A Texas native, Diana Lumbrera was
seventeen years old when she married Lionel Garza in 1974. Their
marriage was troubled almost from the start, but the quarreling Garzas
made up frequently enough to produce three children in as many years.
Daughter Melissa was born in 1975, Joanna in 1976, and their first
son, Jose Lionel. in 1977.
Unfortunately, while Diana was adept
at bearing children, she had no luck at keeping them alive. Joanna was
the first to die, barely three months old when Diana brought her
lifeless body to the community hospital in Bovina, Texas.
According to Diana, the baby had
experienced convulsions before she suddenly stopped breathing, and a
pathologists report blamed Joannas death on strangulation due to
asphyxiation due to convulsive disorder. Under the circumstances, no
autopsy was required. Jose was two months old when Diana brought him
into the Bovina emergency room, on February 10, 1978.
The baby had suddenly gone into
convulsions and stopped breathing, she told physicians, but he was
still alive when they reached the hospital. Resuscitation was
successful, but doctors could find no apparent cause for the
convulsions, and they sent Jose off to Lubbocks pediatric intensive
care unit for observation. The babys condition was listed as stable by
February 13, when a 1:00 A,M, alarm brought a nurse to his room, in
time to see Diana retreating from the crib.
Jose seemed well enough that
afternoon, when Diana phoned her husband to tell him the infant was
dying. Her prophecy came true shortly after 6:30 P.M., when a nurse
saw Diana run from the babys room in tears; investigating, she found
Jose cyanotic, and thirty minutes of CPR failed to revive him. Less
than eight months later, on October 2, Diana walked into the Bovina
emergency room with daughter Melissa in her arms.
The three-year-old was dead on
arrival, Diana relating the familiar tale of unexplained convulsions
followed by rapid death. An Amarillo pathologist's report ascribed
Melissas death to asphyxia due to aspiration of stomach contents, and
the case was closed. Diana divorced her husband in 1979, but she was
seldom with-out male companionship.
Over the next seven years, beginning
with daughter Melinda in 1980, she would bear three more children out
of wedlock, each with a different father. None would live to see the
inside of a kindergarten classroom, and even the children of Dianas
relatives were not entirely safe.
On October 8, 1980, Diana went for a
drive with six-week-old Ericka Aleman, the daughter of a cousin.
Thirty minutes after setting out, they wound up at the local emergency
room, Ericka already dead when Diana spilled out her now-familiar
story of lethal convulsions. Incredibly, despite Lumbreras four-year
record of domestic tragedy, physicians saw no reason to suspect her of
harming the child. Daughter Melinda never made it as far as the
On August 17, 1982, the two-year-old
was pronounced dead at her mothers home, the cause officially listed
as acute heart failure due to increased taxation on a case of
congenital heart disease. Once again, if physicians suspected foul
play, they kept their doubts to themselves. Fifteen months later,
Diana bore another son, named Daniel.
On March 25, 1984, he was treated by
physicians for an ear infection, with no apparent complications. Three
days later he was back in the emergency room, dead on arrival, with
the cause listed as septicemia--a fatal blood infection. Curiously,
blood tests from his prior visit showed no evidence of septicemia, but
the anomaly was dismissed as inexplicable. In 1985, Diana pulled up
stakes and moved to Garden City, Kansas. Impregnated by yet another
boyfriend soon after her arrival, she delivered her third son, Jose
Antonio, on February 21, 1986.
The hardiest Lumbrera child, he
managed to survive four years and three months in his mothers care,
but Joses time ran out in the spring of 1990. He was already dead when
Diana carried him into a hospital emergency room on May 1 ... but this
time her luck, like Joses, had run out. The day before Joses death,
Diana had taken him to a local physician, citing her usual complaint
of mysterious convulsions.
The doctor could find no logical
cause, but he wrote a prescription for antibiotics, which Diana never
bothered to fill. In retrospect, authorities would say that this, like
many other doctors visits through the years, had been deliberately
staged to lay the groundwork for a subsequent fatal attack. This time
around, hospital staffers called the police, and Detective James
Hawkins questioned Diana at length, compiling a list of her previous
children, along with the places and dates of their deaths.
In Texas, authorities from Palmer,
Lubbock, and Castro Counties launched new investigations, discovering
that each of Dianas children had been insured for amounts between
$3,000 and $5,000. (In Melissas case a second insurance policy was
purchased one day before she died.) Diana was the only person who
observed the various convulsive episodes, and--with the exception of
Jose Lionel--all were beyond help when Diana sought medical care.
