Diane Downs, the subject of true crime author Ann Rule's book, Small Sacrifices is up for parole on December 9 in the state of Oregon.
The horrific crimes against Diane Downs' children, and the person who committed them, gained the attention of the national press after Downs showed up at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield, Oregon, on the evening of May 19, 1983. Inside Downs' car, hospital personnel found an unbelievable scene: tucked in Downs' blood spattered Nissan, all three of her children in critical condition from gunshot wounds, while an "ashen" faced Downs kept repeating the same phrase: "somebody just shot my kids".
The Bushy Hair Stranger
Downs, who had suffered a gunshot wound to her forearm, told authorities that while on a drive home from visiting friends, Downs, with her children in the car, had encountered a "bushy haired stranger" on a dark road. Downs claimed the man waved her car over. Thinking he needed help, Downs said she stopped and then got out of her car to talk to him. It was then, according to Downs, that the man, whom Diane described as a "busy haired stranger", demanded her car. When she refused, the man pulled a gun from under his jacket then leaned in and began shooting her kids: eight-year-old Christie, seven-year-old Cheryl, and three-year-old Danny.
Since Downs' injuries were non-life threatening and her children were being cared for by the emergency room staff, the Lane County Sheriff's office asked Downs to accompany them back to the scene of the crime. An all-points bulletin was issued for the "bushy haired stranger". Diane led them to Old Mohawk Road next to the McKenzie river.
It was Diane Downs' behavior that first alerted the hospital staff and authorities that perhaps Downs wasn't telling the truth. When she returned to the hospital and was given the news that the medical staff had been unable to save 7-year-old Cheryl, hospital personnel found her "too accepting" and stoic, instead of "hysterical". When told that her 3-year-old son Danny had a chance to survive, Downs responded with "Do you mean the bullet missed his heart? Gee whiz!".
Detectives questioned Downs at the hospital. They had learned, prior to the conversation with Downs, that the weapon used was most likely a .22 caliber pistol. They also learned that powder burns from the weapon were found on the children. This meant that whoever pulled the trigger had done so in very close proximity. At a later date, forensic investigation found blood splay patterns that indicated the weapon had been fired from the left, or driver's side. When detectives asked Downs if she owned any guns, she told them she owned a .38 caliber pistol and a .22 caliber rifle.
Detectives also learned that Downs was 27-year-old postal worker who had recently relocated to Oregon from Arizona after a divorce. The move brought Downs and her kids close to where her parents lived while she worked for the post office at the Cottage Grove district. Diane's father had also been a postal worker.
Downs told the detectives that when she saw the "bushy haired stranger" in the middle of the road, she thought he might need help. She purportedly stopped her car and then got out. It was then, Downs claimed, that the man pulled a gun from under his denim jacket and demanded her car keys. When she refused, she claimed the man leaned down and began firing into the car at her children through the driver's side window. When he reached for her keys, Downs claimed she fought back. She then managed to get into her car where the man allegedly fired yet another shot, wounding Diane's forearm. Diane told the detectives that she then "stepped on the gas" and "raced" to the hospital, leaving the man behind.
Diane Downs, “Small Sacrifices” Murder Mom, up For Parole - page 2