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Small Sacrifices: A True Story of Passion and Murder

1 rating: 5.0
true crime book by Ann Rule

   Ann Rule's shocking and powerful account of the destructive forces that drove Diane Downs, a beautiful young mother, to shoot her three young children in cold blood.

Author: Ann Rule
Genre: True Crime
Publisher: Signet
1 review about Small Sacrifices: A True Story of Passion...

One of the greatest true crime books ever

  • Oct 27, 2010

Ann Rule is a first class writer. She is so well known for her true crime books that it’s easy to forget that her writing- just the writing- is very fine indeed, full of elegant descriptions of the Pacific northwest that she knows so well, accompanied by remarkable insights of the players on her stage.

The research required to pen” Small Sacrifices,” which took three years to write, is staggering. Even though the book was written almost twenty five years ago the tragic story of one woman’s unspeakable crime will tear at your heartstrings. The psychology Rule presents regarding the cold-blooded killer Diane Downs is very applicable today and there are current individuals like Joran van der Sloot who fit that mold perfectly.


Diane Downs shot all three of her children in the car and then dawdled along on the way to the hospital, giving the children time to die. Her little girl Cheryl had died almost at once, “death so  close behind her it could whisper in her ear” while Christie and Danny were heroically saved by the medical personnel at the hospital emergency ward, but both children  were severely handicapped. Christie was severely traumatized and sustained a stroke even though she was  only 8 years old. She hovered “as tentatively as a butterfly’s wings” at death’s door before the team of frantically working doctors brought her back from the abyss. Little Danny at only three years old was shot in the spine and will be paralyzed for life from the waist down, but the frantically working doctors saved his life.


Diane made up a story of a bushy haired man who suddenly appeared in the street ahead of her and demanded the car, then shot all three children, a tale that did not convince the police assigned to her case. Diane shot herself in the arm after shooting all three children at point blank range. Of course the concocted story made no sense at all. Why would a gunman shoot three small children and not kill Diane who could identify him?


Diane wanted to get rid of the children because her married boyfriend Lew didn’t want kids. The children, of course, are the “small sacrifices”. A year after the shooting Diane was finally indicted and brought to trial. As always, Rule is a hands -on writer and she sat perhaps two feet from Diane during much of the trial. She can describe how Diane  at one point along with the people in the courtroom was listening to “Hungry Like the Wolf” the song that had been playing in her car when Diane shot her children. Diane sat there at the side of her lawyer, merrily snapping her fingers and jiggling her leg in time to the music, apparently oblivious she is on trial for murder.


While her little girl, Christie, who barely survived being shot in the chest twice, was on the witness stand the courtroom was eerily silent, hushed, almost frozen with horror. The little girl had one paralyzed arm and her speech was halting but she named her own mother as the shooter and the killer of her little sister. Up there on the witness stand she struggled with her emotions and practically everyone in the courtroom except Diane was in tears. Rule described Diane’s strange yellow or green eyes and her inappropriate laughter. There is something extremely discordant about Diane Downs.


Rule delves deeply into the psyche of Diane Downs. Diane had lamented over her unhappy childhood and abuse by her father. But most children who are abused do not become killers. Diane is thought to have three serious personality disorders- narcissism, histrionic disorder and she’s a sociopath. Like her soul mate Ted Bundy, she is always on stage and the center of that stage. She cares absolutely nothing about anybody, and her obsession with “Lew” the married man she shot her children for, is just that: an obsession. Diane believes that people exist to serve her without her giving anything in return. She is and was an empty shell devoid of sympathy, empathy and love. The only love she is capable of is for herself and she has no conscience. And like all sociopaths she’s an accomplished liar .An empty shell.


Ann Rule keeps you reading her page- turner, gasping at the horror and you may even shed a tear or two over those children, wounded so long ago by their own mother. The evil in Diane is balanced by the good of people involved in the case: the doctors who struggled to save the children’s lives, the detectives who labored on the case, and especially the prosecuting attorney, Fred Hugi, who adopted Christie and Danny, brought them up with love and sent them to college. (Christie is now married and has a baby boy of her own. Danny, although in a wheelchair, is a cheerful, successful computer whiz).


Diane, Rule emphasizes, is not insane because a psychosis (insanity) can be treated by therapy and medication and can be reversed. There is hope for an insane person, but the sociopath will never change. He bears the mark of Cain which will brand him for life. You could almost say that the tattoo of a rose Diane has on her shoulder is the mark of Cain.

One of the greatest true crime books ever

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