Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Texas Cadet Murder Case

Beneath the Surface

Diane Michelle Zamora (AP)
Diane Michelle Zamora

Diane was "the disciplined one" of the Zamora family, according to her mother: out of bed before 6:00 a.m. each weekday morning to study before school. The eldest of four children, she helped look after her younger siblings. Her father, an electrician, had difficulty keeping regular employment, and her mother, a nurse, upgraded her degreeworking two or three jobs at a time---leaving Diane with much of the responsibilities.

The Zamoras were a very religious family. The grandfather was the minister of their church. Impoverished, they lived with the grandparents in order to make ends meet. With so many members of a family in a small house, and not enough bedrooms to go around, home life was chaotic. Moreover, Diane's parents had numerous marital issues to deal with, some of which Diane was painfully aware.

In spite of the domestic difficulties, Diane had lofty goals. She was in the third grade when her interest in the military germinated. "I was in middle school when I heard about it," she said, "and it sounded so good I decided to join on my own." Her parents were very proud of her accomplishments, rejoicing with friends and family. Her mother understood her daughter's determination to follow her dream, saying, "I always knew that she would do what she said she would".

Zamora as a cadet (COURT TV)
Zamora as a cadet 

Not a typical "joiner," Diane was a member of organizations that would boost her military aspirations, such as the National Honors Society and several clubs at Crowley High School. Around the time of her high school graduation, she was scheduled to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and was well on her way to achieving her lifetime dream of being a mission's specialist for NASA. However, beneath the surface, it was becoming apparent that these were unrealistic goals given the enormous pressures at home.

Dianne kept to herself in high school, devoted to her studies, graduating in the top 10% of her class. Teachers and classmates described her as "not unfriendly." Thinking most boys immature, Diane was careful whom she dated. Daughters in Mexican-American families have strict rules. Arranged marriages are still common in Hispanic communities, causing Diane a problem no matter whom she dated. David Graham appeared to be the exception.

Diane had a major setback in September 1995, suffering serious injuries to her left hand from an accident with David's pickup. She worried that she would not be able to pass the academy's rigorous physical fitness tests; however, in reality, she had no trouble passing the tests. This is no surprise since Diane prepared well by taking advanced courses in high school, anticipating that the academy would be tough. Like most of her disciplined, regimented life, Diane set her sights on finding out what it would take to succeed.

Diane's life was far from trouble free. Having discovered her father cheating on her mother, issues of trust and betrayal were central in her life. Crucial abandonment issues added fuel to her feelings of self-loathing. Sometimes in her desperation, she would "cut" herself; slashing her arms was her way of relieving stress, all the while claiming that she "hated her life." Like many victims of self-abuse, she could not feel the bleeding, only the relief that flooded in after she hurt herself. Throughout her childhood years, when she felt really bad, Diane would go to her "special place." She would often leave the chaotic household, climb onto the roof, lie down, and gaze at the stars.

It was meeting David Graham that would have the largest negative impact on her life. Diane was beginning to unravel.

David Christopher Graham (AP)
David Christopher Graham

David Graham had been described as "the perfect guy" by one classmate, as "a brilliant student" by another, and as "a perfect gentleman" by friends and neighbors. The baby of the family, David had three older siblings. Very polite, with a business-like demeanor, he always addressed people with "Yes, sir. No, sir." and "Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am." With his close-cropped military style haircut and erect stance, he seemed destined for the military.

His interest in the air patrol began in the first grade, while watching his first air show in Brownsville. "That's what did it for me," he said. "I wanted to join right then but I had to wait until I was 12. I joined right at 12 and I've been in ever since." Graham maintains that his parents were more than prepared for his military aspirations. "They were happy, but not surprised," he said.

Graham excelled academically, taking after his parents, both former teachers. As for sports, he ran on the Mansfield High School track team.  He was best known, however, as a battalion commander in his high school's Junior ROTC program. David stood out among his classmates academically. The students remembered David as so smart that he could still make good grades in French class even if he slept through it.

Graham in uniform
Graham in uniform

"He is in the top 5 percent of all Class of 2000 cadets," Lt. Col. Doug McCoy said. "They look at the whole cadet when they make that ranking academics, athletics and community activities when they were high school students: if they're involved in ROTC or Key Club or student council." He also worked in the Winn-Dixie parking lot on weekend nights as a "courtesy clerk."

Yet underlying all these achievements was evidence of serious problems at home, and of controlling and manipulating the cadets under his supervision. It is alleged that his mother moved out of the house because she feared living with David's violent nature.

At least from a surface view, no one would have expected that Diane and David would become a lethal combination. Although they both continued to advance in the military, their single-minded quests for recognition covered up deep-rooted problems leading to obsession and murder.

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