Murderess Mommy: The Disturbing Case of Diane Downs

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Nobody wants to imagine that a mother can harm her own child. Parents are supposed to protect and care for their children and raise them with unconditional love. From the moment you bring a bundle of joy into the world, you don’t stop caring for them. Parents are always worried that something might happen to their precious child.

Diane Downs / Diane Downs, Oprah Winfrey / Christie Ann Downs, Danny Downs / Becky Babcock.
Source: YouTube

That’s why it always comes as a shock when you hear the horror stories about a mother murdering her own child. A mother is supposed to have natural compassion, and not loving her child goes against nature in so many ways. It makes no sense from biological, evolutional, and psychological standpoints. So, the big question is, what kind of psychotic mother is capable of committing such heinous crimes against her own babies.

This is the horrific story of Diane Downs.

Mommy Dearest

In 1984, Elizabeth Diane Downs was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted for the shooting and attempted murder of her three young children. One of them died after what she did. At the time this all took place, Downs told police that some guy attempted to carjack them and took out a gun. Of course, that was quickly proven to be a lie.

Diane Downs speaks during an interview.
Diane Downs. Source: YouTube

Downs managed to escape prison in 1987, and she was on the run for a brief time before getting recaptured. She deserves to rot and die in there.

Growing Up

Elizabeth Diane Frederickson was welcomed into the world on August 7, 1995, in Phoenix, Arizona, to her religious parents, Wes and Willadene Frederickson. She claims her father sexually assaulted her as a child, but that was never confirmed. Given her track record of lying, most people don’t believe her story.

A video still of Diane arriving at court.
Diane Downs. Source: ABC News

She attended Moon Valley High School in Phoenix, and that’s where she met her high school sweetheart and future husband, Steven Downs. She then attended Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College in Orange, California. But she got expelled for promiscuity and moved back to her parents’ home.

An Evil Mother

On November 13, 1973, she walked down the aisle with Steve Downs. They split up in 1980, but not before she had his babies. By all accounts from neighbors, acquaintances, and even friends and family, Diane Downs was an unfit mother who put everything before her children.

A family picture of Diane with her children.
Diane Downs with children. Source: ABC News

They noted that she was especially cruel to her daughter Cheryl. Shortly before her death, Cheryl reportedly told people that she was scared of her mother. Downs was creepily addicted to being pregnant, but we’ll get into all of that in just a moment.

Her Rebellious Phase Never Ended

As we mentioned, Diane grew up in a religious household but became a rebellious child when she was about 14. She even dropped “Elizabeth” from her name and decided the conservative life wasn’t for her. She dated Steve Downs despite her parents’ disapproval.

A portrait of Steve and Diane.
Steve Downs, Diane Downs. Source: YouTube

After they eloped, Diane’s extramarital affairs caused a strain on their marriage, so she left Steve and went back to her parents. But she was already pregnant by that point and gave birth to their first child, Christie Ann, in 1974.

More Babies

They welcomed their second daughter, Cheryl Lynn, in 1976. Despite Steve’s vasectomy, Diane ended up pregnant once again, but she had an abortion. She and Steve started working at a mobile-home manufacturing company, and Downs was fooling around with some of her co-workers.

A Downs’ family portrait.
Downs’ Family. Source: YouTube

As a result, Diane got pregnant yet again. She gave birth to Stephen Daniel “Danny” Downs in December 1979. Steve was well-aware that he wasn’t the father, but he accepted the child anyway. By 1980, Steve and Diane had split up. After the divorce, she had countless affairs while trying to reconcile with Steve.

Addicted to Pregnancy

In order to bring in money, Diane decided to become a surrogate mother (which is so disturbing in retrospect). As it turned out, Diane didn’t qualify after failing two psychiatric exams. The test reports indicated that she was intelligent but also psychotic.

A still of Diane during an interview.
Source: YouTube

In 1981, Diane started working as a postal carrier for the United States Post Office. During that time, the children stayed with her parents, Steve, and Danny’s biological father, in rotation. Neighbors reported that Diane didn’t care for her children properly when they stayed with her.

Following Her Dreams

Despite failing two psychiatric exams that showed signs of being a psychopath, Diane got an offer to be a surrogate toward the end of that year. She gave birth to a baby through surrogacy on May 8, 1982. Soon enough, she wanted to make her passion a hobby and launch a surrogacy clinic. Thankfully, that venture failed.

