1 9 8 9 (USA)
2 x 120 minute episodes
This powerful two-part miniseries from ABC was based on the true story of Oregon woman Diane Downs, who was convicted of shooting her children – killing one and maiming two others – so she could be with her boyfriend who disliked children.
Downs drove up to a hospital emergency room in Springfield, Oregon, on a night in May 1983 with the bodies of her three blood-spattered children lying in her red Nissan Pulsar.
Her own arm was bleeding, and she told police that a “bushy-haired stranger” who flagged down her car on an isolated road had done the shooting.
The seven-year-old daughter died soon after being admitted to the hospital. A three-year-old boy was paralysed from the waist down by the bullet that hit him in the back.
His eight-year-old sister had been shot in the head and was traumatised into speechlessness.
Diane Downs was eventually identified as the prime suspect in the case, and the police tried to shield the children from her so she wouldn’t be able to influence their testimony.
The producers could have told the story as lurid melodrama but chose, instead, to make it a painstaking case study of a dangerous sociopath. who could commit such a horrendous act and feel no remorse whatsoever.
Farrah Fawcett was magnificent in the lead role, with a performance so exhaustive and convincing that it really was scary.
Fawcett was particularly trenchant marching into the hospital, past security guards stationed to keep her out, and warning them as she stomps down the hall, “I’m getting stronger and stronger, and I’m going to beat this.”
Young actress Emily Perkins was simply stunning in the role of daughter, Karen.
Prosecutor Frank Joziak (John Shea) became Downs’ nemesis and the saviour of her children, even though it took a year to bring a murder charge. Ryan O’Neal (Ms Fawcett’s long-term companion) played Lew Lewiston, the man Downs swears she loves.
The prosecutor in the actual Diane Downs case, Fred Hugi (upon whom the character of Frank Joziak is based), ultimately adopted the surviving Downs children.
Detective Doug Welch
Boyd Paul Downs
Elan Ross Gibson
Anne Bradley Jaeger
Verla Mae Wells
George R. Robertson