Diana Lumbrera Murders

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Mommy Little BookA Texas native, Diana Lumbrera was an adolescent 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 Joanna’s 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 Lubbock’s pediatric intensive care unit for observation. The baby’s 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 baby’s 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 Melissa’s 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 Diana’s 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 Lumbrera’s 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 hospital. On August 17, 1982, the two-year-old was pronounced dead at her mother’s 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 mother's care, but Jose’s 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 Jose, had run out. The day before Jose’s 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 (now the Chief of Police for Garden City) 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 Diana’s children had been insured for amounts between $3,000 and $5,000. (In Melissa’s 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 Antonio’s 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 Lionel’s death, and Castro County indicted Diana for Ericka Aleman’s slaying on September 10.

Diana’s murder trial in Garden City opened two weeks later, with any reference to the Texas killings barred. Diana’s 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 father’s 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 child’s death on deliberate suffocation. Dr. William Eckert appeared for the defense, blaming Jose’s death on a massive viral infection. According to Eckert, Jose’s 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 hour of deliberation, Diana was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum of fifteen years before the possibility 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 serial-murder statute. In the interest of self-preservation, Diana pled guilty to Melissa’s 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 son’s 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.

If Diana is ever let out of Kansas prison, she will immediately be extradited to Texas for two counts of murder she plead guilty to down there.