Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Diane in Wonderland

Doug Welch and Paul Alton were dispatched to Arizona to use their professional experience to dig up Diane Downs' past and anyone, including Lew Lewiston, who came along with the shovel work. Their trip during the last weeks of May proved fruitful. They learned just what they wanted to know about their central suspect, Ms. Diane Downs.

One of the first things they accomplished was proving that neither Steve Downs nor the mysterious Lew were Diane's "bushy-haired stranger". Witnesses verified seeing them or being in their company in Arizona at the precise hour of the crime.

The detectives also spoke with several of Diane's former co-workers from the Chandler branch post office. Their opinions of her varied. Some, it was clear, didn't like her at all; no one praised her. "Some of the informants describes a woman with a single-mindedness, a channeling of ambition that they had rarely, if ever, encountered," pens Ann Rule in Small Sacrifices. "Others disagreed; Diane Downs had been flippy dippy, up and down, mad and sad. A few a very few witnesses spoke on her behalf, and then only with faint praise."

What emerged after the postal interviews was a postcard picture that might have been beautiful had its colors not run together. She appeared to be a headstrong woman, but headstrong in a tilted way; her priorities were overblown and, most of all, out of sync. She jumped in the sack with men right and left, but refused to deliver copies of Playboy to customers on her route.

Lew Lewiston worked at the Chandler station, too, but the investigators interviewed him separately, at his home. To his credit, they liked him; they liked his honesty and directness. He insisted that his wife, Nora, be there at his side while he candidly discussed even his sexual experiences with his old flame. Nora, he said, knew the history and had forgiven him. The couple had reconciled and Lew Lewiston wanted nothing more to do with Diane Downs.

While the memory of his extramarital affair was undoubtedly painful to him, he answered the detectives' questions cordially and succinctly. He had met Diane at work in late 1981 after her divorce from Steve Downs. Lew was magnetized by the female's sexy gestures and her revealing clothing. Loving his wife Nora, Lew was nonetheless taken with this new girl at the mail bin who blared easy virtue in loose midriff and sans bra. Their friendship evolved overnight into a string of sleazy hotel room encounters.

Lew admittedly expected the affair to end swiftly as had all her relationships none of them had lasted with other men he knew she had gone with. But as the months rolled on, he found that she was not intending to let go; in fact, she was pulling tight on his private time and urging him to divorce Nora as soon as possible. Suddenly, it dawned on him he was up and over in a relationship he never intended to move from off the bedsprings.

He tried to break their seeing each other, but each time Diane protested violently. "The affair continued and continued," Lew said, "and I was with Diane all day at work, and I'd be with her all night long and it was every day for months. I basically didn't have time to think, you know. I was with Diane all the time."

Welch and Alton then noted something that Lewiston added that hit a high-note because it complemented what their boss Fred Hugi had been contemplating all along that the Downs children may have gotten in the way of their mother's love life. Despite her pleas, he refused to see her when she was with Danny, Christie and Cheryl. "I wouldn't be with her if the children were around," he explained. "It was an affair it didn't seem right."

After battling guilt for many months, Lew decided to say adios to Diane. The girlfriend's remonstrations had been incessant, and one night in February, 1983, Lew severed them. "Diane asked me who I loved the most her or Nora. I said I loved Nora. She blew up. She ranted and raved and screamed at me. I'd never seen anyone act that way before."

When Lew raced home, Diane followed him, even up the steps of his own home with Nora present.

"She pounded on our door all night long," Lew's wife recalled. "Then she called on the phone." But, she reappeared the following day, confronting Nora on the stoop. "She began to tell me what I should do about my marriage, my relationship with Lew everything...I slammed the door in her face."

It had been what Lew called "the final straw" and he never saw her again.

Not long after that chaotic night, Diane put in a transfer to Oregon. She relocated to Springfield to be near her parents.

But, the letters and the phone calls to Lew continued.

*****

One thing more. The lawmen asked Lew if he had any knowledge about guns that Diane might have owned. He did. One of them, he said, was a .22 caliber handgun.

But, Diane continued to deny she owned it.

 

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