Becky Babcock: A Girl's Fight to Escape her Mother's Crimes

Daughter given up for adoption talks about uncovering secret of mom's identity.

May 13, 2010, 10:54 AM

May 14, 2010 — -- On June 17, 1984, Diane Downs was found guilty of shooting her three children, killing one. She was sentenced to life plus 50 years for the crimes.

But as Downs was about to begin her new life behind bars, she brought new life into the world.

Just days after her conviction, Diane gave birth to a daughter. The baby girl was whisked away hours after delivery.

The baby was secretly driven to a hotel room and given to her adoptive parents, Jackie and Chris Babcock.

"Oh, gosh, she was adorable," Jackie Babcock told "20/20" in a recent interview. She was the typical little perfect baby."

The Babcocks knew the child they were to adopt was Diane Downs'. They followed the mother's murder trial carefully. When their new daughter arrived -- it was their second adoption -- they named her Rebecca.

The couple watched their new daughter for signs of emotional disturbance, they said. "I think we kind of maybe subconsciously watched for any signs of anything unusual," said Jackie Babcock.

Becky Babcock grew up in a beautiful house in Bend, Ore., only 100 miles -- but a world away -- from the legacy of her birth mother. It was a childhood straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

"We were always hiking, biking, traveling," Becky Babcock said in a recent interview. "It was very family-oriented as we were growing up. I was taught right from wrong."

Becky always knew she was adopted, and at an early age, she began to ask about her parentage.

"I was about 8 years old when I started probing my mother for information," said Babcock, whose story appears in this month's Glamour magazine.

CLICK HERE to see photos of Becky through the years

Becky Babcock's Hunt for Identity

Jackie Babcock thought it best to give her daughter vague answers. "I told her that her mom was in jail," said the adoptive mother. "I didn't give her any details as to why. That's too much for an 8-year-old to take on."

The Babcocks were determined to keep Becky's parentage a secret from her. But when she was still in preschool, the unthinkable happened. Authorities called to say Diane Downs had escaped from prison.

Jackie Babcock said she was forced to reveal Becky's secret to a small group of people. "We didn't know what [Downs] would do," she said. "The precautions that we took were to let people know... that were coming in contact with Becky, her daycare person, her babysitter... for Becky's own safety."

Diane Downs had vowed for years that she would get her children back. In fact she seems never to have gone after them. After a 10-day manhunt, police arrested her in a small apartment where she was staying with a fellow inmate's husband, less than a mile from the prison.

The secret was out, but Becky didn't know -- yet. Then, when she was 11 years old, Becky tricked her babysitter into telling her details about her birth mother.

"I asked the babysitter and I made it sound as if I knew," Babcock said. "And so my babysitter's like, 'Oh, you know about Diane Downs?' And that's how I found out."

Years later, a boyfriend whom Becky had let in on her secret invited her over to watch a movie, "Small Sacrifices." The film was based on her mother's life.

Becky had no idea what she was about to watch. She recently recalled the waves of emotion.

"Disgust, sadness," Babcock said. "It became real at that point. The part that shows when I was born, it's as close as I'd ever come to witnessing my own birth. And to be born of a monster is... not something I'm proud of."

For a young woman already struggling with her identity, the discovery was devastating. Babcock said that once she knew the blood of Diane Downs was inside her, she began to mimic her birth mother's impulsive behavior.

"Throughout my teen years, I was wild... and after the movie, it escalated," Babcock said. "I dropped out of high school. I slept around with a lot of people. And I did a lot of harsh drugs. I had no concern for myself."

Things got so bad that Jackie Babcock kicked Becky out of the house. Even Becky's closest friend, Kaylee Hammond, worried that nature was winning over nurture.

"I was worried that she could turn out like her biological mom," Hammond said.

When Becky was 17, she got pregnant and became a teenage mother -- as Diane Downs had been. When her son, Christian, was 3 years old, Becky got pregnant again.

During her second pregnancy, Becky Babcock was broke, homeless and living in a women's shelter. She decided to put her baby up for adoption.

"I couldn't raise another baby and do that to the son I already had," Babcock said. "We picked the most amazing family I could possibly think of."

Babcock felt lost after the adoption, she said. She began to think about her birth mother. Had Downs felt this same emptiness when she gave Becky away? For the first time, Babcock felt a need to connect.

"I thought about, you know, Diane and that was the one and only time I have ever had compassion for that woman," Babcock said.

Babcock decided to reach out to Diane Downs -- her birth mother, whom she calls a monster -- in prison.

Becky Babcock Contacts Diane Downs

Babcock still has the first letter she sent Downs. "I don't know if you're going to believe me," she wrote. "You probably won't. But I believe that I may possibly be your biological daughter." She also sent photographs of herself.

Downs quickly responded. Her first letter was welcoming and warm. But after several letters, Downs' tone changed. Over the course of six letters, Downs' paranoia and psychosis came into full view.

"Just know that someone very powerful has been watching over you all your life for me," Downs wrote in one letter. In another she wrote: "If you love your little boy, you'll take him far from here." Babcock decided to cut off all contact.

"I wrote her a letter," Babcock said. "I said, 'I'm sorry. Please stop writing me.'"

The exchange of letters left Babcock shaken. "I wish I was born of my real parents," she said. "My adopted parents. But I was born of a child killer. People judge me for that."

But Babcock realized that, deep down, she was nothing like her mother. She said she could never imagine hurting a child.

"Never," she said. "I tried to make myself think about it once. It made me physically sick to think about hurting my child in any way. Mothers are put on this earth to take care of their children. It's our job."

Babcock told her story to Glamour. She says she wants to help other children whose parents have committed heinous crimes.

Babcock, the high school dropout, is now a straight-A college student who hopes to go to medical school -- in addition to being a loving mother. She said we all write our own stories, despite our past.

"Being taken away from [Downs] was the best thing that could have ever happened," she said. "It's been quite a journey. There's been ups and downs. I fell off the path for awhile. But I am going to do great things."

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