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September 15, 2020 34 mins

Just four days after the shooting Diane participated in a reenactment of the night of May 19th for the police. Her affect throughout the reenactment caused the police and community to look at her as a suspect. 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
I mean it was a huge story. It made, you know,
national news when Diane Downs drives to the Springfield hospital
with those kids, and I think it shocked everybody just
because somewhere deep in their gut, it's like a mom
and kids that just that doesn't make sense. And the
story of the shaggy haired stranger didn't make a lot

of sense either at first. But everybody was willing to
go along with that for quite a while. And I
think what really sort of snapped things was the re
enactment and having Diane with the car and having the
police ask her various questions and to reenact that moment,

I think began the real questions in that story. The
reenactment Eric Mason is referring to is a video shot
by Springfield, Oregon Police. In it, they asked Diane to

walk them through the events of that night to try
and get a better understanding what happened. We'll get to
that in a bit, but first we have to ask
who exactly is Diane Downs. How does a seven year
old mal carrier and mother of three wind up at
a Springfield, Oregan hospital on a random weeknight, having apparently
shot her children and herself. The story starts in Arizona.

Her brother James, describes her family life. Describe your dad
for me, help me understand your household. Sure, I was
thinking about this last night. The year is nineteen sixty. Right,
they got married in the fifties, and in the fifties
and the sixties. It was before the bra burnings. You know,
there was a patriarch, and there was a matriarch, and

there was a mom, and there was a dad. The
dads did this, and the moms did this. The dad's
provided the moms around the house. Right. The one of
the questions I had, well, what happens when there was
conflict in your house? Well, there wasn't conflict in my
house because that was my dad's job to take care
of the conflict that there ever was conflict, and his

job was resolved the conflict. And by doing that, there
was no conflict in the house because he took it all.
He took it all. It's truly a patriarch kind of house.
Diane's childhood was, by most accounts, pretty normal, according to
her brother, although Diane herself claims that she was sexually

abused by her father. She spent part of her childhood
and a Phoenix suburb before she and her family moved
to a farm. So your mother always conferred to your
father on decisions. Always that was her job. How big
was your household? But there's five. Yeah, I had a
really fantastic childhood. My sister had a fantastic childhood. Remember

growing up on Charter Roak Road, And I remember we
had a block fence in our backyard and over in
the right hand corner, Diane had pigeons, you know, and
I thought, those are the coolest thing. Pigeons, you know
what I mean, their pets. There were homing pigeons. Yeah,
you put little bands on their their little foot and
they fly off and then they come back. You know.

I was fat in third Gray, right, So, and I
don't remember a whole lot of a lot, a whole
lot about arming pigeons at the time. Yeah, Diane was
one of the real I don't want to say main
driving factor, but I'll use the words to basically leave
Phoenix and moved to the farm, where she inevitably changed
her life forever by meeting Steve. You know, we moved

from Phoenix to the farm, and out on the farm,
it was a great time. Man. Diane had a horse,
and Cathy had a horse, and John had a steer,
and I raised pigs. I raised pigs with my grandpa.
As a matter of fact, Diane started dating Steve when
she was in high school. Early on, she tried to

establish a sense of standards with who she dated, but
with Steve it didn't last. I remember that I was
in the sixth grade and she was a junior in
high school and Steve had dropped out. But it's part
of dating Diana, part of being with Diane. One of
the things that was requested was that you got to
check back into school, and so he did start going

to high school and who subsequently got kicked out because
she was talking to somebody and he ended up beating
the guy up. I actually admired Steve growing up. I
looked up to him, as you know, he was a
male figure, you know, and I put him to the
word mail. You know, he was a manly man, you know,

he took no gelf. And this something Diane says, you know, basically,
you know, whatever, if if there was another guy that
was bugging her, he would beat him up, and she
felt safe and she felt protected until there was nobody
else to beat up Unfortunately, Steve's propensity for expressing his
anger stopped with people who were bothering Diane, and he

began to physically abuse Diane as well. Apparently those two fought.
They would physically fight fairly often, I mean punching to
the face kind of fighting. Diane briefly joined the military,
possibly to escape her home life. Diane joined the Air Force,
probably to get away. Um. But Diane joined the Air

Force and flags now and um, she was away for
a little while and Steve was there taking care of Christie.
What year was this about. I was a freshman nine.
Then Diane said, you know, I can't stay away from
the kids. And so she got an honorable discharge or
whatever happens with the Air Force, and she came back.

