Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Evidence Begins to Tell the Tale

Diane Downs' BHS, as sketched by police artist.
Diane Downs' BHS, as sketched by police artist.

No one in the DA's office, especially Fred Hugi, believed that there had been an aggressor on Old Mohawk Road. Since the beginning of time, wrongdoers have used mythical abductors and thugs as alibis to cover their own or a close friend's crime. In law enforcement jargon, these make-believe violators are niched under the all-encompassing term bushy-haired stranger, "the guy who isn't there," says author Ann Rule, "the man the defendant claims is really responsible...Of course the BHS can never be produced in court."

Rule points to a satirical remark authored by Hugi in the midst of the Downs case. Hugi had side mouthed, "We estimate that if the BHS is ever caught, the prison doors will have to be opened to let out all the wrongly convicted defendants."

Paul Alton, Hugi's central fact-finder, summed up his and the investigators' misgivings: "I don't buy it...She goes out to Sunderman to see Heather Plourd, she decides to go sightseeing and heads toward Marcola...Suddenly, she decides she'll veer off on the Old Mohawk Road. Say we buy the story that she's sightseeing. Even if it's almost pitch dark, she's sightseeing...How do we explain that the shooter knew she was going to be there? If he's following her in his own car...he could trail her onto Old Mohawk. But she tells us that the stranger is [in front of her, standing in the road] waving her down. How does he get there?"

To the trained hawkshaw's eyes, the picture was incorrect incomplete even retouched. If the killer wanted the car, wouldn't he have shot the driver (Diane) first? She was the adult and would have been his biggest obstacle, not the three tiny kids huddling in the car. What would a "bushy-haired stranger" have to gain in shooting Christie, Cheryl and Danny Downs?

Over the weekend, forensic scientist James O. Pex from the Oregon State Police Department had examined the interior of the Downs automobile to produce some thoughtful findings. As reported to Hugi and his squad, Pex had found a couple of .22 caliber U-shell copper casings, ejected after firing. No bullet had penetrated the body of the car, indicating that all bullets between the children they suffered five bullet wounds had hit their live marks. Blood smeared the side door of the front seat where Cheryl had tumbled after being shot, and pools of blood stained the rear seat where Danny and Christie had been hit. But, Pex apprised, "No blood at all on the driver's side, no smears on the steering wheel."

If a bullet had hit Diane as she was getting into her car, as she said, it would have been reflex for her to grab that wound with her idle hand. There would have been blood on that hand, then, as she tried to steer the car from the scene, blood on the steering wheel.

Also: When a bullet is fired, he explained, the barrel discharges a small amount of smokeless gunpowder foreword towards the target. Such powder particles were detected in three angles of the car on the right panel and in a sweep along the back seat. There were no particles, however, on the driver's panel.

What did all this mean? It could very well mean that whoever did the shooting had been seated in the driver's seat.

And that Diane Downs shot herself just before she reached the hospital.


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