOTO Police arrested Diane Downs in February 1984, nine months after her three children were shot, one of them fatally.

Late one May night in 1983, Diane Downs sped into an emergency room dropoff in Springfield, Ore., with a horrifying story to tell.

Her three small children, Christie, 8; Cheryl, 7; and Danny, 3, were inside her blood-soaked car, shot at close range.

In the frantic scene, hospital employees quickly determined that Cheryl was already dead and that Christie and Danny were clinging to life.

VIDEO: Diane Downs gave bizarre interview to local TV station before murder conviction.

Downs had also been shot, in the left forearm, though her wound was not life threatening.

When police arrived at the scene, Downs, 27 at the time, told them a bizarre story of being flagged down by a bushy-haired stranger on a dark and deserted country road.

Det. Doug Welch remembers getting the call for what would turn out to be his first homicide investigation. He responded to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital and immediately interviewed Downs, a postal worker.

"Her initial statement was that she had taken the kids out to a friend's house," said Welch. "And it grew dark and upon their return home she decided to -- to do some sightseeing. And she took a deserted country road with three sleeping kids in her car.

"And along this road, off to the side, out stepped a man who flagged her down. She stopped the car and asked him what he wanted. And his response was, 'I want your car.' She replied, 'You've got to be kidding,' at which time he pushed her aside and reached in and shot the sleeping kids."

Downs said she then faked throwing her keys to divert the gunman's attention, pushed him out of the way, jumped back in her car and raced to the hospital with her badly wounded children. She says it was during the struggle with the stranger that she was shot in the arm.

Police Tell Public to Be on Lookout

Fearing there could be a gun-wielding killer on the loose, police released information to the public to be on the lookout.

But suspicions of Downs herself quickly began to surface.

"There were a number of things which didn't make sense, even that first night," Welch said. "Sightseeing when it's pitch black out? And why are the kids fatally or near-fatally wounded, and she, being right-handed, is shot in the left arm? I mean, think about it. She's the biggest threat to him, not three sleeping children."

Diane Downs Gives Bizarre Interviews

Within a month of the shootings, with her two surviving children still in the hospital, Downs began giving a series of bizarre interviews to the media.

"She couldn't keep her mouth shut," Welch said. "She talked all the time. In a sense, Diane was her own worst enemy."

While police increasingly suspected Downs, she adamantly denied any involvement when speaking to the media.

"Why would I have taken my kids to the hospital?" she said in an interview. "Wouldn't I have made sure they were dead and then cried crocodile tears? That's insane to think that I would do such a thing and then bring the witnesses in against myself -- that's crazy."

Anne Jaeger was a local reporter for KEZI in Eugene, Ore., at the time. She remembers Downs' demeanor in her interviews as peculiar.

"People would see little sound bites of her talking on television, and I think they started getting the feeling that there's something really wrong with this person," Jaeger said.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Kanye West accepts the Vanguard Award onstage during the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on August 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Christopher Polk/MTV1415/Getty Images
PHOTO:Parker Posey, Courteney Cox Arquette and David Arquette in Wes Cravens Scream 3.
Joseph Viles/Dimension Films/Getty Images