Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs (born August 7, 1955) is an American criminal who murdered her daughter and attempted to murder her other two small children, in May 1983.
Downs briefly escaped in from prison in1987 and was recaptured. She is the subject of a book by a great true crime book by my email pal Ann Rule (RIP) and a made-for-TV movie based upon it, both called Small Sacrifices. Farrah Fawcett starred as Diane Downs and did a really great job in that role.
She was denied parole in December 2008 and again in December 2010; however, she is eligible to try again in 2020, at age 65.
Downs has always maintained that a mysterious stranger shot her three young children and that she is innocent.
Evidence during Downs' trial showed one child was actually shot outside Downs' car and that Downs shot herself in the arm to try to cover up the crime.
Downs got pregnant just before her trial, delivered that baby in prison and the child was put up for adoption. That baby, Becky Babcock is now grown and spoke out for the first time on ABC's 20/20.
On May 19, 1983, Downs shot her three children and drove them in a blood-spattered car to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. Upon arrival, Cheryl (aged 7) was already dead, Danny (aged 3) was paralyzed from the waist down, and Christie (aged 8) had suffered a disabling stroke.
Downs herself had been shot in the left forearm. She claimed she was carjacked on a rural road near Springfield, Oregon, by a bushy-haired strange man who shot her and the children.
However, investigators and hospital workers became suspicious because they decided her manner was too calm for a person who had experienced such a traumatic event. She also made a number of statements that both police and hospital workers considered highly inappropriate.
Suspicions heightened when Downs, upon arrival at the hospital to visit her children, phoned Robert Knickerbocker (Ryan O'Neal in the movie), a married man and former coworker at the Post Office in Arizona with whom she had been having an extramarital affair. Theories are that she wanted to get rid of her children so she could be with "Nick" who didn't want children.
The forensic evidence did not match her story; there was no blood spatter on the driver's side of the car, nor was there any gunpowder residue on the driver's door or on the interior door panel. Knickerbocker also reported to police that Downs had stalked him and seemed willing to kill his wife if it meant that she could have him to herself; he stated that he was relieved that she had left for Oregon and that he was able to reconcile with his wife.
Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal as Diane and Nick
Much of the case against her rested on the testimony of her surviving daughter, Christie, who, once she recovered her ability to speak, described how her mother shot all three children while parked at the side of the road and then shot herself in the arm. Christie was eight years old at the time of the murder and nine years old at the time of the trial.
Downs was convicted on all charges on June 17, 1984, and sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years. She would have to serve twenty-five years before being considered for parole. Psychiatrists diagnosed her with malignant narcissistic, histrionic and antisocial personality disorders.
Most of her sentence is being served consecutively. The judge made it clear that he did not intend for Downs to ever be free again.