Kansas authorities were first off the mark with a murder indictment,
in Jose Antonios death.
In July 1990, a Palmer County,
Texas, grand jury indicted Diana for first-degree murder in the cases
of Joanna, Melinda, and Melissa. Lubbock County weighed in with
charges stemming from Jose Lionels death, and Castro County indicted
Diana for Ericka Alemans slaying on September 10. Dianas murder trial
in Garden City opened two weeks later, with any reference to the Texas
Dianas employer and an officer from
her credit union were called to describe how she used false tales of
misfortune--including a bout with leukemia for Jose and her own
fathers death in a nonexistent car wreck--to secure $850 in sympathy
loans from the credit union. Prosecutors also noted that Jose Antonio
was insured for $5,000 when he died, and Dr. Eva Vachel blamed the
childs death on deliberate suffocation.
Dr. William Eckert appeared for the
defense, blaming Joses death on a massive viral infection. According
to Eckert, Joses heart, lungs, and liver were normal, revealing no
evidence of murder. Prosecutors countered by noting that Eckert had
never examined said organs, since they were removed during autopsy and
never replaced in the corpse.
Convicted of murder after less than
an hours deliberation. Diana was sentenced to life imprisonment, with
a minimum of fifteen years inside before parole. A few weeks later,
Texas Rangers flew Diana back to Palmer County, where she faced three
counts of murder, with a possible death sentence under a new
In the interest of
self-preservation, Diana pled guilty to Melissas murder, while charges
were dropped in the cases of Melinda and Joanna. Lubbock County was
next in line, handing down a third life sentence after Diana pled no
contest--with no technical admission of guilt--to her first sons
death. Castro County, in turn, waived prosecution on outstanding
charges to save an estimated $50.000 in court costs.
By June 1991, Diana was back in
Kansas, officially beginning to serve her time.
Michael Newton -
An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Mother Accused After 6 Children Die in 14 Years
She is convicted of smothering one and charged in
the deaths of four others. All were under age 5. Friends and family
By Chip Brown - Los Angeles Times
January 6, 1991
BOVINA, Tex. — One by one, Diana Lumbrera buried
each of her six children, weeping and fainting as the tiny bodies were
lowered into the ground, begging on her knees for her little ones to
Each of the children died before his or her 5th
birthday, and doctors ascribed each death to natural causes. Diana
Lumbrera knew better than that; she had been cursed by her former
mother-in-law, she said.
But now, authorities say the children's deaths were
neither natural nor supernatural. They say that Diana Lumbrera, 32,
killed her offspring.
She has been convicted of killing one 4-year-old
son; she faces charges that she killed three daughters, a son and the
daughter of a cousin; authorities are investigating the death of
Still, her friends and family insist that a
terrible mistake is being made.
"She was a loving mother and she took care of those
children," said her aunt, Elodia Flores. "She worked hard every day
and made those children No. 1. in her life. I just don't believe she
killed those children."
Joanna Garza, age 3 months, died Nov. 30, 1976. The
cause of death: "strangulation due to asphyxiation due to convulsive
Jose Lionel Garza, 2 1/2 months, died Feb. 13,
1978. The cause of death is listed as undetermined.
Melissa Garza, 3, died Oct. 2, 1978, The cause:
"asphyxia due to aspiration of stomach contents."
Erica Aleman, Lumbrera's 6-week-old cousin, died
Oct. 8, 1980. Medical records are missing.
Melinda Ann Garza, 2, died Aug. 17, 1982. The cause
is listed as "heart failure due to increased taxation on a case of
congenital heart disease."
Christopher Daniel Lumbrera, 5 1/2 months, died
March 28, 1984, of what doctors said was septicemia--a fatal infection
of the blood.
Jose Antonio Lumbrera, 4, died May 1, 1990. The
cause of death was listed as "asphyxia due to smothering."
For 14 years, as Lumbrera's children died one after
another, law enforcement authorities in Texas suspected nothing. The
death certificates gave them no reason to be suspicious.
Then authorities in Garden City, Kan., where
Lumbrera had moved, were handed a murder case. Doctors there
attributed Jose Antonio's death to smothering, and a jury agreed in
October, taking just three hours to convict Lumbrera of murder. She
was sentenced to life in prison.
The Kansas charges prompted a massive investigation
into the other deaths, resulting in the five murder indictments in
three West Texas counties.