Police escort Diane from the court.
Source: YouTube

During that time, Downs began a whirlwind affair with a married man named Robert “Nick” Knickerbocker. The more she nagged him to leave his wife, the more suffocated Nick felt, and he ended their relationship. Diane moved back to Oregon, but instead of getting over Nick, she became obsessed with him.

That Fateful Night

On the eerie night of May 19, 1983, Diane Downs arrived at an emergency room in Springfield, Oregon. Her three children, Christie, 8, Cheryl, 7, and Danny, 3, were all covered in blood in the back seat: they had been shot point-blank. Sadly, the doctors declared Cheryl dead at the scene, and the other two children were suffering from life-threatening injuries.

A photo of Diane at the hospital.
Diane Downs. Source: ABC News

Investigators were suspicious of Diane from the start. They immediately noticed she was way too calm for someone who had just gone through something so traumatic. But their suspicions increased when Diane went to see Christie in the hospital for the first time.

Red Flags

As soon as Christie saw her mother, the little girl looked terrified, and her heart rate jumped dramatically. They also realized that Diane called Nick, her married ex-lover, as soon as she got to the hospital. She seemed to be enjoying the attention.

A picture of Christie.
Christie Downs. Source: YouTube

When she was asked what happened that night, Downs told a story that was farfetched, to say the least. She explained that she was flagged by a man on the side of a dirt road while her children were sleeping in the car.

Her Ridiculous Story

She described a “shaggy-haired” man who demanded her car. When she refused, he shot her children. During the struggle, this man also shot her in the arm, but conveniently, her injuries weren’t serious at all.

An exterior shot of the car.
Source: ABC News

While her children were fighting for their lives in the hospital, Downs started giving a bunch of media interviews, telling weird stories, and maintaining her innocence. Unfortunately for Diane, her story didn’t add up. It was filled with unnecessary details that brought down the legitimacy of her statements and is common when people are lying.

Loving the Attention

She described that she was taking the kids to go sightseeing in the dark… while they were sleeping. This made no sense, and the police were on to her. There were so many red flags. When they got ahold of her journal, they discovered that she had been having an affair with a married man. Her lover did not want kids, which caused Diane to see them as a burden.

Diane smiles during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Little Christie suffered a stroke that impaired her ability to speak, but when she woke up, she managed to tell police what she remembered. Spoiler alert: It didn’t involve a “shaggy-haired” man.

Not a Single Tear

Let’s get one thing straight; although uncommon, it’s not impossible that a random dude would have shot her kids with absolutely no motive or personal gain. It was Diane’s disturbing behavior that raised red flags for the police.

A still of Diane speaking during an interview.
Source: YouTube

First of all, it was clear Diane loved the attention. Most people can’t put a sentence together after going through something so heartbreaking, let alone give interviews. She didn’t seem sad or even shed a tear for her poor babies. Doctors were shocked at her demeanor following the incident.

Her Terrifying Reaction

As you could imagine, doctors were not looking forward to telling Diane that Christie had a stroke and that Danny was going to be partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. But what they were dreading the most was breaking the news about Cheryl’s death.

A still of Diane arriving at the hospital.
Source: YouTube

Stunningly, Diane didn’t seem bothered by this horrifying news. The doctors explained that they were expecting waterworks. Sure, people react to trauma in different ways, but the hospital staff noted that there was something really unsettling about Diane’s reaction.

A Disturbing Reenactment

The most disturbing of all is a video you can find on YouTube. Just a few days after the incident, Diane is sitting in a car, acting out what happened to the police. Most people would be bawling their eyes while reenacting the most terrible night of their life.

A screengrab of the reenactment.
Diane Downs. Source: YouTube

However, Diane didn’t act like a mother who had just lost a child. In fact, she was joking around and laughing with police officers. The strange part is that she didn’t even pretend to care. Usually, psychopaths at least mimic real emotions, and that’s how they become so manipulative.

Her Stories Made No Sense

Evidently, the evidence didn’t match Diane’s story. There was no blood on the driver’s side of the car, nor was there any gun powder residue on the driver’s panel. Nick reported to the police that Diane was stalking him and seemed like she would go as far as to kill his wife if that meant she had him to herself.

