Oregon’s Parole Board Isn’t Likely to Release Diane Downs Anytime Soon

After all these years, she maintains she didn’t shoot her children.



AGE: 68

BEST KNOWN FOR: Shooting her three children on a Lane County road on May 19, 1983.

Before Casey Anthony misplaced Caylee, before Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub in a fit of (alleged) postpartum depression, even before Susan Smith blamed an imaginary (but definitely Black!) carjacker for the disappearance of the two kids she’d actually pushed into a lake, there was Diane Downs, American pop culture’s first blockbuster murder mom.

Downs moved to Springfield, Ore., in April 1983 on the rebound from a relationship in Arizona—one which ended, she believed, because her ex had no interest in being around kids. According to prosecutors, Downs was hoping to rekindle this relationship when, just a month after arriving in Oregon, she pulled off a rural road and shot each of her children—Christie, 8; Cheryl Ann, 7; and Danny, 3—multiple times with a .22-caliber pistol. She then shot herself in the arm and drove to the hospital, where she claimed her family had been attacked by a bushy-haired stranger.

The case—initially, the manhunt for the “stranger,” followed by Downs’ own arrest and trial—electrified the nation. The subsequent true-crime paperback, Ann Rule’s Small Sacrifices, was a bestseller, and the TV movie version of the book starred Farrah Fawcett—the Jessica Alba of her day—as Downs.

Unfortunately for Downs, two of her three children survived (one, Cheryl Ann, did not), and Christie was eventually well enough to ID her as the shooter. Downs was sentenced to life plus 50 years. She’s been appearing in these WW check-ins ever since, most recently in 2007, because people wonder (or worry) when she’s getting out.

She’s still in prison today, but in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, having been transferred to a more secure facility after briefly escaping her Oregon prison in 1987. (She climbed an 18-foot razor-wire fence and hid for 10 days in the home of a fellow inmate’s husband.) Downs continues to maintain her innocence, as does her brother, James Fredrickson. “Diane may die in prison, but I promised my dad the truth wouldn’t die with her,” Fredrickson writes on Facebook.

She has been denied parole three times, most recently in 2020.

That most recent denial shows that the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision still believes Downs suffers from narcissistic personality disorder and poses a danger to vulnerable people placed under her watch—including her elderly mother, whom Downs said she wanted to care for. “Her previous violence occurred in the context of her care of vulnerable children for some purpose that has not yet been fully understood due to her denial of responsibility,” the parole board wrote. In other words, they’re probably not letting her out until she fesses up.

The chances of that seem remote. Her request for a review of the parole board’s denial gives a pretty good flavor of what she’s been up to:

“...I didn’t make the Request [for information from the FBI] because I thought I was unique, special, or lived in a fantasy world. I made the request because: 1) In 2011, I received a 1967 book titled HAND ANALYSIS. On page 194 is the palm print of a 4-year-old girl. That palm print is mine. 2) In 2013, I received a WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA printed in 1964; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover entered my newborn footprint on page 321 OF Volume “F.” 3) In 2018...”

There’s lots more of this at dianedowns.com—this document alone runs to 59 pages. But seriously, J. Edgar Hoover! You’ve gotta admire a paranoiac who still respects the classics.

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