When Diane went to the Air Force, Steve and I
were playing pool and there was a lady there, and
he says, I bet you I can get her to
go to bed with me, you know, as a conquest.
And it's like, I'm I'm a freshman in high school.
You know. It's like, and his wife's brother right right,

and she's in the Air Force and she's not there.
And Um, whether he did or whether he didn't. I
don't know, but I just know what he said to me.
They fought. They fought a lot. And one time when
I was there, they were fighting and he was on
her back, beating on her back. I remember he didn't
hit her in the face. He was he was sitting

on her. I think he was even sitting on her head,
holding her down like that and beating her on the back.
It was just it was pretty intense. After her son,
Danny's birth, Diane and Steve divorced. Steve believed he couldn't
be Danny's father since he claimed to have had a vasectomy.

Despite their divorce, Diane continued to be on the receiving
end of his physical abuse. According to James, later on
and she got tired of and she started fighting back,
so she she would engage him. He and but obviously,
you know, she lost um. So he shoved her onto
the bed and at that point Cheryl came in. So

these took place in front of the kids at times,
and it was never in Diana starting the first engaging.
It was always heard offending herself from him, and so
she said, you know, gets Cheryl out of the room.
And by that time Steve was sitting on Diana, punching
her in the face, and blood was everywhere. Diane shouted

to take the kids and run, so we dragged Cheryl
away and got Christie and Danny. When they fled, it
seemed inescapable called the police, and by the time the
Americoba County's sheriff, Deputy Sean Carnahan, Steve was gone. And
when he walked into Diana's living room he saw my
bloody sister sitting in the chair, his shoulders dropped, the bruises,

her broken nose, eyes, dark neck, ringing red the drink.
Deputy said, Diane, my god, what happened to you? What
do you think? She said, It's like, he says, you've
two been doing this for six years now. It says
when will it stop? And she just said, I don't know.

You know, sas I divorced, I mean a year ago
I thought it would stop. Then I guess it was wrong.
Eventually Diane was pushed to her breaking point. Diane shot
a bullet through the floor of her trailer when he
was there one night. The next Tuesday, judge signed a
restraining order to keep Steve away from Diane's home to
be sure that was the first or the last meeting

he inflicted on my sister. Ten days later, we chased
her down into the bathroom. The restraining order to forget
forbidding him access to her home was only a week old.
She still wore the bruises from the last attack. He
didn't know she grabbed a gun to defend herself. The
gun that Diane used to shoot through the floor would
later be the subject of a search by police as

a potential murder weapon. We'll come back to that in
another episode. Not long after the incident where Diane fired
a shot into the floor, her mobile home caught on
fire when she flew to I think it was Kentucky.
She wanted to be a circuit mom. She had done
that once. She was trying to do it again. And

one of these trips the day or the maybe the
evening of the day that she left, her trailer caught
on fire, and you know, she filed an insurance claim.
They paid out, and she later when things frayed between
her and Steve, turned him in for that and he
was arrested and charged with the insurance fraud and had
to pay some money back. Everything she owned was gone.

She and her children were homeless, and this was a
brand new mobile It was a brand new mobile home. Yeah,
it was four months old. They used to Steve and
Diane worked at mobile home manufacturing plans. Oh, I didn't
know this growing up I called growing up twenties. Right.
They worked together in manufacturing plans, you know, and always
you can keep better tracks. Ever if he's working with her.