"A death certificate may say death due to heart
failure. Everyone who dies suffers from heart failure," said Parmer
County Dist. Atty. Johnny Actkinson, who will prosecute Lumbrera in an
"The question is, what caused the heart failure?"
Actkinson says there was no cover-up; instead, he
suggested that those who issued the death reports probably did not
want to think the worst.
"Those kids' deaths were such a horrible state of
affairs that no one considered a mother would murder her own children.
So the doctors look for another way to explain it. I am not being
critical. It's just human nature."
Lionel Garza, Lumbrera's second husband and father
of four of the dead children, says he was shocked by her conviction in
Jose Antonio's death.
"All my life I lived thinking my kids died of
natural causes. Now all the doors of question are open and the pain is
rushing back in," he said.
Still, Garza--who filed for divorce from Lumbrera
in 1980, two years after their third child's death--apparently
harbored suspicions about his wife, according to authorities
acquainted with his grand jury testimony.
"Lionel was suspicious of Diana after the third
death," said Bovina Police Chief Gary Coleman. "Especially since he
said he was playing with the child (Melissa Garza) early that morning
before going to work.
"He said the child was healthy and he didn't detect
anything wrong. Thirty minutes after he arrives at work, he's called
and told the child has died."
Garza said the allegations against his wife "gave
me a lot of anger. But now I just want the truth. I want to know if
she killed my babies."
Virginia Bribiesca, Lumbrera's sister, says she was
there when Garza's mother cursed her, telling Lumbrera her children
would die at their mother's hands. "I heard the woman say it," she
Garza denies that it ever happened. His wife "never
said anything to me about the children being cursed by my mother," he
Parmer County Deputy Sheriff Richard Bonham, who
helped lead the investigation into the deaths of Lumbrera's children
in Texas, says the witchcraft argument is irrelevant: "In our
investigation, that holds no water for defense of what she has done."
But those who know Lumbrera--a frail former
meatpacker--say there is no doubt that she believes in the
Maria Antillon, a close friend, said the defendant
is high-strung, emotional and frequently talks about her fervent
belief in spiritual healers and "curanderos" -- witchcraft doctors
prevalent in Latino culture who have the power to bless or curse a
"She told me several times about witchcraft and
things she believed in like curses and things like that," Antillon
said. "She used to tell me that she felt her mother-in-law had cursed
her. She said if you believe in the curanderos they will get to
you. If you don't, they won't."
Antillon is one of Lumbrera's defenders.
"Diana went to church every Sunday when she lived
here," she said. "Everybody liked her. She wasn't the type of person
that would get in trouble with a neighbor. I never heard that she had
gotten into an argument with someone else. And she loved her kids."
Her aunt, Elva Hernandez, notes that Lumbrera
suffered from polio when she was a child. "Diana was often sick when
she was young. How can they just disregard that the kids could have
died because of sickness?"
Other friends and family members are suspicious of
authorities' motives in pressing the case. Robert Olvera, 33,
Lumbrera's cousin, says the police have actively pursued the case
because the defendant is Latino.
"You think this would happen to a Diana if she was
white? No way. Absolutely not," Olvera said.
"The police are just looking for publicity, if you
ask me," he said. "That is the only way you can explain all this
coming out so many years later. The doctors ruled the children died of
Bribiesca fears that the Kansas conviction will
doom her sister in Texas.
"She didn't get a fair trial" in Garden City, said
Bribiesca, who resides in Kansas. "Before this, I think she could have
gotten one in Texas, but not now. Not after this. They're going to
think she killed all her kids. But Diana's not going to give up, I'll
tell you that."
In late January, Lumbrera faces trial on murder
charges in Parmer County in the deaths of Joanna, Melissa and Melinda;
the grand jury said she smothered the three children to collect
$15,000 in life insurance benefits.
She also faces separate trials in Lubbock and
Bailey counties in the deaths of Jose Lionel and Erica Aleman. An
investigation into the death of Christopher Lumbrera continues. If she
is convicted in any case, she could face either life in prison or the
death penalty, administered by lethal injection.
Gordon Green, Lumbrera's lawyer, would not allow
her to be interviewed.
"It's not an everyday case," said Green, refusing
to comment further.
Lumbrera is being held in the Parmer County Jail on
$300,000 bond. Fifteen miles away, at the Bovina Cemetery, elaborate
headstones stand over the graves of five of Lumbrera's children.
Each bears the same epitaph: "Darling, we miss