Humanities › Issues Profile of Diane Downs The Mother Who Shot Her Three Children Share Flipboard Email Print Betty Udesea / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons Issues Crime & Punishment Criminals & Crimes Basics Prevention & Safety Investigations & Trials Serial Killers The U. S. Government U.S. Foreign Policy U.S. Liberal Politics U.S. Conservative Politics Women's Issues Civil Liberties The Middle East Terrorism Race Relations Immigration Animal Rights Canadian Government View More By Charles Montaldo Private Investigator Charles Montaldo is a writer and former licensed private detective who worked with law enforcement and insurance firms investigating crime and fraud. our editorial process Charles Montaldo Updated July 07, 2019 Diane Downs (Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs) is a convicted murderer responsible for shooting her three children. Childhood Years Diane Downs was born on August 7, 1955, in Phoenix, Arizona. She was the oldest of four children. Her parents Wes and Willadene moved the family to different towns until Wes got a stable job with the U.S. Postal service when Diane was around eleven years old. The Fredericksons had conservative values, and until the age of fourteen, Diane seemed to follow her parent's rules. Entering into her teen years a more defiant Diane emerged as she struggled to fit into the "in" crowd at school, much of which meant going against the wishes of her parents. At the age of fourteen, Diane dropped her formal name, Elizabeth, for her middle name Diane. She got rid of her childish hairstyle opting instead for a trendy, shorter, bleached blond style. She began wearing clothing that was more stylish and that showed off her maturing figure. She also began a relationship with Steven Downs, a sixteen-year-old boy who lived across the street. Her parents did not approve of Steven or of the relationship, but that did little to sway Diane and by the time she was sixteen their relationship had become sexual. Marriage After high school, Steven joined the Navy and Diane attended Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College. The couple promised to remain faithful to each other, but Diane apparently failed at that and after one year at school she was expelled for promiscuity. Their long-distance relationship seemed to survive, and in November 1973, with Steven now home from the Navy, the two decided to marry. The marriage was tumultuous from the start. Fighting about money problems and accusations of infidelities often resulted in spurts of Diane leaving Steven to go to her parents' home. In 1974, despite the problems in their marriage, the Downs had their first child, Christie. Six months later Diane joined the Navy but returned home after three weeks of basic training because of severe blisters. Diane later said her real reason for getting out of the Navy was because Steven was neglecting Christie. Having a child did not seem to help the marriage, but Diane enjoyed being pregnant and in 1975 their second child, Cheryl Lynn was born. Raising two children was enough for Steven and he had a vasectomy. This did not stop Diane from getting pregnant again, but this time she decided to have an abortion. She named the aborted child Carrie. In 1978 the Downs moved to Mesa, Arizona where they both found jobs at a mobile home manufacturing company. There, Diane began having affairs with some of her male coworkers and she became pregnant. In December 1979, Stephen Daniel "Danny" Downs was born and Steven accepted the child even though he knew he was not his father. The marriage lasted about a year more until 1980 when Steven and Diane decided to divorce. Affairs Diane spent the next few years moving in and out with different men, having affairs with married men and at times trying to reconcile with Steven. To help support herself she decided to become a surrogate mother but failed two psychiatric exams required for the applicants. One of the tests showed that Diane was very intelligent, but also psychotic -- a fact that she found funny and would brag to friends about. In 1981 Diane got a full-time job as a postal carrier for the U.S. Post Office. The children often stayed with Diane's parents, Steven or with Danny's father. When the children did stay with Diane, neighbors voiced concerns about their care. The children were often seen poorly dressed for the weather and at times hungry, asking for food. If Diane was unable to find a sitter she would still go to work, leaving six-year-old Christie in charge of the children. In the latter part of 1981, Diane was finally accepted into a surrogate program to which she was paid $10,000 after successfully carrying a child to term. After the experience, she decided to open her own surrogate clinic, but the venture quickly failed. It was during this time that Diane met coworker Robert "Nick" Knickerbocker, the man of her dreams. Their relationship was all consuming and Diane wanted Knickerbocker to leave his wife. Feeling suffocated by her demands and still in love with his wife, Nick ended the relationship. Devastated, Diane moved back to Oregon but had not fully accepted that the relationship with Nick was over. She continued to write to him and had one final visit in April 1983 at which time Nick completely rejected her, telling her the relationship was over and that he had no interest in "being a daddy" to her children. The Crime On May 19, 1983, at around 10 p.m., Diane pulled over on the side of a quiet road near Springfield, Oregon and shot her three children multiple times. She then shot herself in the arm and drove slowly to the McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. The hospital staff found Cheryl dead and Danny and Christie barely alive. Diane told the doctors and the police that the children were shot by a bushy-haired man who flagged her down on the road then