I remember that, um my sister came over to visit,
and when she was over to visit, um I had
a guitar and she borrowed my guitar and she took
it back with her. And what I remember about the
mobile home burning is the fact that my guitar was
in the mobile hole when it burned, and I never
got my guitar back. They actually, I'm labeled an electrical

fire and labeled an electrical fire, but it came out
that that's not what I was. That's came out in court,
but that's not what it was. How much an insurance
pay out for for the mobile homes seven thousand dollars
right there and back in that was a chunk of money,

seven thousand dollars to repair the mobile home, which wasn't
used to repair the mobile's correct, where did the seven
thousand Steve? Yeah, Steve, and again he crossed the line.
So but go moving forward. Do you wonder why Steve
might have testified that I guess my sister. Well, here's

here's the reasons. You know, Steve confessed to the crime
of arson, rendering a homeless and putting hard as mercy.
But he Steve actually said that they conspired together to
burn her home for the insurance money. Diane's living situation
put Steve back into a position of power over her.
She willingly gave Steve custody of their children to prevent

them from being homeless. According to James, Steve leveraged this
into a means of control, but everything she owned was gone.
She and her kids were homeless. This is after their
restraining order and Steve says, hey, come live with me.
Diane refused, but had to let her children move in
with him because she didn't want him to live in
the car. Right, So she kept paying on the mortgage

for the mobile home, and she went to a person's
named Karen's house and offered her a spare room until
the November of nine two. But the kids weren't welcome
because you know, it's just a bedroom in the house
from Karen was her coworker at the post office. I
believe so yes. Diane rented a two bedroom apartment in December.

Steve refused to let her take her children until after Christmas.
H Diane had to go to his house your children.
Steve wasn't letting go of that control that he had
of her. Every time she went to their house, they
fought he wanted to remarry. She didn't. This was in
December of two and the shooting happened in May of

n Diane eventually moved back into the mobile home along
with her children and January of nine, strapped for cash,
my sister moved back into her burned out mobile home
and stopped seeing your children at Steve's, so she brought
the kids to back to the home. Steve was calling
my sister a worthless mother who didn't take care of

her kids to go see them. He said he was
sick of her having fun while he was burdened with
raising the kids. So basically, the kids are still at
his house and she's living there, and he's really unhappy
about that because basically she's probably out having a good
time and he's having to take care of the kids.

Diane had been living for years under the constraints of
an abusive relationship. Although she had been unfaithful along with Steve,
she was now able to see whoever she pleased without
immediate fear of reprisal. And Diane seemed to love male attention.
Over the course of time. You watch this plate out
all the time, and you when you see someone like Diane,

when you see one trying desperately to get attention and
to move a certain way and to shake her body
a certain way, you think to yourself, Wow, there's a
person looking for attention, and do I want to get
inside the kill radius of that person? And I could

get blown up? It could blow me up, And so
a little bell goes off. I think in your head
when you're the person who's the target of a Diane Downs,
thinking to yourself, do I want to be in the
kill radius? Do I do I want to risk being
blown up? And the answer for most men is no.

But for these guys who all of a sudden attached
to Diane Downs, I think they understood it was a quick, easy,
gratifying way to spend the night. I think that's kind
of what got them going. The problem is, I think
once they saw what kind of a mentally damaged person

that she was, they would run. I think I think
that happened over and over and over again. Diane took
a job with a postal service where she met Nick Knickerbocker.
This was the relationship that many would speculate to be
the motivation behind the attempted murder of her children. My

sister was she was she worked in the post office. UM,
she was a rural route carrier. I remember that was
one of their fights in Arizona. I remember seeing this
because Diane was a rural rock carrier and UM as
a rural rock carrier, she would continually break the mirror
off of the vehicle because you drive the right hand side,

and she would continually hit the mailboxes with the mirror
and knocked it off. And Steve would get so mad
about that. Why would he get mad? Well, because she
broke the mirror off the car continually. I was thinking,
she was driving, it's a rural old routes. On a
rural route, you you basically sub let your own vehicle,
yeah and so yeah, driving out in the country delivering

mail basically, and she would hit the mailboxes with the mirror.
It wasn't a physical fight, but it was it was
like he crazy, and you know, he wasn't very happy,
and he made it known that she wasn't that he
wasn't happy. But um, that's what she did an Oregon.
She transferred from Chandler where she met Nick, and you know,

and she moved up to Oregon. And my dad lived
in Oregon, and my dad was a postmaster in Springfield, Oregon.
And so she came up here to start her new
family with, you know, to start a new life. And
she was working the post office, so she was she
was truly on her way, man, she was on her
way to getting her life. But this happened to her.

