“Diane is the kind of woman who slit your throat then have a peaceful lunch next to your dead body. She wouldn’t even think twice about it or feel a touch of remorse,” Doug Welch, a Lane County detective, told Inside Edition back in 1989.
And for those of you who aren’t familiar with Diane Downs, this statement is right on the money. The woman was incredibly cruel and nothing shy of evil; the crimes she committed were something out of a gruesome horror novel. She attempted to kill all three of her children in order to be with a lover who didn’t like children. They were “obstacles” that were in the way preventing her from being with the man of her dreams. And what do you do with obstacles? Well, you remove them from your path. And in the case of Diane Downs, her children paid the price of “being in the way.”
Of course, there are those, including Diane Downs herself, who argue that she had nothing to do with the death of one of her children as well as the attempted murders on her other children. Despite compelling evidence, Diane maintains her innocence. In light of a documentary releasing soon regarding the woman, we decided to explore both her and her crimes in depth.
Diane Downs, the hopeful mother
Diane Downs seemed like the perfect candidate to be a mother. It was something that she always wanted out of life. She told Inside Edition in 1989 in its first ever episode, that she “wanted nothing more than to have children and to be the perfect mother to them.” Chilling words considering what she actually did to them.
In 1973, Diane married Steve Downs. She was only 17 at the time, but the couple was very much in love. “It felt right; we loved each other unconditionally. This was meant to be,” she said. It wasn’t long before Diane became pregnant either. She was thrilled, but Steve was anything but when she told him that she was pregnant.
In her interview, Diane confessed that Steve was extremely bitter about her pregnancy. “I wasn’t allowed to get pregnant and I did without permission,” Diane lamented. “I’m not going to say that I was forbidden by Steve to get pregnant, but I didn’t consult him first. I wanted children so I decided to get pregnant without seeking his permission first. I knew it would upset him, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to be a mother so badly.”
Even though Steve seemed like anything less than the model parent, he argued that it was actually Diane who was the bad parent. He told Inside Edition that Diane was horrible and that she treated the kids like complete garbage. He told Inside Edition that he had always been fair and living to the children; something that Diane wasn’t. “I was good father to the kids. They loved me. They lived in fear of Diane, but they loved being around me.”
During this time, Diane and Steve were parents to Christie and Cheryl. Steve was confident that this was as big as his family would get. For Diane, she wanted more. She’d always dreamed of a big family. “Once again, I took it upon myself to get pregnant without Steve’s permission. I knew he’d be mad, but I wanted one more child. And since he was careful around me because of Christine and Cheryl, I had to get pregnant by someone else.” When Steve found out Diane was pregnant with Danny, who was actually the result of Diane’s affair, Steve was done. He divorced Diane shortly after the birth of Danny.
The divorce rocked Diane hard, but she had her family to help her get through the tough times. She started working as a letter carrier for the local post office. Here, she met and began a relationship with Robert Knickerbocker. Robert was married at the time and was Diane’s co-worker. But as they say, love finds a way.
According to Diane, Robert was not a family man. He despised children and Diane had not one but three of them. If she was to be with Robert, then the kids couldn’t be in the picture. Prosecutors said, “she was desperate to have Robert in her life; so desperate that she decided to off her own children.”
The children were no longer seen as bundles of joy that Diane had wanted for all of her life; instead, they became burdens or “obstacles” that separated her from Robert Knickerbocker. There was no way he’d ever be with her as long as she had the children.
However, Robert maintains that the two did not have a relationship. He insisted that Diane was stalking him, sending him letters all the time, which he either mailed back or threw away. “I didn’t open any of them,” he told authorities. Diane said, however, that Robert had told her that he was leaving his wife for her and that they would be together forever.
Something out of a horror movie
May 19, 1983: Diane Downs took herself and her three young children to Springfield, Oregon’s emergency room. All four of them had suffered gunshot wounds courtesy of a “bushy-haired man” who had attempted to car jack her on an empty stretch of road. Downs claimed she was lucky to escape with just a gunshot wound to the arm, but her children weren’t as lucky. The perp had shot her children indiscriminately as well. Upon arriving, Cheryl, who was the middle child and only 7 at the time, was dead. The other two, Christie was 8 and Danny who was just 3, were barely clinging to life.
When Diane showed up at the hospital with her three children in tote, the scene looked like something out of a horror movie. One child was already dead, and the others were barely alive. Diane had also been shot and her arm was bleeding profusely. Everybody was in a state of panic and medical staff rushed to save the remaining children’s lives as well as to tend to Diane’s wounds.
However as police and the world would later come to find out, the events that transpired were much, much worse.
Luckily, Christie survived the incident. She was asked to testify in court against her mother. It was her testimony that would ultimately seal the deal so to speak and land Diane behind bars.
Christine told a much different story than Diane had. She alleged that they were driving as a family down a desolate road. At some point, Diane simply pulled over and stopped the car. The children were incredibly confused. Diane then got out of the car and made her way to the trunk. She reached in and grabbed a gun. Christie said that they couldn’t see what Diane got out of the trunk originally, but they quickly learned. Diane made her way to the backseat where she stuck the gun inside the window and shot the children. Christie doesn’t remember her mother shooting herself because they were all in a state of panic, but authorities believe that Diane shot herself in the arm shortly after she shot the children.
