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Diane Downs
Born August 7, 1955 (1955-08-07) (age 54)
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Charge(s) murder
attempted murder
Penalty Life imprisonment
plus 50 years
Status prison
Children Christie, Cheryl, Stephen (Danny)

Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs (born August 7, 1955) is an American convicted murderer.[1] She shot her three children, killing one, and then told police a stranger had attempted to carjack her and shot the children. After her conviction in 1984, she was sentenced to life in prison. She briefly escaped in 1987 and was re-captured. Downs is the subject of a book by Ann Rule and a made for TV movie. She was denied parole in December 2008.[2]


Early life

Elizabeth Diane Frederickson was born in Phoenix, Arizona, to Wes and Willadene Frederickson on August 7, 1955.[3] She claimed her father molested her when she was a child.[3] She graduated from Moon Valley High School in Phoenix where she met her husband Steve Downs.[3] After high school she enrolled at Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College in Orange, California, but after a year, she was expelled for promiscuity and returned to her parents’ home.[3] On November 13, 1973, she married Steve Downs.[3] They were divorced in 1980, about a year after the birth of Danny Downs.[4]


On May 19, 1983, Downs shot her three children: Stephen Daniel Downs (born December 29, 1979, age 3), Cheryl Lynn Downs (born January 10, 1976, age 7) and Christie Ann Downs (born October 7, 1974, age 8). Downs claimed she was carjacked on a rural road near Springfield, Oregon, by a strange man who shot her and her three children. Investigators, however, became suspicious when they noticed her manner was too calm to have experienced such a traumatic event.

Their suspicions heightened when Downs went to see Christie for the first time; Christie's eyes glazed over with fear and her heart rate jumped. They also discovered that she called a man in Arizona named Robert Knickerbocker immediately upon arriving at the hospital, a man with whom she had been having an affair. Author Ann Rule gave Knickerbocker the pseudonym of Lew Lewiston.[5] The forensic evidence did not match Downs' story; there was no blood on the driver's side of the car, nor was there any gunpowder residue on the driver's panel. Downs did not tell police she owned a .22 caliber handgun, but both Danny Downs and Knickerbocker said she did own one.

Investigators later discoverd she had bought the handgun in Arizona, and found unfired casings that had been worked through the same gun that shot the children, although they were unable to find the actual weapon. Most damaging, witnesses saw Downs' car being driven very slowly toward the hospital. Based on this and other evidence, Downs was arrested nine months after the event, on February 28, 1984, and charged with murder, attempted murder and criminal assault.[6]



Prosecutors argued that Downs shot her children to be free of them so that she could continue her affair with "Lewiston", who had let it be known he did not want children in his life. Much of the case against Downs rested on the testimony of surviving daughter Christie Downs who described how her mother shot all three children while parked at the side of the road, then shot herself in the arm.

Downs was found guilty on all charges on June 17, 1984, and was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years. Most of the sentence is to be served consecutively. The judge made it clear that he did not wish Downs ever to regain her freedom.[7]


The surviving children eventually went to live with one of the prosecutors of the case, Fred Hugi. He and his wife Joanne adopted them in 1984.[7] The youngest child, Danny, was left a paraplegic as a result of the shooting. His older sister Christie has permanent partial paralysis on one side of her body.[8]

Downs escaped from the Oregon Women's Correctional Center on July 11, 1987, and was recaptured in Salem, Oregon on July 21.[1] She received a 5-year sentence for the escape.

In 1994, after serving ten years, Downs was transferred to the California State Prison system.[8] While in prison, Downs has earned an associate's college degree in general studies.[8]

Parole hearing

In her application for parole, Downs reaffirmed her innocence: "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."[8] Downs' first parole hearing was on December 9, 2008.[8] Lane County District Attorney Douglas Harcleroad wrote to the parole board: "Downs continues to fail to demonstrate any honest insight into her criminal behavior ... Even after her convictions, she continues to fabricate new versions of events under which the crimes occurred."[8] She alternately refers to her assailants as a "bushy-haired stranger", two men wearing ski masks, or drug dealers and corrupt law enforcement officials.[8]

Downs participated in the hearing from the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California.[8] She was not permitted a statement, but answered questions from the parole board.[8] After 3 hours of interviews and 30 minutes of deliberation, Diane Downs was denied parole.[9] Downs will be eligible to reapply for parole in 2010.[8]

Author Ann Rule wrote the book Small Sacrifices in 1987, detailing the life of Downs.[10] A made for TV movie called Small Sacrifices, starring Farrah Fawcett as Downs, was released in 1989.


  1. ^ a b Painter, John Jr. "The 1980s". The Sunday Oregonian. December 31, 1989.
  2. ^ "Downs is denied parole"
  3. ^ a b c d e Geringer, Joseph. Diane Downs: Her Children Got in the Way of Her Love. truTV. Retrieved on March 5, 2009.
  4. ^ "Diane Downs: Her Children Got in the Way of Her Love". The Crime Library. p. 3. Retrieved 2009-11-30.  
  5. ^ Baker, Mark (2008-05-19). "Diane Downs". The Register-Guard: p. A1.  
  6. ^ "Diane Downs: Her Children Got in the Way of Her Love". The Crime Library. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-11-30.  
  7. ^ a b "Ann Rules Newsletter". p. 3.  
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Diane Downs maintains innocence as parole hearing looms". KGW-TV. 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2008-12-03.  
  9. ^ Mungeam, Frank; Anne Yeager (2008-12-09). "Diane Downs denied parole by board". KGW-TV. Retrieved 2009-03-09.  
  10. ^ Tims, Dana. "Murderer’s libel suit dismissed". The Oregonian. January 18, 1988.

Further reading

  • Rule, Ann. Small Sacrifices. New York: Signet, 1987. ISBN-0-451-166660-4


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