Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Diane Downs: Her Children Got in the Way of Her Love

The Bushy-Haired Stranger (BHS)

Their mother, Diane, didn't supply an answer. She told hospital receptionist Patterson that she and her family had been driving home from visiting a friend in nearby Marcola when a man, a "bushy-haired stranger" type had waved down their car on a lonely span of highway. Thinking he needed help, Diane paused to inquire. And that was when, said a tearful Diane, the man pointed his gun through her car window and loosened its barrel on her three helpless offspring.

Both Springfield and Lane County police responded. To them she exacted the tale of the ambush and an odd description of the vagabond. Reacting to the story, the departments issued an emergency watch on the city and county roads, fearing that there might be a madman roaming the outskirts of Springfield, its lanes and byways. Squads drew into action and the area described by Diane as the point of attack in the vicinity of Marcola and Old Mohawk Road, a desolate spot became the center of a manhunt.

Since the crime was been purported to have occurred in the county, members of the Sheriff's Office for Lane County became principal investigators. Sergeant Robin Rutherford was the county's first man to approach the children's mother at the hospital. When he arrived, the nurses were tending to her arm, which bore a series of small, superficial wounds marked between the elbow and the wrist from where she had tried to ward off the gunman's blows. Seeing that Mrs. Downs' injuries were minor and that she seemed to be in an unusual state of calmness in fact, she seemed in full control of her senses he asked that she come with him to point out the exact spot, the best she could in the dark, of the crime.

The site she located by memory, near where two rural roads converged, was, according to Ann Rule, a "most desolated spot (where) the river pushed by in the dark on one side; on the other, a field of wild phlox trembled in the wind..." It was not a spot a young woman with three children should have stopped her car to speak to a stranger.

Cheryl Downs
Cheryl Downs

When Diane returned to the hospital, she was given the terrible news about her middle child, Cheryl, as well as the status of her other two children. She took the news with grace, but her attitude stunned the hospital personnel who had expected her to turn hysterical; she seemed too accepting. When told that Danny had a chance of surviving, she replied in an almost-perplexed manner, "Do you mean the bullet missed his heart? Gee whiz!"


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