GIFTED WITH A BRILLIANT MIND, BLESSED WITH A BEAUTIFUL FAMILY AND CURSED WITH A DESTRUCTIVE MADNESS
In this harrowing New York Times bestseller, Ann Rule is at her masterful best as she winnows horrific truths from the ashes of what seemed like paradise in Prairie Village, Kansas. Rule probes the case of Debora Green, a doctor and a loving mother who seemed to epitomize the dreams of the American heartland. A small-town girl with a genius IQ, she achieved an enviable life: her own medical practice, a handsome physician husband, three perfect children, and an opulent home in an exclusive Kansas City suburb. But when a raging fire destroyed that home and took two lives, the trail of clues led investigators to a stunning conclusion. Piece by piece, Ann Rule digs beneath this placid Midwestern facade to unveil a disturbing portrait of strangely troubled marriages, infidelity, desperation, suicide, and escalating acts of revenge that forever changed dozens of lives.
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About the Author
Ann Rule wrote thirty-five New York Times bestsellers, all of them still in print. Her first bestseller was The Stranger Beside Me, about her personal relationship with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. A former Seattle police officer, she used her firsthand expertise in all her books. For more than three decades, she was a powerful advocate for victims of violent crime. She lived near Seattle and passed away in 2015.
Date of Birth:October 22, 1935
Place of Birth:Lowell, Michigan
Education:Creative Writing Program, University of Washington
Read an Excerpt
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."
"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
On Friday, January 30, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Ann Rule, author of BITTER HARVEST.
Moderator: Welcome to barnesandnoble.com, Ms. Rule. I know you are calling in from Kansas City -- are you on a book tour, or does this have to do with the Debora Green case?
Ann Rule: I'm on a book tour. It's kind of full circle. I arrived in Kansas City exactly two years ago yesterday to attend the pretrial hearing of Debora Green. And now I'm back on a book tour and meeting hundreds of readers in Kansas City who have virtually lived this case.
Lois from Charlotte, NC: How did you find out about the case that's profiled in BITTER HARVEST? In fact, how do you find out about most of your cases?
Ann Rule: I hear about a number of cases that become books from readers' mail. They send me clippings and letters of suggestion. I read about the Green case in an AP news story -- very short -- in The Seattle Times. This was followed by more than a dozen letters from readers in the Kansas City area with more information. The case sounded fascinating, if tragic.
Kristen from Gainsville, FL: I haven't read BITTER HARVEST yet, but Debora Green has done something unfathomable to a mother like me. Was there a history of mental illness? Do you find that many of these pyschopaths exhibit unusual or destructive behavior beforehand, or do they just "snap"?
Ann Rule: No history of mental illness in Debora's case. However, inside her family home she had temper tantrums, turned her children against her husband, and seemed determined to destroy her marriage. Most of these people present a fairly sound mask to the world. They don't snap, they just get worse. I have never written a book about someone who was truly crazy. I am more interested in people with personality disorders, such as antisocial personalities and those with narcissistic, histrionic, and borderline personality disorders.
Brian Arleth from Springfield, MA: Where do you come up with the facts in all your cases? Whom do you speak to? How do you begin?
Ann Rule: I usually begin by attending the trial and pretrial hearings. I don't talk to anyone until the case has been adjudicated. Then I talk to the police, the prosecutors, family members, witnesses, and usually the convicted killer in person. I always try to go to the spot where the crime occurred, so I can take readers through the scene and show them the weather, what was growing there, what the air felt like, and details that places them beside me as I investigate.
Maryanne from Maui, HI: Do you believe it was love or hatred that drove Debora to try to poison Mike and to set her house on fire?
Ann Rule: I don't believe she understood the meaning of love. I think it was hatred for him, but most of all, hatred for herself. This was a woman consumed by jealousy and a need to wreak revenge on almost everybody in her world.
Asterisk** from Seattle, WA: BITTER HARVEST ends with you speaking to Debora Green. What surprised you the most when you actually met with her?What was she like in person?
