Elizabeth Diane Frederickson Downs (born August 7, 1955) is an American criminal who murdered her daughter, and attempted to murder her other two children, in May 1983. Following the crimes, she told police a man had attempted to carjack her and had shot the children. She was convicted in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison plus fifty years.
Downs briefly escaped in 1987 and was recaptured. She is the subject of a book by Ann Rule and a made-for-TV movie based upon it, both called Small Sacrifices. She was denied parole in December 2008 and again in December 2010; however, she is eligible to try again in 2021, at age 65.
Diane Downs was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 7, 1955, to parents Wesley Linden (1930–2017) and Willadene (Engle) Frederickson. She has testified that her father sexually abused her when she was 12 years old. Diane graduated from Moon Valley High School in Phoenix where she met her husband, Steve Downs. After high school, she enrolled at Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College in Orange, California, but was expelled after only one year for promiscuous behavior and soon returned to her parents' home in Arizona.
On November 13, 1973, Diane married Steve Downs after running away from home. Their first child, Christie Ann, was born in 1974. Cheryl Lynn followed in 1976, with Stephen Daniel being born in 1979. The couple divorced in 1980 because Steve thought Stephen Daniel, known as Danny, was the result of an affair Diane had. On May 8, 1982, Downs gave birth to a daughter through surrogacy. She named the child Jennifer before turning her over to her intended parents.
Prior to her arrest, Downs was employed by the United States Postal Service, assigned to the mail routes in the city of Cottage Grove, Oregon. Cheryl Lynn, shortly before her death, reportedly told a neighbor of her grandparents that she was afraid of her mother.
On May 19, 1983, Downs shot her three children and drove them in a blood spattered car to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. Upon arrival, Cheryl (aged 7) was already dead, Danny (aged 3) was paralyzed from the waist down, and Christie (aged 8) had suffered a disabling stroke. Downs herself had been shot in the left forearm. She claimed she was carjacked on a rural road near Springfield, Oregon, by a strange man who shot her and the children. However, investigators and hospital workers became suspicious because they decided her manner was too calm for a person who had experienced such a traumatic event. She also made a number of statements that both police and hospital workers considered highly inappropriate.
Suspicions heightened when Downs, upon arrival at the hospital to visit her children, phoned Robert Knickerbocker, a married man and former coworker in Arizona with whom she had been having an extramarital affair. The forensic evidence did not match her story; there was no blood spatter on the driver's side of the car, nor was there any gunpowder residue on the driver's door or on the interior door panel. Knickerbocker also reported to police that Downs had stalked him and seemed willing to kill his wife if it meant that she could have him to herself; he stated that he was relieved that she had left for Oregon and that he was able to reconcile with his wife.
Downs did not disclose to police she owned a .22 caliber handgun, but both Steve Downs and Knickerbocker informed them that she did. Investigators later discovered Downs bought the handgun in Arizona; while they were unable to find the actual weapon, they found unfired casings in her home with extractor markings from the same gun that shot her children. Most damaging, witnesses saw her car being driven very slowly toward the hospital at an estimated speed of 5–7 mph (8–11 km/h), contradicting her claim that she drove to the hospital at high speed after the shooting. Based on this and additional evidence, Downs was arrested on February 28, 1984, nine months after the shooting, and charged with one count of murder and two counts each of attempted murder and criminal assault.