They say, parents are your guardian angels, but what happens if one of them turns into a monster? While motherhood remains a gift to embrace, there is one mother who attempted to end her children’s life at a young age. Such is the story of the then-three-year-old survivor Christie Downs, who survived the brutal gunshots by her own mother Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs.
Who Is Diane Downs?
Before I start to narrate this horrific tale, it is necessary to know the background of the monstrous mother who tried claiming the lives of her three children. Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs became one of the most infamous murderers of the 1980s after shooting her three children, killing one of them, along a roadway in Springfield, Oregon.
Daine was born in Pheonix, Arizona to parents Wesley Linden and Willadene (Engle) Frederickson. She underwent sexual abuse at the hands of her father at the age of 12. After graduating from Moon Valley High School in Phoenix, she married her high-school sweetheart Steve Downs.
Diane was expelled from her college in California after one year for promiscuous behaviour and returned to her parents’ home in Arizona. Daine married Steve Downs in 1973 and gave birth to Christie Ann the following year. However, they divorced in 1980 following Diane’s child Danny from an extramarital affair. In 1982, Diane again gave birth to a daughter named Jennifer before relinquishing her parental rights.
Diane worked at the United States Postal Service and was assigned to the mail routes in Cottage Grove, Oregon. Christie was only five when her parents divorced in 1980. Things took a horrific turn when Diane Downs attempted to murder Christie and her siblings because her new boyfriend did not want children.
Diane’s Version Of The Crime…
Diane Downs showed signs of neglect when she listed Christie to watch over her siblings so she could go on and find a new partner. While Diane Downs had a traumatizing childhood, she escaped the clutches of her abusive father and married her high school sweetheart, and gave birth to three healthy children.
However, little did these children know, what their mother was capable of. When Diane found a new partner, Robert Knickerbocker after her divorce from Steve, it came out that the man had zero interest in “being a daddy” and even he broke things off with Diane. Therefore, Diane responded by doing something that is unimaginable as a parent.
While Diane Downs had a traumatizing childhood of her own, she escaped the abusive clutches of her father to start a new life. She not only married her high school sweetheart but had three healthy children: Christie Downs, Cheryl Lynn Downs, and Stephen “Danny” Downs.
Diane Downs’ children then began to suffer neglect as their mother started going out in hopes of finding a new partner. Eventually, the man she found, Robert Knickerbocker, had no interest in “being a daddy” and broke things off. So, on May 19, 1983, Diane Downs responded by attempting to kill her own children. She then told police that a “bushy-haired stranger” had shot them during a failed carjacking.
Diane Downs’ children each suffered different fates, all of them tragic. Seven-year-old Cheryl Downs died at the hospital. Three-year-old Danny Downs was paralyzed from the waist down. And Christie Downs was left temporarily unable to speak after a stroke. But once she regained her voice, she used it to identify her ruthless mother as the shooter.
In 1983, horror stuck in Oregon as Diane took it upon herself to end the lives of her children. On May 19, 1982, she shot her three children and drove them in a blood-spattered car to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield, Oregon. Downs herself had been shot in the left forearm. She claimed that she was carjacked on a rural road near Springfield by a strange man who shot her and the children
Upon arrival, Cheryl (7) was already dead, but, miraculously Christie and Danny survived the brutal crime, only to narrate the true side of the story. From their wounds, Christie suffered a stroke that left her with a speech impairment, and Danny got paralyzed from the waist down.
Famed true-crime author, Ann Rule, provided an update on them by writing on her now defunct website: “Christie and Danny–who somehow survived their gunshot wounds–have no contact with Diane. They have both graduated from college. Christie is married and had a baby boy in 2005. Danny, a computer whiz, is still partially paralyzed from the bullet in his back, but he is living a happy and normal life. They have grown up in a very happy home with the Hugis.”