And and it's really, you know, sort of sad because
I mean the reason, you know, talking about the post office,
and you know, it makes me think of Nick Nickerbocker,
the guy she met at the post office, the guy
that you know, they say that everything got done for
she did the motive, yes, thank you very much. He

was a letter carry also, so they worked eight hour
shifts beside each other, but spent at least two hours
after that, um oftentimes having um sex at one location
or another um, so they did paint a picture that
when they were in Arizona. Because he was a married
guy and for the longest time didn't tell his wife

about Diane. She eventually found out, and he still sort
of carried on and it was not not very forthcoming.
Diane was apparently obsessed with Nick to the point where
she would have done anything for him. There were unsent
letters and journals found in her apartment where she declared
her feelings. Seems to me that he was fairly nice looking,

strong jaw, kind of wiry hair, and this person that
seemingly Diane downs head over heels about, and that she
when any of the male partner sex partners said to her, listen,
you're a really wonderful sexual partner, but I don't really

I don't think I want to raise kids that would
absolutely crash her world. And so I think with respect
to Robert, the question of whether or not he could
deal with kids, you know, it was certainly a part
of the narrative. After nixt rejection and years of abuse
from Steve, Diane decided to leave Arizona. Her father was

a postmaster in Oregan, so she moved and was able
to get a letter carrier job in Springfield. When you're
an abusive relationship is the same question that everybody asks
everybody that's in that kind of relationship. How are you
going to let this happen before you change something? But
when you And then she did change something, and that's
when she moved to Oregon. She was changing her life.

She'd been an order for six weeks since she was attacked.
She left Steven Arizona. She left her boyfriend's and I
don't say Nick I said she left her boyfriend's in Arizona.
I mean, I can't say that she didn't have a
thing for Nick. And I can't say that Nick didn't
have a thing for her, because obviously they did. But
she left him there because really he was a married man,

you know, And you're not going to get together with
a married man because the married man is not going
to leave his wife. That's just what Mary Penn do.

And then in the shooting occurs. From the beginning, the
press made every the effort to find all the information
they could about the incident and about Diane herself. The
whole goal was to figure out who she was, how
long she had been in Eugene or the Eugene Springfield area,
So you had kind of the small army of media types,

mainly local print and television stations, doing their own things.
So we were all sort of learning from each other too.
If if k v A L and Eugene had a
news broadcast at night, was something a little bit new,
well figured. I wish I had gotten that in first,
but nonetheless put that into the notebook and just kept
on trying to compile our best ability to figure out

who was involved. And you also had at the same
time the search for the assailant. That was still the
official line that there's somebody out there, although even early
on my feeling was, and I think other media people,
we're having questions. Although the police department wasn't very forthcoming

with the details of the case and the investigation, Diane
herself proved to be very willing to talk to the press.
I was trying to find out who among law enforcement
was primarily assigned to the case, and would there be
a chance of getting an interview with these folks, And
I was able to do that after a while, but
not early on, and and the police were never open

and forthcoming with reporters as far as I could find out.
Almost all the information as the case developed ended up
coming really out of Diane's mouth. She was a prolific talker.
When we finally got a chance to sit down and
get her story, and when she started, she just didn't stop.

Mom and Dad said, quit talking, man, do not talk
to the press. They are not your friends. Diane was
the most publicized and talked about individual in the state
of Oregon in nine and a lot of that was
due to her. I mean, she would talk to everybody.
Diane gave several interviews with the press and insisted that

she and her kids were attacked by a shaggy haired stranger,
a description which over time has become a trope when
describing non existent suspects of crimes. Do you think that
helped her? No, no, no, absolutely not. It did the opposite.
You know. It's like and she was really the worst
witness for herself, you know, I mean, it's like she

she would get up and she would talk, and she
would talk, and you know, and they think it's because
she liked to hear herself talk. All the reality is
that she wanted to have them listen. They wanted she
wanted him to listen. But they would never listen, They
would never look for anybody. They she would go down there.

