Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Interesting Side Bars

Fred Hugi of the District Attorney's staff sensed something foul almost immediately after being assigned by County DA Pat Horton to prosecute the case. In preparation for what the DA knew would eventually lead to a murder trial, it was Hugi's job to follow the revelations of the case as they surfaced from the origin. As far as Hugi quickly ascertained, the fetus of something evil had taken form in the embryonic blackness of that rural roadway in Lane County. Whatever happened Thursday night, the facts began to come to light in a most suspicious manner and unlike those explained by the mother, Diane Downs.

Hugi, relatively new to the DA's investigative squad, nevertheless knew mischief when he saw it. And he saw it first in the faces of two perplexed, scared youngsters, strapped to tubes and cords for life in a lowly lit hospital room. Never one for sentiment, even he was surprised when he felt tears rolling down his cheeks as he gazed upon Christie and Danny Downs. And when he heard from Paul Alton the reaction of Christie when she had seen her mother for the first time since the shooting, he knew it was not the normal reaction of any child who, in pain and surrounded by foreign faces, would have been overjoyed to see the one person in their life to rekindle their spirits.

Hugi ordered a round-the-clock guard on the children. He also commissioned a child psychologist to remain at Christie's side during the day, to build up a trust that the child may, when more hale, confide in her the events on Mohawk Road.

Diane Downs
Diane Downs

Doubt in the mother's story was building. Over the coming days, her version of what happened that night changed slightly. Her placement of the killer when he fired the gun altered in several re-tellings as did her own actions in the face of the supposed gunman. When Doug Welch interviewed Steve Downs, Diane's ex-husband in Arizona, Welch learned that Diane owned three, not two, weapons and one was a .22 caliber handgun, which Diane did not mention.

Welch found Steve Downs an open, erstwhile talker who seemed glad to be rid of his ex wife whom, he said, liked to bed-hop. An electrical contractor living in Chandler, Arizona, he carried no grudge and seemed to be happy just to live his current bachelor life. He admitted that he and Diane were "still friends," but that their occasional phone conversations never extended beyond the kids' health and scholastic welfare. He seemed genuinely upset with the bad news and sincerely, fatherly hopeful that Christie and Danny would pull through. He made immediate plans to fly to Oregon to see them.

Welch asked Steve Downs if he knew who the Arizona man might be, and the former spouse, not surprised by the question, replied that he must mean the married guy with whom Diane had been having a torrid affair for some time before leaving Arizona. He was a postal worker in Chandler and, whatever happened in their love life, the tryst finally severed. The man returned to his understanding wife, but Diane still seemed to carry the torch, hot and heavy. Her infatuation with this married man was maniacal, it seemed, but he didn't seem the type to leave a doting wife for a woman with three growing, hungry kids.

When Welch asked about weapons the couple had owned, and which ones Diane had taken with her to Oregon, Downs told him that Diane had "a .22 rifle, a .38 revolver and a .22 Ruger Mark IV nine-shot semi-automatic pistol." She used to practice her shooting at the local Chandler-area range. Why she carried guns? She was a woman and felt she needed protection on her route, Steve Downs suggested.

Then detective Welch felt he had to ask the obvious: "Steve, would your ex-wife harm your kids in order to get [the married] back?"

"No way!" the other shook his head. "She loves those kids."

*****

When questioned afterwards, Diane denied she still owned the .22 caliber.

 

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