Ann Rule: She was very different from the Debora in the courtroom, who was stolid and said nothing. She was very different from the Debora on the police videotapes taken of the police interview with her three hours after the fatal fire where she laughed and joked. She seemed nervous, diminished, but anxious to convince me that someone else poisoned her husband and set fire to her home. However, she betrayed herself when she changed her story about the night of the fire. She told me that she had struggled down the hall to try to rescue her children. I think she was lying to me, but I think she saw something in my eyes that showed I didn't believe her. Nevertheless, I felt almost sorry for a woman who could have destroyed the children and her own life, to be left with nothing but 40 hard years.
Johnson from Buffalo, NY: Just curiousHas your work ever led to solving a certain case?
Ann Rule: Only my first book, where I reported my friend Ted Bundy to the police as a look-alike for the "Ted" killer they were looking for. I was hoping I was wrong, and indeed he wasn't arrested for another year, and that was for new crimes in Utah.
Jonas from Palo Alto, CA: Your type of work must attract some strange characters. Do you ever take precautions? Has your life ever been threatened?
Ann Rule: No, my life has never been threatened. Sometimes convicted killers sue me because they are angry at the way they are portrayed. For instance, Brad Cunningham of DEAD BY SUNSET is suing me for racketeering under the RICOH Act, because he says my book is full of lies about him. I'm not too worried. I do take precautions. I don't give out my address. I have three huge sons and two huge dogs.
Tara from Decatur, GA: Debora Green used castor beans to poison her husband? How did that work? Could you explain?
Ann Rule: Well, I don't want to give out a recipe for killing your husband, but the common castor bean contains the third-deadliest poison in the world when it is ground up. Debora obviously did some research to find something that would destroy her husband. It was a miracle that he survived at least three poisonings. The plant makes a lovely midwestern spot of color in a summer garden, but the beans are deadly.
Charity from Santa Monica, CA: Do you have any insight into the Jon-Benet Ramsey case? What is going on in Boulder? What is your theory about this bizarre case?
Ann Rule: I'll be in Boulder in three days, and I may find out more then. My opinion is that she died at the hands of one of her own parents -- probably her father. And her mother helped to cover up the crime. I cannot understand why parents anxious to find their child's killer would refuse to talk to the investigators if they were totally innocent.
John Wright from Harrisburg, PA: Ann, Do you write exclusively about female killers? If so, why?
Ann Rule: No. I've only written 3 books about female killers and I've written 15 books in all. I do think that the destructive female is a very interesting subject. Probably 80 percent of my readers are females, and they, like me, want to know why a female would set out to deliberately kill someone who trusted her.
Justine from Missouri: How often did you meet with Mike Farrar? Why do you think he was so open with you?
Ann Rule: I met with him probably half a dozen times for several hours each time. I think he needed to tell the whole story, so he could find some closure. This way, when people ask him, as they will ask him, he can give them the book and he won't have to keep retelling the story of the tragedy of his family.
Maxine from South Bend, IN: Hi, Ms. Rule. I love your work, and I look forward to reading BITTER HARVEST. Your books generally deal with fascinating crimes that don't get a lot of media attention. Will you ever deal with a high-profile case? Thanks.
Ann Rule: Thanks! Probably I will always look for cases without media saturation. I want to write books that have some suspense for the reader and not books about O.J. or Jon-Benet, where every detail has already been published many times. Only if I could get a fresh angle on a high-profile case would I tackle it.
Booker from Portland: What happened to Debora Green's first husband, Duane?I saw their prom picture. Did he have any relevance in this case?
Ann Rule: He had no relevance beyond the fact that he helped to put her through medical school and she soon grew tired of him and left him. I think that that divorce shows how easily she can throw away someone who loved her.
Terry from Westport, CT: Could you talk a little bit about the effect this tragedy had on the town of Kansas City? Was everybody riveted to this case when everything came out?
