The True Story of Diane Downs: How a Mother Shot Her 3 Kids for Her Lover

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“Diane is the type of woman, I think, could cut your throat and then sit down and have lunch next to your body,” — Lane County Det. Doug Welch to Inside Edition in 1989

On May 19, 1983, Diane Downs drove herself and her three children to an emergency room in Springfield, Oregon, saying she had been shot by a “bushy-haired man" who had tried to steal her car on a desolate road that rainy evening.

Downs claimed the man had shot her three kids as well, Christie, 8; Cheryl, 7; and Danny, 3. Cheryl died upon arriving at the hospital, while the other two were clinging to life. Downs herself said she had been shot in the arm.

What is thought to have actually happened was much worse.

Both authorities and hospital employees felt Downs was too calm for someone who had just gone through something so horrific and her story changed as she was questioned by investigators. 

There were physical clues something was amiss as well. Investigators also said there was no blood splatter on the interior or exterior of the driver’s side, casting further doubt on Downs' account.

“From the beginning it was wrong,” then-Lane County Det. Doug Welch told Inside Edition in 1989. “Here was a woman who was completely apathetic about the welfare of her kids.

"She was just emotionally flat and preoccupied with something else."

Downs was eventually arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder in the shootings. Investigators said she wanted to get rid of them so she could be with her lover. She was convicted in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison, where she remains to this day.  

But Downs says she didn't do it. Her story will be featured on this week's episode of ABC’s “20/20,” airing Friday at 9 p.m. ET. Back in 1989, Downs spoke to Inside Edition for its first-ever episode, five years after she was sentenced to prison.

Mommy Dearest

Diane Downs always wanted to be a mom, she told Inside Edition in its first-ever episode in 1989.

She wed Steve Downs in 1973 when she was just 17 and the couple had two children together — Christie and Cheryl.

Diane claimed that Steve wasn't thrilled when she first told him she was expecting.

“I got pregnant when I wasn’t allowed to," Diane said. "I am not going to say he forbade me to get pregnant, but I didn’t consult him. I wanted to have children so I got pregnant without asking permission.”

But Steve told Inside Edition in 1989 that Diane was a terrible parent and treated the kids "like crap."

When Diane got pregnant with Danny, the result of an affair, that was the end for Steve. The pair divorced soon after his birth.

After their split, Diane, who worked as a letter carrier at the local post office, began an intimate relationship with her married former co-worker, Robert Knickerbocker.

According to Diane, Knickerbocker — who lived in Arizona, where Diane was original from, with his wife — didn’t like children. She had three of them. Desperate to be with Knickerbocker, prosecutors said, Diane tried to get rid of her own children. 

“This was a real obstacle as far as Diane was concerned, those kids were a burden, and there was no way, that she could see, she was going to get this guy up to Oregon as long as she had the kids,” Welch said. 

Building a Case 

Diane, according to investigators, became obsessed with Knickerbocker. She would write him letters every day, but they would be returned unopened. Knickerbocker, who Diane said had told her he was planning to leave his wife and move to Oregon, claimed she was stalking him.

As investigators learned about her relationship with Knickerbocker, Diane increasingly fell under suspicion in the shootings of her children. Meanwhile, Diane herself kept giving interviews about what had happened, always denying she had anything to do with it.

“The more she talked, and she talked a lot and frequently, the more she talked, the more things didn't make any sense. It was as if she thought that if she kept talking enough, that you would believe her,” Anne Bradley Jaeger, local reporter for ABC affiliate KEZI, told “20/20.” 

Her story to authorities changed, too, investigators said — the man who was at first a stranger had actually called her by name, they said Diane told them. She, however, denied ever changing her account. 

But no evidence was found to support Diane's story. What was found, though, was a .22 caliber pistol in Diane's possession, the same type of gun used to shoot the children. Steve, her ex, and Knickerbocker had both told authorities that she owned the gun, a fact that Diane did not disclose, investigators said. 

In February 1984, Diane was arrested. At the time, she was pregnant with another man’s child. The baby was later put up for adoption. 

“She knew that if she got pregnant, that people would look at her and say, ‘How could a woman who loves children this much and got pregnant have killed her children? Look at her,’" Jaeger told “20/20.”

But Diane disputes that. 

"I got pregnant because I miss Christie and I miss Danny and I miss Cheryl so much," she told reporters at the time. "I'm never going to see Cheryl on Earth again and I just, you can't replace children, but you can replace the effect they give you.

"And they give me love, they give me satisfaction, they give me stability, they give me a reason to live and a reason to be happy, and that's gone, they took it from me, but children are so easy to conceive."

The Lynchpin

What sealed the case against Diane, though, was her own daughter's testimony. 

Christie, who survived the shooting, was the prosecution's only eyewitness as her brother was sleeping during the shooting and her other sibling was murdered.

Christie testified in court that her mother shot her and her siblings. She said that her mom stopped the car, walked to the trunk, got something out, and then reached inside the window and shot her and her siblings. Authorities believe that Diane shot herself in the arm after. 

In June 1984, Diane was found guilty of murder and attempted murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

While in prison, three years after being locked up, she escaped by scaling a barbed wire fence and went on the run. She claims she was looking for the “bushy-haired stranger.” 

“I wanted revenge at that time,” she told Inside Edition back in 1989. “I wanted to do obscene things to his body.” 

Eleven days later, she was found inside the home of another cellmate’s husband. 

“She has destroyed so many people and I think without one shred of regret," Steve said in 1989. "I don’t think there is any regret in her body. I don’t think she has ever come to grips with what has happened, the gravity of what has happened, the kids especially, she destroyed them — three perfectly innocent children, she destroyed them."

Diane remains in prison to this day and maintains her innocence.

“I can sit here and cry and be all upset and what is that going to prove? It proves nothing. I am who I am and I can’t be anyone other than who I am,” she told Inside Edition in 1989.

Added Diane, “... I am not saying anyone has to believe me. I can sit here with a clear conscience and know I didn’t shoot my kids.”   

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