It’s May 19th, 1983, just eight days after Mother’s Day.
Diane Downs, 27, arrives at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in a blood-spattered car. Sitting in the backseat are her three young children: Christie, 8, Cheryl, 7, and Danny, 3, all shot close-range. Cheryl is dead on arrival, but Christie and Danny are still hanging on. Downs herself has been shot once in her left forearm.
Hospital workers rush to stabilize the two children. Christie has been shot twice in the chest, Danny once in the back. Thanks to the swift work by doctors, nurses, and EMTs, the lives of Christie and Danny were saved, but not without complications. Danny is paralyzed from the neck down, and Christie has suffered a stroke.
Police arrive on the scene, Detective Doug Welch’s first homicide case. Initially, Downs claims that a “bushy-haired stranger” attempted to carjack her. She asserts that this man flagged her down and that she stopped to find out why.
“What’s the problem?” Downs asks, turning the ignition off. “Hungry Like The Wolf” plays on the radio.
“I want your car,” he says, brandishing a .22 caliber pistol.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Downs replies, seemingly unfazed.
It was then, Downs claims, that the man pushed her aside, pointed the pistol at her children, and fired.
Her keys in hand, Downs decided to fake-throw her keys towards a nearby field. She asserts that this bushy-haired stranger had “swung himself around and fired twice.” One shot catching her left forearm, the other “went off somewhere.” Downs then pushed him away, jumped in her car, and sped off towards the hospital.
“Danny cried the whole way. I could hear him just softly moaning. And Christie was … dying. God, all the blood. All the pain.”
Police are immediately suspicious of Downs’ story. While her two young children’s lives are in the balance, Downs is emotionally flat, detached. She is far too calm for someone who has just gone through such a traumatic event. The middle child is dead, the youngest is paralyzed from the neck down, and the oldest has suffered a stroke and is unable to speak. You’d think that the mother who has just witnessed this savage shooting would be a little more hysterical.
Not Diane Downs.
When asked about her being shot in the arm, Downs replies, “Everybody says, ‘you sure were lucky.’ Well, I don’t feel very lucky. I couldn’t tie my damn shoes for about two months.”
It doesn’t take very long for investigators to put the pieces together. The forensic evidence just doesn’t match Downs’ questionable story, and her behavior screams of narcissism. To police, she appears to be more concerned about how she looked on television than about her children’s safety and well-being.
On February 28th, 1984, just nine months after the shooting, Diane Downs is arrested and charged with one count of murder and two counts each of attempted murder and criminal assault.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Downs shot her children to be free of them so she could continue her affair with Robert Knickerbocker, a married man and former co-worker. But much of the prosecution’s case depended on the testimony of Christie, who had recently regained her ability to speak.
“Do you know who shot Cheryl?” prosecutor Fred Hugi asks Christie.
“Yes,” Christie quietly replies.
“Who?” Hugi presses, struggling to keep his own composure.
The trial lasted six weeks. On June 17th, 1984, Downs is convicted on all charges and sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years. The surviving children were eventually adopted by the lead prosecutor, Hugi and his wife, Joanne, in 1986.