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Midnight Meditations: Diane Downs Murder Case in OregonDr. Thomas Arthur Billings
What does the Lord require of Thee? To do justly to love mercy and to walk humble with your God. (Micah 6:8)
(EUGENE, OR) - This is one of 13 meditations by the late Dr. Thomas Arthur Billings that Salem-News.com will carry in the coming weeks. On May 19, 1983, Elizabeth Diane Downs and her three small children were shot by an assassin on a country road near Springfield Oregon. Diane Downs would eventually be convicted of murder, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon. Was Diane really guilty as charged or was she tried for her sexual promiscuity?
I have followed this tragedy over the past six years. My reasons are these:
For the past six years, as the tragedy in Oregon passed through its stages – the night of terror, the search for a killer, the suspicion that Diane might have committed the crime, the search for evidence, the arrest and indictment, the trial, the conviction, the escape – I followed the case through newspaper releases and videotaped interviews.
I read Ann Rule’s book, SMALL SACRIFICES, and urged my students and colleagues to read it. In my graduate seminars, I shared the particulars of the case with advanced students, asking them to consider two questions:
Like so many others, I was persuaded that Diane had, indeed, attempted to murder her own children. The physical evidence, while inconclusive and contradictory, coupled with Christie’s testimony in court, seemed to remove “reasonable doubt.”
Assuming Diane’s guilt, I would urge my graduate students – all practicing teachers or social workers – to consider the factors in Diane’s biography which might account for this horrible human act.
I would ask: Is she INSANE? Is she EVIL? If insane, we should look to Psychology and Psychiatry for guidance. If evil, we look to Theologians and Shaman for guidance. I would urge my students to read M Scott Peck’s THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED and PEOPLE OF THE LIE, or Jeffrey Mason’s THE ASSAULT ON TRUCH and AGAINST THERAPY as well as Ann Rule’s SMALL SACRIFICES.
Generally, students assumed Diane’s guilt. They tended toward a Freudian interpretation: her sexuality was the crucible out of which her destructive madness came. Psychologically and, perhaps, sexually abused in childhood, her sexual/psychic energy, i.e., her “soul” had become twisted and disfigured to make of her a “sexual psychopath” a “pathological personality: a “sociopath” and a “monster”.
When students were asked to suggest the appropriate community response to such crimes, the consensus seemed to be: Destroy such people or lock them away for life without possibility of parole. To the question: Are such people “remedial” the educated consensus seemed to be an emphatic: NO! I would urge them to view the films LILITH, FRANCES, THE OX – BOW INCIDENT, and the recent, A CRY IN THE DARK.
I would also urge them to read Aldous Huxley’s THE DEVILS OF LOUDOUN, and review the trials of Socrates, Jesus and Joan of Arc. I would offer to loan them my two excellent volumes, THE WORLD’S GREAT TRIALS – From Socrates to Eichmann (Brandt Aymar and Edward Sagarin, Bonanza Books, new York, 1967) and a small volume entitled NOT GUILTY, a collection of cases in which “justice” went awry and innocent people were convicted of crimes they did not commit. (Judge Jerone Frank and Barbara Fran, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1957).
More serious students (alas, a small and holy minority) engaged this additional reading and consideration. As their reading deepened, their doubts about Diane’s guilt deepened as well.
Then in October 1989 two important additions to the case appeared:
I decided to write Diane in her prison cell in New Jersey to tell her that her testimony and the testimony of her father and brothers had generated some doubts in my mind as to her guilt and that I was almost persuaded by her testimony to begin a conversation with her father and mother and brothers about the case. I told her that the next time I visited my family in Oregon, I would contact her father for that purpose.
Within a week, my campus phone rang and a man’s voice asked: “Are you Tom Billings?” I said, “Yes” and the caller responded, “This is Wes Frederickson. I am Diane Downs’ father. Diane sent me a copy of your letter and I have some material I think would interest you.”
I said, “Well, Wes, send it to me and I will look at it.”
Within a week the documents and pictures.
Meanwhile, the tragedy has gone Hollywood and the TRUTH is now buried under a mountain of California hype and Hollywood promos. While the prosecuting attorney, Fred Hugi (who adopted Diane’s Children), protests this savage Hollywood blitz on the TRUTH, Ann Rule is quoted in the Eugene Register-Guard as saying: “I feel upset that the Hugi family is upset. I’ve done everything I can to play fair, but I’d have to be more of a saint than I am not to want the story to sell in Hollywood.”
Ann Rule writer of DETECTIVE FICTION, friend of mass murderer, Ted Bundy, now makes millions exploiting this pathetic tragedy, while she rides rough shod over all human delicacy and decency.
Never mind the hapless children – Christie and Danny Downs – or the Frederickson family and never mind Diane in her prison cell in New Jersey. There’s MONEY to be made! Big Bucks! Not truth. Not justice. Not simple decency. MONEY!! And fame and fortune for the writer of DETECTIVE FICTION, Ann Rule.
Until I had read Diane’s account of the tragedy, I felt that Christie’s testimony in court was sufficient grounds for conviction. However, after discovering how this testimony was developed, I don’t believe there is an honest psychologist in the history of the world who would accept her testimony as credible.
This is in no way to fault Christie, rather the viciously contrived circumstances in which this testimony was fabricated to serve the preconceptions and secret agenda of the police and prosecuting attorney.
There is not a child on earth who can’t be taken from all natural supports, systematically threatened and rewarded, and subliminally seduced into believing and saying ANYTHING. And that may well be what happened to little Christie Downs during the six months she was held in ISOLATION and incommunicado as the prosecution’s hired “psychologists” worked on her. (Again, read M. Scott Peck’s THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED and PEOPLE OF THE LIE. Also, Jeffrey Masson’s THE ASSAULT ON TRUTH and AGAINST THERAPY.)
The crime was so outrageous, so brutal, the police and prosecuting attorney were doubtless under enormous political pressure to “solve it,” “find a suspect,” get “justice” for these brutalized children.
Diane’s sexual promiscuity, her intellectual and verbal alacrity, and her obvious intelligence may well be her built-in NEMESIS, when in fact she may only be a pathetically unhappy child trapped in a monstrous, tragic intelligence.
She is easy to dislike. Did the police and prosecuting attorney say to themselves (however unwittingly): “We need to get a suspect quick to get the public off our backs. Diane is an impudent slut and an undesirable person. Why not finger her for the crime? We can make it look like she did it, whether she’s guilty or not. It will be easy to make her look guilty. We have no solid evidence but we can take her children, hold them in isolation, remove all natural supports, and set our paid “psychologists” to work on them until we get the testimony we want from them.”
Dr. Thomas Arthur Billings, 66, died quietly Saturday, May 27, 1995 on his Farm in Washington State. Dr Billings gained his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Oregon. After 3 years of teaching at Sacramento State College he moved to Washington DC to became the second National Directory of the Upward Bound and Community Action Programs in the Office of Economic Opportunity in the late 1960's where he received an Accolade Extraordinaire for his Upward Bound leadership.
Among his most cherished achievements are Outstanding Teacher of The Year awards from both Sacramento State College and Western Washington University where he taught until his retirement in 1993. He also won countless Blue Ribbons at the Northwest Washington Fair, under his beloved pseudonym Chester P. Lampe, for his vegetables and his bagels, the latter of which were genuinely tasty.
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