Things felt “off” at the hospital for authorizes and medical staff
When Diane arrived at the hospital with her children, authorities and medical staff both felt like something was really off. For starters, Diane was extremely calm; especially given her story of how someone tried to carjack her. “She should have been a state of panic, especially since one of her children was dead and the other two were barely alive. You’d expect someone to be a complete mess given her alibi. However, she was eerily calm and detached from the whole thing.” This prompted authorities to attempt to dig a little deeper.
When investigators began questioning Diane, her story changed. At first, Diane told authorities that the man was a stranger. She later said that the man called her by name. Despite the clear evidence that her story changed drastically, she denied that she had ever changed her account. Obviously, this was a huge red flag for authorities.
In addition to the faulty story, the investigators noted that things were “missing” such as physical clues. For starters, there wasn’t a blood spatter on the exterior or interior of the car on the driver’s side. If she had been shot during an attempted car jacking, then there were would definitely be blood in these areas.
There was no other evidence to support her story either. No foreign handprints, etc. What police did find, however, was a .22 caliber pistol in Downs’s possession. This was the same model used to shoot the kids. Both Steve and Robert told authorities that Diane indeed owned the gun in question. Diane, however, neglected to disclose this information to investigators.
“From the moment this began, it was nothing but wrong,” Doug Welch said. “This woman had little to no concern about the welfare of her children. She was cold, detached, and it was clear that she was preoccupied with other things. When your children’s lives are in danger and you’ve just been shot yourself, you aren’t thinking of anything else other than what’s going on in that present moment.”
Due to compelling evidence and her shoddy story, Downs was arrested. She was charged with both murder and attempted murder. After all, one of the children had lost their lives at Diane’s hand. Investigators theorized that Diane wanted to be rid of her kids so that she could be with Robert Knickerbocker. “The only way she could do this as far as she was concerned was to kill them,” said authorities.
When Diane was arrested, she was actually pregnant. The child wasn’t Steve’s or Robert’s. This child however was spared the cruelty of having Diane for a mother and was put up for adoption.
Authorities and the press accused Diane of getting pregnant in an effort to manipulate the public’s opinion. “If she was pregnant, people would look at her differently. They would say, ‘how can a woman who loves being a mother and loves kids so much do this to her children?’,” Jaegar said to 20/20.
Diane of course disputes this.
“I didn’t get pregnant for anyone but myself. I love children and I missed my children so much. I will never see Cheryl again for as long as I live. And I know you can’t replace kids, but you can replicate the effects that they have on you. Kids bring joy to their parents’ lives. They give stability, love, satisfaction, and a reason to both live and be happy. That’s gone. It was taken from me, but children are easy to conceive.”
Diane is sentenced to life in prison
In 1984, Diane was convicted of her crimes and she was sentenced to life in prison. She remains there still to this day and will be there for the rest of her life.
However, Diane didn’t stay in prison for long. Just three years after being put behind bars, the mother made her escape. She climbed the barbed wire fencing and was on the run. She later told authorities and curious press members that she was “looking for the bushy-haired stranger.” She was found just eleven days after her escape. Police found her hiding in the home of the husband of a cellmate.
Inside Edition questioned her about her escape in 1989. She told them, “I wanted revenge so badly for what he’s done to me and my family. I want to kill him. I want to do obscene, horrible things to his body. He ruined my life and the lives of my children. It’s not fair that he gets to live!”
Steve never believed that there was a “bushy-haired man” and that this is all just a ploy to get the world to feel sorry for her. “There are so many people that she destroyed and she doesn’t feel one ounce of regret for it,” Steve told Inside Edition. “She doesn’t regret any of this! She destroyed our children. She ruined them! I don’t think she understands the gravity of her crimes and I don’t think she will ever come to grips with what she’s done. Those three children were innocent and she wrecked them. Completely wrecked them. There’s no recovering for that.”
Upcoming documentary on Diane Downs
Despite overwhelming evidence and her conviction, Downs continues to maintain her innocence to this day. Her story will appear on this week’s 20/20, an ABC original. You can catch the documentary at 9 p.m. eastern time on Friday, March 22, 2019. The documentary promises new material and will headline Diane’s plea of innocence.
“Everyone accuses me of being guilty of murdering my children. They ask why I haven’t shown any remorse but what would it matter? I could sit in here and cry all day and lament but that proves nothing. People are still going to think that I did it. And I can’t just be who I’m not; I can’t be anyone other than myself. And it’s just not me to sit here and cry,” Diane said back in 1989.
“Nobody has to believe me. I know I’m innocent and I can sit here with a clear, free conscience knowing I didn’t shoot my children.” Her sentiment two decades later still hasn’t changed; she still maintains that she’s innocent. And she’s hoping that this documentary will help persuade people.
What are your thoughts?
For starters, we want to know whether or not you think Diane Downs is innocent or guilty. Do you believe she killed her kids or that there was a bushy-haired stranger responsible? Why or why not? We also want to know whether or not you’ll be watching the documentary on her. Let us know in the comment section below!