In the early 1950s in Los Angeles, Diana Skidmore was a lovely, intelligent little girl, and a Girl Scout with a passion for animals. As a young woman she married her high school sweetheart George Gallow, and blessed him with two sons. In 1979 Diana Gallow had a miscarriage and her mind slowly unravelled. The psychic pain was too much for our Gallow girl and she sank into mental illness. She became anxious and irrational, believing her life to be in danger and that she was being pursued by Nazis. Nazis get blamed for everything.
She was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and briefly hospitalized. However as many mentally ill people will do, once Diana felt better she stopped taking her meds. We just know what’s ahead of us, don’t we? Believing her sons were in danger Diana forced them to wear a charm bracelet to ward off Nazis. It wasn’t long before George noticed she was pushing her delusions onto her children. Being a gentleman, George did the only thing a loving husband would do in such a situation: he filed for divorce and took the children away from her. Husband of the Year he was not.
Diana moved out of the house and wandered from Phoenix, Arizona, to Montana, to Maine and other places to escape the German Nazis who wanted to kill her. Diana was cuckoo for coconuts. Finally she moved into an apartment with a roommate, 52-year-old businessman Jack Ferris but her mental health continued to decline. Diana called police 6-8 times a day to complain someone was trying to kill her. She still refused treatment for schizophrenia believing her delusions were reality and somehow in the middle of this mess she actually got a job at the public library. It didn’t last long. Soon after Diana was hired, she was fired from her library job after attacking a co-worker whom she claimed had chased her around the library on a daily basis with an ice-pick chopping at the tip of her ear. She’d sought to protect her family but her refusal to accept help drove them away. Her delusions intensified.
Now Diana was being stalked by President Clinton and former Senator George Mitchell. She was the heiress to the Howard Hughes fortune. Dial was worth her weight in gold. Too bad she didn’t try to collect on that fortune. She would have been the wealthiest crazy woman living in the States. She believed she was working for the CIA to track her pursuers. She changed her surname to Dial and believed fervently that she was being pursued by a Cheryl Thompson, who was working under the protection of the White House. Diana wrote letters to family, friends, congressmen, the FBI and anyone else she thought might resolve her predicament. Fittingly, the letters made little sense “…deny my children their own mother…people who are killing me off…Cheryl Thompson, her face is in Mass Murderers…”
She displayed hypergraphia, the compulsive need to write, typing up to 20 lengthy letters in a single day. As is typical in so many tragic murder cases, no one responded to her cries for help. She believed Jack had poisoned her with drinks laced with gold and she was slowly dying. Hey, if she had to be poisoned at least do it with class. Diana never told him about her beliefs. Instead her paranoia became so intense that she believed he would target her children. This couldn’t be. One evening she walked into the kitchen, aimed a gun at Jack’s chest and pulled the trigger. Jack Ferris was no more. Dutifully, Diana sat down and dialled the police to report the murder, quite satisfied she had done the right thing both in killing her roommate and in calling police.
The jury at her trial didn’t see it that way. They convicted Diana of first degree murder and she received 60 years to life in a maximum penitentiary. Her distraught mother testified how she tried to get her daughter to seek help only to be attacked and denigrated by Diana for conspiring against her. Like other mentally ill convicted offenders I disagree with this sentence. Diana Dial was off her nut. She needed to be incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane. Psychiatrist Xavier Amador, a so-called expert, testified that mental illness is no excuse for willfully breaking the law and killing people. At least the court listened to a competent professional and not an idiot. Diana told Dr. Michael Stone that Ferris was one of her pursuers. She claimed these pursuers were responsible for the Oklahoma bombing and had framed Timothy McVeigh.
It can be argued that Diana refused treatment and that meant people’s hands were tied, however such is the nature of mental illness. Simply giving up and doing nothing is unacceptable. Dial faced Texas’ strict laws regarding the insanity defense, which was modified in l983 in response to the John Hinckely defense. Lawyers now had to prove that Dial could not distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the shooting; a much more difficult standard than in the past. Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan Sr. in Washington, D.C. on March 30, 1981, believing this would help him gain actress Jodi Foster’s attention and love. After he was acquitted under the insanity defense a public outcry led to the Insanity Defense Reform Act. Unfortunately, it would seem the reform is far too strict. This law needs to be amended yet again for people like Diana Dial. And for Jack Ferris.
If there is one bright spot at the end of this account, it’s that Dial has found prison life comfortable. Her prison guards are nice and she has not been threatened or terrorized by the Germans or government agents. She feels safe. I knew bars were there for keeping the public safe from criminals but I’d never imagined they were there to keep evil out. Dial’s belief that she was Howard Hughes’ golden girl hasn’t helped her to get out of jail free. She will spend her golden years paying for her crime in prison.