Bitter Harvest: A Woman's Fury, a Mother's Sacrifice

Bitter Harvest: A Woman's Fury, a Mother's Sacrifice

4.3 72
by Ann Rule, Mary Beth Hurt

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"A tour de force from America's best true-crime writer." --Kirkus Reviews

Dr. Debora Green and her husband, Dr. Michael Farrar, seemed to have it all: a happy marriage, successful medical practices, and three bright and beautiful children. This image was maintained until a fire broke out at the luxurious mansion owned by the couple, taking the lives of two

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"A tour de force from America's best true-crime writer." --Kirkus Reviews

Dr. Debora Green and her husband, Dr. Michael Farrar, seemed to have it all: a happy marriage, successful medical practices, and three bright and beautiful children. This image was maintained until a fire broke out at the luxurious mansion owned by the couple, taking the lives of two of their children. When the fire was labeled arson, the police began to focus on Deb Green, who is the fascinating subject of bestselling author Ann Rule's most recent true-crime epic, Bitter Harvest: A Woman's Fury, A Mother's Sacrifice.

A chronicle of a tragedy that took place in the posh suburb of Prairie Village, Kansas, Bitter Harvest is the true story of the disintegration of a marriage and its horrifying consequences. Rule follows the arson investigators, forensic scientists, and prosecutors who had to untangle Green's intricate puzzle of psychopathology. Could a mother and a doctor, committed by the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm," deliberately set a fire that took the lives of her 13-year-old son and six-year-old daughter? Were the near-fatal episodes of intestinal distress suffered by her estranged husband caused by his wife? Could a woman be so full of vengeance that she would destroy her children and watch as her husband grew deathly ill from the poisoned food she fed him?

None of Rule's previous subjects -- not Diane Downs of Small Sacrifices nor Brad Cunningham of Dead By Sunset -- have inspired such an enthralling study of the criminal mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Dr. Deborah Green was a brilliant, wealthy, married mother of three who was convicted of repeatedly trying to poison her husband and of killing two of her children in a fire she methodically set in the family home. Rule (A Fever in the Heart, LJ 11/1/96) proves once again that she is a master of the true-crime genreshe builds the narrative from Green's days as a student of superior intelligence through her years in an increasingly unhappy marriage to her physician husband. Rule carefully chronicles Green's bizarre behavior and takes the reader through the arson investigation as well as Green's husband's illnesses, surgeries, and attempt to rebuild his life with his remaining child, who escaped the fire. Peppered throughout the narrative are quotes from Green herself, which expose her twisted thinking and her attempts to rationalize her behavior. An outstanding chronicle of a crime investigation as well as a riveting profile of a brilliant mind and empty soul. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/97.]Christine A. Moesch, Buffalo & Erie County P.L., N.Y.
Kirkus Reviews
A tour de force from America's best true-crime writer (Dead by Sunset, 1985, etc). Rule's fans will recognize shades of the pretty poisoner Pat Allanson in Dr. Debora Green, a Kansas woman with a lot of anger. She envies her husband, Mike Farrar, his youthfulness, his successful medical career, and his easy manner with women. Though the two have been married for 18 years and have three children, their relationship has always been rocky. Debora is cruel, vindictive, and has at various times been dependent on pills and alcohol. In 1995, with the family in quiet disorder, Mike and Debora plan to go to Peru. The trip is, in Mike's mind, their final act as a couple. While there Mike meets Celeste Walker, the beautiful wife of an unhappy doctor and an old friend of Debora's. After the trip, they begin an affair; Debora finds out, and Mike suddenly begins to suffer debilitating stomach problems, causing him to be frequently hospitalized. Mike eventually discovers several packets of castor beans in Debora's handbag. The bean is the source of ricin, a deadly poison that is later discovered in Mike's bloodstream. As he begins to recover, he moves out of the house and announces plans to divorce Debora. Only weeks later, a suspicious house fire occurs, the second to strike the family. This time it's fatal: The couple's son and younger daughter die; Debora and the middle daughter survive. An investigation leads back to the furious, defiant Debora, who confesses to both the poisoning and the arson after a carefully rendered and gripping preliminary hearing. She is now in a Kansas prison doing "a hard forty." Impossible to put down (though a little skimpy on psychiatric details), this is,thanks to the vivid, fascinating portrait of Debora and of the slow unraveling of her homicidal schemes, one of Rule's best. (24 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews Impossible to put down....A tour de force from America's best true-crime writer.