A still of Diane during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Nick went on to say that he was relieved when Diane moved to Oregon, and he was able to work things out with his wife. Downs also didn’t tell police that she had a .22 caliber handgun. But her ex-husband and ex-lover confirmed that she did, in fact, own a gun.

Some Damning Evidence

Investigators eventually found out she had bought the handgun in Arizona. Although they couldn’t find the actual weapon, they did discover unfired castings in her house with extractor markings from the same gun that shot her kids. Things were not looking good for Diane, and evidence continued to pile up against her.

A photo of a hidden bullet.
Source: ABC News

The most damning evidence was Christie’s witness statement claiming their mother did this and then drove them to the hospital slowly (estimated speed of 5-7 mph). Thanks to Christie’s statement, police were able to arrest Downs in February 1984, nine months after the shooting. She was charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder and criminal assault.

And the Trial Begins

The prosecutors explained that Diane wanted to get rid of her children so she could continue her affair with Nick – who didn’t want kids. Although it sounds absurd, this was an easy one for the prosecution. There was just so much evidence against her. Oh, and by the way, Diane was eight months pregnant during her trial.

Interior shots of the car.
Source: YouTube

Once Christie recovered her ability to speak, she took the stand and told the terrifying story of how her mother shot all three of them and then shot herself in the arm. Christie was just eight when they were shot and nine during the trial. The poor girl went through so much before she even turned ten years old.

Guilty on All Charges

It didn’t take much to convince a jury. For a psychopath, Diane Downs was horrible at faking emotions and pretending to care. It was like she was asking for a jury to convict her. Of course, Diane was found guilty on all charges.

A mugshot of Diane Downs.
Diane Downs. Source: YouTube

Psychiatrists diagnosed her with narcissistic, histrionic, and antisocial personality disorder, but an insanity defense wouldn’t get her out of this one. She was sentenced to life plus 50 years in prison. The judge made it clear that he hoped Diane Downs will never regain her freedom and see the light of day.

Where Are Diane Downs’ Kids Today?

The two surviving children were taken in by Fred Hugi, the prosecutor of the case. He and his wife Joanne officially adopted them in 1984. As we mentioned, Diane was pregnant with her fourth child in court. She had her baby in jail a month after her trial ended. She named her daughter Amy.

Becky Babcock speaks during an interview.
Becky Babcock. Source: ABC News

Ten days before her sentencing, the baby was seized by the State of Oregon. Soon after, she was adopted by a loving family and was renamed Rebecca “Becky” Babcock. She grew up not knowing who her birth mother was, but she was always curious.

She Escaped Her High-Security Prison

Even while she was locked up, Diane couldn’t stay out of trouble. On July 11, 1987, the convicted child killer escaped the Oregon Women’s Correctional Center of the Oregon Department of Corrections. It didn’t take long for police to recapture her in Oregon on June 21.

A photo of a barbed-wire fence.
Photo by Jenna Ardell/Getty Images

She was sentenced to an additional five years in prison for the jailbreak, to be served simultaneously with her current sentences. That sounds like a small punishment for a big crime. She would be eligible for parole in 25 years… which is a scary thought.

Parole Hearing

After 25 years, it was time for the parole consideration for Diane. Diane Downs is considered a dangerous offender, and under Oregon law, that means she will be eligible for a parole hearing every two years until she’s released or dies behind bars.

A screengrab of Diane at her parole hearing.
Diane Downs. Source: YouTube

In her first parole application, the murderous mother reaffirmed her innocence. “Over the years,” she explained, “I have told you and the rest of the world that a man shot me and my children. I have never changed my story.” She probably should change her story because, clearly, this one’s not working for her.

Parole DENIED!

Diane’s first parole hearing was in December 2008. 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.”

A mugshot of Diane Downs.
Diane Downs. Source: YouTube

Diane alternately refers to her attacker as a “bushy-haired stranger,” two men wearing ski masks or drug dealers. I guess she can’t keep her story straight. It’s just insane that she continues to lie. Literally nobody believes her.

Ten More Years

Downs participated in the hearing. She was not allowed to give a statement, but she answered some questions from the parole board. After three hours of interviews and a half-hour of deliberation, Diane Downs was denied parole. She was eligible to reapply in 2010.

