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Hi, I'm Heidi Murkoff, host of What to Expect, a new podcast from My Heart Radio when I first wrote What to Expect When You're Expecting. My mission was simple to help parents know what to expect every step of the way on what to expect will answer your biggest pregnancy and parenting questions about everything from preconception planning to birth plan. Newborns sleep to toddler tantrums. Motherhood is the ultimate sisterhood, but it can be overwhelming if you don't know what to expect.
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At first it was what does she look like? And then it was more of where is she, that person not love me, you know. And so that was kind of where that was coming from was the why. So when I started pestering my mom about, you know, how she looked and then where she was and, you know, kind of why she didn't want me, and that's how that opened up to she's done some bad things. She's in jail.
I can't tell you more, that kind of thing. She's like when you're older, I'll tell you more. A few years later, when I was about 11, I asked one last time and my mom told me that I'll never be old enough to know and that it's something that I shouldn't have to deal with. So she was never going to tell me. So I was 11 and still needed a babysitter. It was the same babysitter that I'd had since I was very, very young.
I can remember the moment like it was yesterday, which is so weird. I can't remember exactly what was said. But I remember standing at the top of the stairs. I was in the doorway of my bedroom.
She was in the hallway and I just thought, I am going to ask, I'm going to find the answers that I want. I'm just not going to stop until I know who my biological mother was.
And so I talked to the babysitter and made it sound like I already knew she had said, oh, so you know, Diane Downs.
And that was at that point how I had a name, the two. Turning to Harvey. Hello, listeners, my name is Melissa Moore. When I was a teenager, my father was arrested. His name is Keith Hunter Jesperson, a serial murderer also known as a happy face killer. The revelation came during an already challenging time in my life, and for years I buried the truth and didn't speak about it publicly.
And then one day I gained the courage to confront the past. I had a profound healing experience when I met my father's last victim, Julie Winningham son Don Finley, which you followed along with me on the Happy Face podcast. In that meeting, Don gave me his support, which gave me the confidence to continue on my mission to help other relatives of murderers find meaning and step out of the shadow of their parents crimes. And that Becky Babcock 10 years ago while filming a documentary.
Becky's mother is Diane Downs, a woman who sits in jail for the murder of one of her daughters and the attempted murder of another son and daughter during a shooting of the night of May 19th.
Nineteen eighty three, four years, Becky has wrestled with the idea of her own identity. And Becky has struggled not only with the idea of who her mother is, but also who her father could be. In this series, I'll company, Becky, as she confronts the fact her biological mother has had on our life and choices, as well as seek out the identity of her biological father, who may or may not even know she exists. My name is Dana.
I was a longtime writer for The Oregonian newspaper, and I still continue to write for Oregon publications.
Dana was a new reporter just starting his career in journalism in Cottage Grove. Not much had ever made national news.
The timber wars are going on back then. So battles over old growth, there were protesters up in the Willamette National Forests doing sit ins and trees, a lot of police coverage, a lot of government coverage, also city council meetings and whatever would come along.
And then one day came the Diane Downs case.
I remember that very well, it was on my birthday. Matter of fact, and I had spent the previous twenty four hours following a small circus, I went to the Oregonian's main headquarters and I was just kind of debriefing my editors on the circus story. And somebody then said, hey, there was a shooting in Springfield last night. They said, yeah, apparently a man was shot and and her kids were shot, one of them might be dead.
So I traveled back to Eugene that day and got involved in the story later.
And that afternoon, Dana was covering new ground at the time. This was a very unusual type of story. These sorts of things didn't happen in Springfield.
Clearly, this was such an out of the ordinary circumstance. It truly just did not happen. The report was that one child was dead and police were still looking for an assailant. Clearly, you couldn't have any more of a hot button situation than that going on.
The entire area was very freaked out during the first 24 hours after the shooting. Dana and other reporters had few sources for information. This was nineteen eighty three. Before the widespread existence of global Internet and quick access to information, we were really relying on police agencies to be giving us information and updates.
The kids were at Springfield or McKensie Willamette Hospital in Springfield clearly did not have access to those places.
As important as the story was, it was a little tough sledding to really get a toehold to figure out how to go ahead and report this, except for what we were getting from the police, which is really not much. For instance, we learned that the mom had been shot also.
So we were trying to figure out what are her injuries.
It would still take a few more days before anyone got to really even have a chance at interviewing the mom who we found out was Diane Downs. Dana and his colleagues slowly began to piece together information about the case at the time, it was believed that whomever shot Diane and her kids was still out there.
It was Elizabeth, Diane Downs.
That was the order that we were referring to her. It wasn't just Diane yet, but we didn't know much.
We knew that she was a letter carrier, had been working in Cottage Grove. The collective media effort had uncovered that much. People were then going down to the Cottage Grove post office and trying to do interviews. They weren't very cooperative.
