Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Suspicions

Tracy's mind had wandered a moment while Diane spoke. He had read the doctor's report on his treatment of Diane's arm injury: "A single bullet entered her left forearm...it split in two as it shattered the radius, and then exited, leaving two smaller wounds." As she related her getaway from the man on the road, how the bullet struck her arm, he couldn't help thinking that the place where she was wounded is the exact same place other killers have shot themselves to make it appear that they were attacked by a phony assailant.

But, he was not would not! pass judgment until the evidence was in. And that would not be for some time.

Before the interview ended, Diane agreed to sign a search warrant on her home. She admitted she owned a .38 caliber pistol, which she kept for protection on her delivery route, and a .22 caliber rifle for home safety, but both were unused. One lay cold, hidden under rags in her trunk, the other collected dust on a shelf in her home.

Meanwhile, police around the hospital were busy. In the driveway, they prepared the red Nissan Pulsar with the Arizona license plates for transporting to the crime lab for further investigation. In the morgue, Sergeant Jon Peckels photographed the wounds on the dead girl. Behind ER, detective Ray Poole collected evidentiary bloody clothing removed from all three children. All personnel assigned to this particular homicide knew, without a doubt, the weekend ahead would mean little leisure time and a lot of pounding on doors, question-asking and rattling of brain cells to figure out this confounding, irritating and heartbreaking mystery.

Because three helpless children had their bodies savagely blown open by a gunner, the policemen didn't mind the overtime one bit. They wanted the killer now.

*****

Several nurses and an investigator were bedside when Diane Downs was finally allowed into the intensive care unit to see Christie, one of her two surviving children. The spectators noted that, as she squeezed her daughter's hand, murmuring, "I love you," she did so as devoid of warmth as an icicle; her words were passed through clenched teeth. Paul Alton, the investigator, noticed something else: that the child's eyes, peeking from above an oxygen mask, took on the glaze of fear when spotting her mom approaching.

"I happened to glance at the heart rate monitor the pulse when Diane came in," said he. "The scope showed Christie's heart was beating 104 times a minute (but) when Diane took hold of her...that scope jumped to 147!"

*****

Friday morning, plainclothesmen checked with the Plourds to ensure Diane and her kids had visited them the previous evening as Diane had asserted. Mrs. Plourd confirmed the visitation, as well as the reason for it: to give her an ad about horses.

Under the supervision of Tracy and Kurt Welch, state troopers searched Diane's Springfield residence, requisitioning several items, including a diary that they found, the aforementioned rifle (a Glenfield .22 caliber located where Diane had said) and a box of standard .22 caliber shells, same as those taken from the children's bodies.

Diane Downs
Diane Downs

One particular item, however, interested Dick Tracy: a photo of a young man in a beard that shared space atop the television with other pictures of Diane. Tracy was cognizant of the fact that Diane had made a phone call to a man in Arizona, a former boyfriend supposedly, not long after arriving at the hospital. Before she knew the state of her children, before alerting her ex-husband and the father of the children, she acted as if compelled to call this Arizona man.

Tracy, studying the photo of the man, wondered if he was looking at the object of Diane's urgent phone call.

 

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