A still of Diane during the parole hearing.
Diane Downs. Source: YouTube

Diane Downs faced her second parole hearing in December 2010. As you could imagine, she was denied again. Under a new law, Diane would not be eligible for parole. This means she needed to wait until 2020. That was a bad year for everyone, and Diane Downs was certainly no exception.

Is Diane Downs Still Alive?

Diane spoke to OregonLive about coronavirus sweeping through her jail. Her next parole hearing was scheduled for 2021, but I couldn’t find any information about it. Either it got pushed off again, or more likely, she was denied parole once again. Let’s hope the 65-year-old dies in there.

A close-up of Becky’s facial expression.
Becky Babcock. Source: YouTube

Diane’s fourth child, Becky, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010 and shared her heartbreaking story. She also did an interview with 20/20 detailing her life’s downward spiral after she found out who her birth mother is.

Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule

True crime author Ann Rule, known for her book The Stranger Beside Me (about serial killer Ted Bundy), wrote Small Sacrifices in 1987, a story detailing the life of Diane Downs. Small Sacrifices was turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1989, with Farrah Fawcett starring as Downs.

A portrait of Ann Rule.
Ann Rule. Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Ann Rule and Diane Downs appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. People continue to be shocked by this unbelievable story. Diane still maintains her innocence despite the clear evidence that she is lying. It seems like the pathological liar may actually believe her false stories.

What Happened to Becky?

As for Becky, she grew up in a happy home, but the crimes of her mother still haunted her. When she was about 11, Becky tricked her babysitter into telling her the name of her biological mother: Diane Downs. This life-changing revelation took Becky on her own crazy journey.

A photo of Becky during an interview.
Becky Babcock. Source: YouTube

She now says, “The impact of Diane Downs being my mom has altered the course of my life so many times. But I’m on track and really happy with the way life is.” It’s nice to know she is doing well now, but she went through a lot to achieve that happiness.

Curiosity Killed the Cat

Growing up, Becky’s adoptive mother, Jackie Babcock, tried to calm her daughter’s curiosity about her adoption, so she gave her “little bits of information.” However, the questions kept coming. Eventually, Jackie stopped answering her questions, knowing the truth would be too much for a little kid to handle.

A portrait of Becky at home / A mugshot of Diane Downs.
Becky Babcock, Diane Downs. Source: Pinterest / YouTube

But Becky said that before the answers stopped, Jackie told her that there was a book written about her biological mother. Days after she secretly got the name from her babysitter, Becky headed to a bookstore.

A Shocking Revelation

Becky didn’t know what to expect when she opened the book. She explained that when she looked at the pictures, “I saw who she was and what she looked like,” but it didn’t satisfy her. “It wasn’t a face I wanted to see… just the cold look in her eyes scared me.”

Becky speaks during an interview.
Becky Babcock. Source: ABC News

She added, “The reality set in that that’s who gave birth to me… I slammed the book shut and left.” Becky said that she didn’t tell her parents what she had discovered. Over the years, she heard a few more details about her biological mother, but it wasn’t until she was 16 that it really affected her.

The Night Becky Lost Her Innocence

The teenager was at her boyfriend’s house, and the pair decided to watch a two-part miniseries based on a book. She said that she told him a few things about her mother, and without Becky’s knowledge, he decided to rent the tape.

A still of Diane Downs exiting the court.
Source: YouTube

Becky explained that watching the movie broke her heart and her life went into a “downward spiral.” She said, “it was gut-wrenching. It changed me… my innocence was gone.” She couldn’t cope with the fact that this was the person who made her.

A Difficult Time

Becky explained that she started taking drugs and dropped out of school. Like her birth mother, Becky began dating multiple men and got pregnant as a teen. She also told 20/20 that her relationship with her adopted mother started to deteriorate during that time.

A still of Becky during an interview.
Becky Babcock. Source: YouTube

“It was very scary to have any relation to that woman… that’s what really scared me… to feel any sort of connection to such a monster. A part of me was afraid that that’s where I came from. Does that mean that’s where I’m going?”

Reaching Out to Diane

When she was 17, Becky got pregnant with her first son. She got pregnant again at 21, but her relationship with her baby daddy ended before she gave birth. After she was forced to move into a homeless shelter, Becky made the tough (but wise) decision to give the second child up for adoption.