I think they were all stunned of what was going on. Meantime, this notion that there was an assailant on the loose had people very rattled and unnerved in Springfield in particular, especially somebody who can shoot children, is that's a different type of predator. That just didn't happen. Kids getting shot. The primary source of information turned out to be Diane herself, who seemed more than eager to talk to the press. I first saw Diane when I walked into the house where she was living with her parents.
Springfield, she had called the news conference that there were TV people there, lights.
She talked at length and would address any question, didn't seem to shy away from anything, smiled and laughed a lot. And even the first time I saw her, it struck me that there are inappropriate responses. Diane, from the very first time that I sat in that news conference, struck me as somebody who just didn't respond the way you might think somebody would. It raised questions about off the bat like what's going on with her. Diane presented herself like someone very ready to be interviewed publicly.
She was probably five, five, five, six longish hair, nicely styled. She cared about her appearance and we call her wearing a dress and looking nice and confident and ready to take all the questions.
Most of the reporters wanted to know what happened. So Diane, walk them through her account of the events that night.
She was driving late at night with her kids was a school night. So that seemed a little bit odd. She said they like to sightsee in that area is very pretty, but it was about 10 o'clock at night, so you wouldn't be seeing anything except your car lights. She claimed that a guy was in the road, flagged her down, and she stopped immediately and said, what's wrong? And again, my first reaction, I think my colleagues in the press had the same feeling of there's no way on earth that I would stop in that situation if I had young kids in the car dark late at night, rural outpost area.
Diane painted herself as someone who was just being a good person by stopping to help someone. She pulled off the road, turn off the car, had the keys in her hand and gets out of the car to go talk to this guy. It just seemed like a natural thing to do.
She claimed that when she got out of her car, this guy said, I want your car. And she said, and she's consistent as far as I know, to this day in saying, you got to be kidding me in her telling this guy wants the car.
So what does he do? It's dark out. Headlights are shining forward.
He walks up to the car, leans in and fires five to seven bullets at sleeping kids. We were just kind of running through our minds thinking, well, how would he even be able to see that there was anyone in the car? The stories began to release in the media about Diane and the shooting, with Diane herself insisting that the perpetrators she described was still at large.
There had been a sketch released by the police that Diane had helped prepare of a guy with long hair and sort of angry looking eyes right off the bat. People were kind of smirking, thinking, oh, it's the old bushy haired stranger, which is kind of the oldest trope in law enforcement.
Despite this sketch and description, there were very few real leads in the case. There weren't solid leads. I know that the police got a lot of contacts. They were tracking these leads 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 was nothing that felt like a breakthrough in terms of finding somebody else who might be involved in this. The press began to realize that the police saw Diane as a potential suspect from the beginning.
Parts of what she said didn't make sense. I think that the press got the impression after about four or five days that the police were the ones who were perhaps looking at Diane. There hadn't been any other suspects.
All eyes were on Diane at the funeral. Yeah, all eyes were on Diane. For anyone who supported her, they were thinking this poor grieving mom. How is she dealing with this? For those who are skeptical? And maybe by the time the funeral happened, which is not that long after the shooting, there may not still have been widespread skepticism. So I think people were still feeling sorry for this mom and wondering how they would feel in that situation if they had to go through it.
More details about the children were released and the details of their injuries were horrifying, we learned in subsequent press conferences with medical personnel and the police that the kids had been basically shot in the chest, not in the head, but in the chest, close groupings of shots. It appeared to be that the gun was just inches from their bodies when the trigger was pulled. They were just catastrophic injuries. And it's really amazing that all three didn't die that night.
One fell, as far as we know, was dead on arrival at Mackenzie Alamin Hospital. The doctors have dispatched out there and nurses and horrified to find one, two and then a third kid. And they had been shot in the chest. I remember being at one of our news conferences saying if I had shot my kids would I had not have done a good job of it.
I remember thinking not too long after that, you did a tremendous job, if that was what you wanted to do, you did a great job. Finally, Diane was arrested for the murder. It was a big deal, it was it was a huge deal. Diane's been arrested, 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 after the arrest.
Diane was no longer the well composed woman she had been at the time of the murder.
She was looking tired, bedraggled. 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 circumstance when they finally took her into custody.
It turns out there was a reason she looked that way. Diane had gotten pregnant again during her first appearance in court, and I was there for that. I don't think anyone in the press knew that yet.
If it was any way someone was going to try to take control of the situation, that's what they would do. I was a real Diane skeptic from early on.
Not that I would know whether she was having an ongoing, serious relationship with anyone. I wasn't aware that she did. But when they said she's pregnant, I just thought, of course she is.