tried to hijack her car. When she refused, the man began shooting her children. Detectives found Diane's story suspicious and her reactions to police questioning and to hearing the conditions of her two children inappropriate and odd. She voiced surprise that a bullet had hit Danny's spine and not his heart. She seemed more concerned about getting in touch with Knickerbocker, rather than informing the children's father or asking about their conditions. And Diane talked a lot, too much, for someone who had suffered such a traumatic event. The Investigation Diane's story of the events of that tragic night failed to hold up under forensic investigation. The blood splatters in the car did not match her version of what occurred and gunpowder residue was not found where it should have been found. Diane's arm, although broken when shot, was superficial compared to that of her children. It was also discovered that she failed to admit to owning a .22 caliber handgun, which was the same type used at the crime scene. Diane's diary found during a police search helped to piece together the motive she would have for shooting her children. In her diary, she wrote obsessively about the love of her life, Robert Knickerbocker, and of particular interest was the parts about him not wanting to raise children. There was also a unicorn found which Diane had purchased just days before the children were shot. Each of the children's names had been inscribed on it, almost as if it was a shrine to their memory. A man came forward who said he had to pass Diane on the road on the night of the shooting because she was driving so slowly. This conflicted with Diane's story to police in which she said she sped in terror to the hospital. But the most telling evidence was that of her surviving daughter Christie, who for months was unable to speak due to a stroke she suffered from the attack. During the times that Diane would visit her, Christie would show signs of fear and her vital signs would spike. When she was able to speak she eventually told prosecutors that there was no stranger and that it was her mother that did the shooting. The Arrest Just prior to her arrest Diane, likely feeling that the investigation was closing in on her, met with the detectives to tell them something she had left out of her original story. She told them that the shooter was someone she may have known because he called her by her name. Had the police bought her admission, it would have meant several more months of investigation. They did not believe her and instead suggested that she did it because her lover did not want children. On February 28, 1984, after nine months of intensive investigation, Diane Downs, now pregnant, was arrested and charged with murder, attempted murder, and criminal assault of her three children. Diane and the Media During the months before Diane went to trial, she spent a lot of time being interviewed by reporters. Her goal, most likely, was to strengthen the general public's sympathy for her, but it seemed to have a reverse reaction because of her inappropriate responses to reporters' questions. Instead of appearing as a mother destroyed by the tragic events, she appeared narcissistic, calloused and strange. The Trial The trial began on May 10, 1984, and would last six weeks. Prosecutor Fred Hugi laid out the state's case which showed motive, forensic evidence, witnesses which contradicted Diane's story to police and finally an eyewitness, her own daughter Christie Downs who testified that it was Diane who was the shooter. On the defense side, Diane's lawyer Jim Jagger admitted that his client was obsessed with Nick, but pointed to a childhood littered with an incestuous relationship with her father as reasons for her promiscuity and inappropriate behavior after the incident. The jury found Diane Downs guilty on all charges on June 17, 1984. She was sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years. Aftermath In 1986 prosecutor Fred Hugi and his wife adopted Christie and Danny Downs. Diane gave birth to her fourth child, who she named Amy in July 1984. The baby was removed from Diane and was later adopted and given her new name, Rebecca "Becky" Babcock. In later years, Rebecca Babcock was interviewed on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on October 22, 2010, and ABC's "20/20" on July 1, 2011. She spoke of her troubled life and of the short time that she communicated with Diane. She has since changed her life around and with help has determined that the apple can fall far from the tree. Diane Downs' father denied that the accusations of incest and Diane later recanted that part of her story. Her father, to this day, believes in his daughter's innocence. He operates a webpage on which he is offering $100,000 to anyone who can offer information that will completely exonerate Diane Downs and free her from prison. Escape On July 11, 1987, Diane managed to escape from the Oregon Women's Correctional Center and was recaptured in Salem, Oregon ten days later. She received an additional five-year sentence for the escape. Parole Diane was first eligible for parole in 2008 and during that hearing, she continued to say she was innocent. "Over the years, I have told you and the rest of the world that a man shot me and my children. I have never changed my story." Yet throughout the years her story has changed continuously from the assailant being one man to two men. At one point she said the shooters were drug dealers and later they were corrupt policemen involved in drug distribution. She was denied parole. In December 2010 she received a second parole hearing and again refused to take responsibility for the shooting. She was again denied and under a new Oregon law, she will not face a parole board again until 2020. Diane Downs is currently incarcerated at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California.