Diane’s Trial Begins…
Christie later revealed that god saved her to narrate the horrific crime of her mother. Much of the case rested on the testimony of Diane’s surviving daughter, Christie, who recovered and was able to speak, and described how her own mother shot all three children while parked at the side of the road and deliberately shot herself in the arm.
Prosecutors argued that Diane shot her children to get rid of them. In 1984, she was convicted on all charges, and sentenced to life in prison for fifteen years. In addition to this, she was required to serve twenty-five years before being considered for parole.
The judge made his intentions clear that Diane should remain in prison. Later, psychologists diagnosed her with histrionic, narcissistic, and antisocial personality disorders and she was labelled as a “deviant sociopath”.
Where Is Christie Downs?
“When I looked at Christie, I believed she was dead,” McKenzie-Williamette Medical Center’s Dr Steven Wilhite previously spoke in an interview with ABC. “She had dilated pupils.” Her blood pressure was either zero or extremely low. She was all white… She had stopped breathing. It’s incomprehensible that she’s that close to death.”
Hugi, who was the prosecutor, in this case, adopted both Christie and Danny. This was an act of kindness as he and his wife never had any children of their own. On the other hand, Fred was moved by Danny and Christy’s story, and he made a point to see them frequently while they were in the hospital. Therefore, he made the decision to incorporate them into his own family.
Christie, who miraculously survived the gunshots and became a prime witness against her mother, is now 48 years old. She attended the University of Oregon and lived in the town with her husband and children. Her firstborn son was born in 2005. Christie named her daughter Cheryl after her deceased sister. Diane Downs and Christie have not maintained any form of communication since then.
Famed true-crime author, Ann Rule previously wrote on her now-defunct website: “Christie and Danny–who somehow survived their gunshot wounds–have no contact with Diane. They have both graduated from college. Christie is married and had a baby boy in 2005. Danny, a computer whiz, is still partially paralyzed from the bullet in his back, but he is living a happy and normal life. They have grown up in a very happy home with the Hugis.”
The remaining two children chose a life away from the spotlight which only brought more horrors to them, considering what happened in the past. Both, Danny and Christie have continued to live a price life since then.
Is Diane Still Alive?
Diane is a woman who never deserved to bear children. However, to everyone’s surprise, Downs also acted as a surrogate during her fourth pregnancy, giving birth to a daughter after her trial in 1984. Critics said she deliberately became pregnant in order to garner sympathy from the jury.
Diane is very much alive and is currently serving a life sentence plus 50 years in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, California. She’s been in jail since 1993. Previously, she was incarcerated in a women’s maximum-security prison in Clinton, New Jersey.
And guess what? Diane tried escaping from Oregon Women’s Correctional Centre, where she climbed the prison’s chain link fence on July 11, 1987, when guards were distracted. She made her way to the house of Wayne Seifer, whose wife was also a prisoner. However, she was caught after 10 days of a police hunt.
Diane grabbed a BB pistol and attempted to stage a police suicide but eventually gave up and left peacefully. Diane was sentenced to an additional five years in prison, while Wayne was sentenced to five years probation and six months at a restitution facility in Salem, Oregon.
She’s been called “evil” and “the devil.” A mother of three, in love with a married man, who did the unthinkable. Now, as Diane Downs comes up for parole next year, her daughter speaks out. See you at 9pm for our encore presentation of #MyMomsSins #ABC2020! pic.twitter.com/HWkkwT86pF
— 20/20 (@ABC2020) June 21, 2019
Despite her horrific crime, Diane has always said that she is not guilty, and she has stated on multiple occasions that she continues to adore and worry about her kids. This case was hugely covered by ABC’s ’20/20′.
Author Ann Rule wrote a book “Small Sacrifices” in 1987 about Downs’ life and murder trial. The book also includes an account of Christie, who questioned the quality of her parenting. Apart from this, a made-for-TV movie titled “Small Sacrifices” aired on ABC in 1989. Didn’t Diane deserve the death penalty for what she did?