You know, it's like, why aren't you looking, Well, we're
looking for the guy. We're looking for the guy, you know.
But if then you take a look into the newspapers
and the time, you know. Two weeks after the shooting,
Pat Horton, the district attorney says, the search for the
shaggy head stranger is not a priority on our list.
Two weeks after the shooting, the district attorney says, the

search for the shaggy herd stranger his words, not hers.
The search for the shaggy heard stranger is not a
priority on our list. But only time she goes and
talks to him. We're looking for him. We're looking for him.

Months after the shooting, the police had produced no additional
suspects beyond Diane herself. They had no leads, and only
the Fredericksons themselves seemed to be providing contacts of potential
witnesses and suspects to the police. There didn't seem to
be any elites, and this was coming from Diane's camp
to say we have somebody had phoned us and indicated

there was there was some guy who had shown up
at the Springfield country Club, or she was advising police
be on the lookout for some ding up yellow car
that was in the area. There weren't solidly so I
know that the police got a lot of contacts and
as far as I know, they this was this was
one of the stories we were trying to keep up on.
They were tracking these leaves down, going and talk to

the people who phoned them in, But as far as
we could tell, that never really got a solid start. There.
There was nothing that felt like a breakthrough in terms
of finding somebody else who might be involved in this.
Diane would talk and tell her story to anyone who
would listen. She seemed to love talking to the press.

I do remember very clearly, and Diane, but even in
news conferences talk about dreams that she had had, and
she would call me, and I'm sure she called other
reporters on a fairly regular basis, just too because she
needed to talk. And she was one day talking about
having driven down to her letter carrying route in Cottage
go Over that morning. She said it was kind of

foggy and I five and she could see Cheryl coming
out of the mist, kind of holding her hand toward her,
and Diane said, and there we were. We were the
four Musketeers. Again. I think that's how she referred to them,
at least for the police sake, because it did come
out that I think it would be a terrible place
to be raised in her house, because they got hit,

they got slapped, they were treated very, very poorly. The
police struggled to make sense of the events that night
based on the story Diane had provided. They asked her
to recreate everything that happened that night step by step
in a reenactment, and I think for the detectives and
the officers who were working on it, that was the

moment that things shifted a little bit. And to go
back to like Detective Welch and some of the first
folks on the scene there radar was going off I
think before that. But at first, certainly the stories were
all about who is this shaggy hair stranger, What was
the motive of this person to shoot kids? And was

even that you know the highway back there in your
moh was that folks danger back there living out in
the rural part of Lane County, And Um, the more
I think Diane spoke, the more there were questions about
what it is that the motive was all about, and
about who the shooter might be. The reenactment was strange,

to say the least. Diane didn't seemed to be a
mother who was struggling to explain the murder, an attempted
murder of her children by a stranger. She came across
like an actress, playing a part and catering to the audience.
I think that when the videotaped her and they wanted
her to say, Hey, this is where I was standing,

this is where the shaggy haired stranger is standing, this
was the song playing on the radio, This is how
I reacted. This is what I did when I threw
the car keys into the bushes. The police saw something
there that didn't quite add up, and that was what

the children ended up seeing from inside the car and
what it is she was saying, and that was a contradiction.
There was an immediate contradiction when they viewed what she
did with the video re enactment in the car, and
they got a lot of things right down to the
detail about the car and other other things so that

they could understand what happened. And so I think the
detectives right off the bat thought Wow, this is not right.
There's something here that's not right, and you could see it,
I think in the way Diane even acted in the video.
This wasn't a mom who was shell shocked. She was

a actress playing out a scene in a movie that
we hadn't seen yet in the video re enactment. M Well,
it was almost as if, I mean, it's from what
I can remember of the details, and then showing it,
it was almost as if she had to think about

what it was that was the right answer that they
wanted as opposed to this is exactly what happened, and
instead of it being something that was ingrained in a
part of her sailor understanding of that shooting from this stranger,
she was thinking out loud, almost about what it is