People A must-read story of the '90s American dream turned, tragically, to self-absorbed ashes.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) Tension filled, page-turning...

The New York Times Book Review An unnerving book...Rule offers some interesting theories.

The Washington Post The case of Debora Green — a woman whose promise seemed boundless — is intriguing.

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 4 CDs, 4 hrs. 30 min.
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 6.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
The wind had blown constantly that fall, but that wasn't unusual for Kansas. Most Kansans scarcely acknowledge the wind; however, on October 23, 1995, gusts were strong enough to scatter carefully piled mounds of leaves and make lights flicker on and off. Housewives set out candles and flashlights — just in case.
In Prairie Village, Dr. Debora Green went about all her usual errands. With three children to take care of, she practically needed a timetable to coordinate their activities. She would have welcomed a power outage so they could stay home, light faintly scented candles, and just talk to each other. Late that day, they were all back together in their beautiful new house on Canterbury Court: Debora; her son, Tim; and her daughters, Lissa and Kelly. After supper they went to bed in their separate rooms. Debora thought she had turned on the burglar alarm and the smoke alarm was set on "Ready."
Fire can erupt with a raucous explosion or be as furtive as a mouse skittering silently along a wall. It was after midnight when the wind coaxed out the first tongues of fire and blew them into billows of orange before all the sleeping neighbors on Canterbury Court even knew they were in danger. The magnificent homes were so close together that squirrels could leap from one yard's trees to those next door. And the roofs were made of picturesque wooden shakes, dry as bone from the long midwestern summer.
Debora Green was barely able to escape the flames that engulfed her house. She rushed to her neighbors' house and pounded on the door, pleading for someone to help her save her children. Then she looked back at the fire and her heart convulsed at what she saw. Silhouetted against the glow the sky, the small figure of a child scampered ahead of flames that were already eating away at the beams of the garage. As the child moved north, the roof just behind her began to give way and cave in. The child — it was Lissa — miraculously made her way up over the peak of the roof and down the other side, where she perched precariously on the edge of the disintigrating roof. In moments she would surely fall into the fire below and perish.
"Help me!" Lissa screamed. Even through the thick black smoke, she had seen her mother standing by neighbors' house. The little girl called again and again, small voice lost in the roar of the flames. Finally — as Debora was moving through quicksand — Lissa saw mother head toward her. She saw her! She was coming!
Lissa knew she would be all right now; her mother would save her. Debora stood beneath the edge of the roof, her legs spread wide and her feet planted firmly so that she would not slip. She held her arms open and beckoned to Lissa to jump down to her. But it was such a long way to the ground. For a moment, Lissa hesitated — and then she looked her shoulder and saw that the garage roof was almost gone.
"Jump!" Debora ordered. "Jump! I'll catch you."
"I'm afraid...."
"Jump! Now!" There was urgency in her mother's and something else, something that frightened Lissa more than the fire.
Lissa obeyed. With her arms above her head and the heat licking at her back, she leaped from the garage roof. But Debora didn't catch her, her arms were not spread wide enough, or maybe she was standing too far back from the garage. Lissa crumpled to the ground at Debora's feet. But the lawn was carpeted with a cushion of leaves and she was not hurt.
Lissa felt safe now. She was with her mother. She didn't how many houses were on fire, or if it was only their house. It seemed to her that the fire was everywhere, and the smell of smoke was also a taste of smoke in her mouth. Her mother led her toward their neighbors' house, and Lissa looked around for her brother and sister. Lights began to appear in windows up and down the block. She heard sirens far away, then coming closer and closer until they died out, whining, in front of the burning house. And in her head, she kept hearing a voice crying, "Help me! Help me!" She tried to tell her mother about that, but Debora seemed to be in shock. She said nothing. She did nothing. She was just there, looking at the fire.
Lissa didn't see her brother and sister and she began to scream for someone to save Tim and Kelly, someone to save Boomer and Russell, their dogs. Still her mother said nothing.
When Lissa saw a police car screech to a stop in front of burning house and a policeman running toward them, she begged him to save her brother and sister. He listened to her screams and then ran by without even stopping. Lissa clung to her mother and looked up into her face for reassurance, but she saw no expression at all. Debora was transfixed by the fire. The two of them just stood there, braced against the wind that was turning their house into a raging inferno.
Debora had saved one of her children. Was it possible that the other two were trapped in the fire, unable to escape? It was every mother's nightmare. And it was happening to her.

Copyright © 1997 by Ann Rule

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