A picture of Diane Downs.
Source: YouTube

Becky explained that giving up that baby for adoption made her decide to reach out to Diane in jail: “I wanted her to be a person. I wanted to relate to her not as a mother because I had a mother. Just as somebody who was heartbroken to give up her child.” She added that she hopes to have a connection.

Not Her Mother

They exchanged several letters, but then Becky said they kept getting stranger. “That’s when I completely regretted messaging… she sent, you know, 12 pages of how she’s innocent, and ‘this is who really did it,’ she thinks,” Becky said.

A still of Diane Downs during an interview.
Source: YouTube

“I had to accept that she really does struggle mentally. She really did have something wrong with her. And it doesn’t mean that I do too.” Thankfully, she came out stronger on the other side, saying, “When I was young, I worried that I would be like Diane Downs. As I grew up, I realized nature is not gonna win over nurture.”

Ready for My Close Up

After her arrest, Diane still wanted the spotlight on her. She appeared on Oprah via satellite from jail. Ann Rule – author of Small Sacrifices – was there with Oprah, and let’s just say Diane wasn’t very happy with the book and how she was portrayed in it.

A still of Oprah’s episode.
Source: YouTube

Even after her conviction, Diane continued to deny the truth. She maintains this “bushy-haired” man story. But don’t worry, Orpah asked Diane all the tough questions that she didn’t answer. She even called Diane out for telling the tragic story as if she were talking about a trip to the state fair.

Denying the Truth

The interview goes on with Diane bashing Anne Rule for her book, yet everything the prisoner said made absolutely no sense. She went on and on about how someone else did this to her children. Nobody believed a word of it, especially Oprah.

A still of Steve Downs speaking during an interview.
Steve Downs. Source: YouTube

When the talk-show host asked Diane why her own daughter Christie would say her mother did this, Diane had another excuse. She explained how the police coerced the young girl into testifying against her mother. According to Diane, Christie wanted to see her mom so badly, and police told her the only way she’d see her as if she told them what they wanted to hear.

Christie’s Confession

However, that’s not what happened at all. First off, we know Christie was terrified of her mother, considering her heart rate increased as soon as she saw her in the hospital. Second of all, the reason Christie didn’t speak at first was because of a stroke she that had impaired her hearing.

A picture of Christie before the crime.
Christie Downs. Source: YouTube

Once she recovered and began speaking, it took psychologists months to get the nine-year-old to trust them enough to tell them what she saw that traumatic night. Can you blame the poor girl for having trust issues? Diane says it’s because Christie knows Diane didn’t do it.

The Truth About Her Jail Break

Oprah went on to ask Diane about her jailbreak; I’m sure you’re wondering where she was for ten days. As it turns out, Diane went to her cell mate’s husband’s house. She claims the reason she left was to find the man who really did this to her children.

A photo of Diane Downs in a police bulletin.
Source: YouTube

But as you might have guessed, Oprah didn’t buy it. Ann Rule explained how she thinks Diane did this because she saw children as “replaceable.” That’s why she had an obsession with getting pregnant. Diane actually laughed and denied all those allegations.

The Perfect Time for Another Baby

So, Oprah asked why she got pregnant during her trial? It clearly wasn’t a good time to have another baby considering she was facing a lot of jail time. Diane knew it wasn’t the right time but decided to get pregnant anyway.

A picture of the children who survived.
Source: YouTube

Yeah, this wasn’t an accidental pregnancy. Diane told Oprah that she loved her kids, and at that time, she felt so alone. She wanted someone to love and someone to love her, which is incredibly selfish. Luckily, they got the child out of there and gave Becky a beautiful life – despite the lingering effects, her mother’s actions took an emotional toll on the young girl.

The Girl Next Door

Oprah concluded the interview by telling Diane that she looks like the girl next door, except she is a really bad person. Oprah called her out for all the sleeping around she did, cheating on her husband, putting men before her children, and then sleeping with her own cell mate’s husband!

A portrait of Diane.
Source: Pinterest

Diane’s defense was that they were going to get divorced and hadn’t seen/slept with each other in years. Oprah basically told her that it didn’t make it any better. Diane’s response to Oprah was, “well, the ‘girl next door’ does exactly what I did.” Does she mean they sleep around? Or that they try to kill their own children?