Eric Mason was a local reporter who followed the Diane Downs case alongside the Grondahl, true crime writer and rule during the trial they attended daily sitting in the press section, watching every milestone moment happen in real time after the end of the trial.
They had stayed in communication and often shared how they wondered whatever happened to that baby that Diane giving birth to. Did that baby grow up to know her mom was infamous?
Was the child doing well? What became of her life?
I'm just starting work as a private eye, doing criminal defense cases. I go to the Ben Film Festival and after the Ben Film Festival, there's a weekly discussion about scriptwriting over there. And I meet up with somebody and we were talking about my life as a reporter issues. I remember you at the CBS station in Portland. And so what are you doing now? And I said, well, I'm working on a script. And so each week we would come with our scripts.
And after one of the meetings over there and Ben, she said, you know, I think I've met the long lost child of Diane Downs. I said, Really? How do you know? Well, she's connected to this church I go to and we've been out to pizza and she's had several conversations with me and I thought, oh man, I'd love to meet her. I mean, and at that point, I didn't even know what I would do with that.
I had no idea where to go with that kind of a story since I no longer worked until Richard. When I met her, it's almost like I'm across the table from Diane Downs. I mean, it's a different age, it's a different demeanor, but there are some similarities that are clearly there. And there is a way that Diane Downs would toss her head back with her hair and Becky would do the same thing. And I'm not sure that Becky really even watched a lot of video of Diane.
And the only portrayal of Diane was Farrah Fawcett. But Farrah Fawcett got some of the mannerisms right.
Eric is referring to the nineteen eighty nine made for TV movie Small Sacrifices in which Farrah Fawcett played the part of Diane Downs.
And so I wondered if this was sort of a genetic tic. So I just wanted to make sure that it was done with as much. Well, as little glare and fascination, but more understanding of what it's like to wake up one day and to watch a movie on television and say that's my life being played out, and I would like to say something about it. I would like the first time to be able to say something about my life. And I think that's the sense I got from her.
And so when I called and rule in Seattle, I just said, you know, I think I've met Diane Downs child, the one she gave birth to the trial because, oh, I would definitely get a DNA test because I've been approached by all kinds of people who say they were the baby of Diane Downs. And I said, oh, and this is the right person. I don't need a test. I could see I've talked to. Up until this point, Becky had really kept her existence pretty quiet as far as the media goes back, his family kept her bio mother's identity a secret as they feared it would be harmful information to a child who was developing her own identity.
They vowed to give her the best life. And part of that promise was to protect her from the media circus they had previously witnessed around her birth.
I think people, the people who were from the state of Oregon that set everything up realized someone was going to have to have some means to be able to find a place that was off the beaten track and that she could hide kind of in plain sight and that it was up to her then to decide what to do.
Becky's adoptive parents arrived during Diane's trial. They had done the research themselves and set it up in a very short amount of time.
I think there was this idea that they went on a waiting list of parents to get high risk kids. They were also expressing interest knowing that that story was going on. Probably not that many want a high profile adoption of somebody who is going to come from a very difficult situation and then have a lifetime of real big challenges, probably on their hands. Not many people would probably take that on. And here were these really well-to-do, highly intelligent, successful folks in the pharmaceutical world who were willing to do it.
And so I think sort of like both sides, understood what the deal was. The Babcock's provided well for Becky and her sister, who is also adopted, they lived on a large piece of land in Bend, Oregon, in idyllic surroundings. It was better than anything her biological mother could have possibly provided for the first decade of her life. Everything was perfect. Her parents did their best to keep her from the truth. And then one day, after trying multiple times to get the information from her mom and being denied, being told she would never be old enough to know an interaction with the family babysitter changed everything.
Next time on Happy Face presents to face the fact that now there was this third person, now there was reality of who my biological mother was, I think it had been through years of asking that. It just I didn't think I'd ever know. And at that point, I wish I hadn't known this really scary.
Our executive producer is Ben Bulan, Melissa Moore is our co executive producer, Mihkel is our primary producer, and Paul Desmond is our supervising producer. Our story editor is Matt Riddle. Research assistants from San Teagarden featured music by A Dream Tent Happy. These presents to Face is a production by Hart Media. Baby, love my baby, love. Hi, I'm Heidi Murkoff, host of What to Expect, a new podcast from My Heart Radio. When I first wrote What to Expect When You're Expecting I was pregnant with my daughter Emma, and my mission was simple to help parents know what to expect every step of the way.
That mission has grown a lot, but it hasn't changed. Fast forward now, Amasa Mom. Hey, guys. We're teaming up to answer your biggest pregnancy and parenting questions. From breastfeeding to sleep to tackling tantrum. Motherhood is the ultimate sisterhood, but it can be overwhelming if you don't know what to expect. Listen to what to expect on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Šamaš are you ready, Mom?
I was born ready.