that they would buy as a story. And you could
see that. You could. I'm okay, I'm throwing the keys, Yes,
but I didn't let go of He thinks I drew them,
but I did not throw them at the swings around
at the same time, watching the keys and swings around
the shoot who got shot me? In sum I'd like

to I just hit my kids, started the car and
left the car door shut itself. This is person Okay.
The police weren't the only ones who found Diane's behavior

and explanation strange. The press also saw the video and
for many it confirmed their suspicions that Diane was the
most likely suspect in the shooting. She did a re
enactment with the police was shown later that kind of
verified this, this feeling that that a lot of us
had gotten from the start, the story just didn't really

add up. She claimed, for instance, that when she got
out of her card this guy said I want your
car and she said, and she's she's consistent as far
as I know to this day and saying you gotta
be kidding me. That's about the only part of her
story that has remained consistent. Her affect is not one
of somebody who's trying to protect their kids. It was
almost as if she'd never done these things before, and

she was saying, well, what are you what are you
asking me to do? And they say, no, just do
it just like it happened, And that was their question.
It didn't seem she was operating from memory. It was
almost like, how would you want me to be? And
so that sort of raised alarm bells as they went
through her reenacting what it was like to have a

stranger outside her car. After the re enactment video, Diane's
increasingly casual attitude and interviews, and the lack of any
real evidence pointing to a shoot her on the loose,
everyone began to accept that Diane was most likely guilty.
So at the beginning, I think all of us wanted
to believe that it made sense that this stranger was

out there and that all the police had to do
is just find this person and track them down and
the things will be over but over time, and you
really didn't want to believe it at first that Diane
had some of these strange characteristics about her. They didn't

make sense. Eventually police felt like they had gathered enough evidence.
On February, Diane Downs was arrested. It was a huge deal.
Diane has been arrested again. You know, she'd been out
in the community for months saying what if she wanted
to disparaging the police, which that's okay. People are unfairly charged,

and it's certainly fair to to push back on that.
But I think among most people that there was just
no goodwill left for Diane, with no other suspect ever
having come close to being charged or arrested or identified.
She was in the spotlight. She was the one, and
it was it was a big deal, and she was arrested.

She was looking tired, be draggled. The emotional strain I
think had taken a toll on her. She was still
kind of prone to smirk and smile a lot, whether
she should be or not. But she was I think
kind of beaten down by a circumstance when they finally
took her into custody. But at that point we all

knew that, well, uh, we're going to be going to
trial in about three months. I think Lane County had
a stipulation of that point that once you were charged
with that kind of serious crime, just to speedy process,
we'll have you start your trial within three months. It
wasn't just the reenactment, her strange behavior and the inconsistent
story that led police to arrest Diane. During the nine

months between the shooting and the arrest, a key witness
was at last able to provide the final piece of
the puzzle needed to charge Diane. Diane was ultimately charged
because Christie could talk. Christie felt safe enough emotionally to
share her thoughts. She'd been going through through lots of therapy.

As part of these sessions, her therapist, a guy named
Carl Peterson, would ask her eventually, just in talking about this,
do you know who shot you? And Christie would nod
and he would say, do you want to write that down?
And I'll put this in an envelope and we'll just
burn it when it's done, so no harm, no foul.

So she did that for quite a while, and I
think there was probably one day in particular where she
felt okay about sharing that with him, what she had
written on the paper and what did she say, said
my mom. On the next episode of Happy Face Presents

To Face, we received a bizarre letter from Diane Downs
in prison that included her surprising claims of her relation
to Becky. This leads us to enlist the help from
DNA detective Michelle Leonard to help us solve the answer
of who are the biological parents of Becky. Ben Boland
is our executive producer, Melissa Moore is our co executive producer.

Maya Cole is our primary producer. Paul Decant is our
supervising producer. Sam Ti Garning is our researcher and Matt
Riddle is our story editor. Featured music by dream Tent
Happy Phase Presents to Phase is a production of I
Heart Radio m

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