Ann Rule: Well, I can't say everybody was, however at a book signing last night in Kansas City, 300 people showed up, and fully half of them seem to know someone connected with the case. Kansas City is a big town, but it's also a small town, particularly in its medical community. I think they were shocked that this happened in one of their most exclusive suburbs and that two doctors were involved in such a combative marriage. The saga of Debora Green probably will take its place beside Capote's IN COLD BLOOD as an unforgettable Kansas murder case.
Jennifer from Concord, TN: How do you keep abreast of the latest technological advances of forensic science?
Ann Rule: I lecture often to law enforcement groups, medical examiner conferences, and forensic science groups. After I teach, I sit down and learn from others presenting speeches and seminars at the meeting. I also learn a great deal about DNA, fiber profiles, and fingerprint identification by attending trials. I also went back to college and got an associate degree in police science when I first started writing about true crime. I still have trouble grasping the fine points of DNA, but I'm getting better.
Frank from British Columbia, Canada: Anne Not so much a question, but kudos from a fan. I have read most of your books (except compilations) and always look forward to your new stuff. Keep up the good stuff.
Ann Rule: Thank you. Try the compilations, because each one has a book-length case as well as four or five shorter cases.
Jane from Colorado Springs: How is Debora Green's ex-husband and her only surviving child doing now? Has he completely recovered from all the medical problems he had due to the poisoning?
Ann Rule: I'll know better in half an hour because I'm having dinner with Mike Farrar, his new wife, and the district attorney, Paul Morrison, and his wife. I do know that after 14 hospitalizations in one year, Mike has returned to his cardiology practice, and he says he thinks he has the critical incidents behind him.
Maggie from Nashville, TN: In general, how many, if any, of your ideas come from your fans?
Ann Rule: I would say at least 50 percent. DEAD BY SUNSET was suggested by a dozen different fans. I had never heard of Brad Cunningham. My other new book, IN THE NAME OF LOVE, was suggested by a retired FBI agent who claims to be a fan. YOU BELONG TO ME was suggested by the ex-wife of the killer, and BITTER HARVEST was suggested by a number of readers in Kansas City. I read every letter I get, and those with suggestions go into a cardboard box that says "Possible Books" on the side. Twice a year I go through all the suggestions and pick out one that seems to have the makings of a dynamite book. So I'm very grateful to my readers for keeping an eye out all over America.
Karl Metcalfe from Weehawken, NJ: I just began BITTER HARVEST and am riveted. Does it ever come out that Debora Green suffers from Munchausen syndrome? Thank you for taking my question.
Ann Rule: Excellent diagnosis. I too felt that Debora's strange injuries that would not heal might have resulted from self-injury and reinfection -- shades of Pat Taylor of EVERYTHING SHE EVER WANTED. I find that many of the females I write about have personality disorders that mirror those of other women I've written about.
La from Medina, TX: Why did you decide to leave the police force? Has your experience as a policewoman helped you out in investigating your cases?
Ann Rule: I didn't decide. They decided. I'm very nearsighted, and when I was a policewoman they did not allow officers to wear contact lenses. I couldn't pass the medical part of the civil service exam, even though my vision is 20/20 corrected with glasses. I was very, very disappointed, but it worked out 15 years down the road, when I started to write for True Detective magazine. Now I go into homicide division offices all the time and I instruct police officers, so in a way, I'm back on the force.
Aaron from Dayton, NY: Hello, Ann Rule. What attracts you to the true-crime genre? Obviously your background in police work must have something to do with it.
Ann Rule: It started way before that, when I was seven years old. I started spending my summers in jail. My grandpa was a sheriff in a little town in Michigan. It was a mom-and-pop jail with living quarters, office, and the cells all under one roof. I wondered then what happened to the men behind bars that made them grow up to be criminals. I also wondered how my grandfather could solve crimes with a bullet, a few drops of blood, a cigarette butt, or a piece of torn cloth. I always wondered why, and I still do. I think it's probably inevitable that I chose to write the case histories of crimes and the people who committed them. I'm still trying to answer questions.
Bridget from Boulder, CO: How are Mike Farrar and Lissa doing now?
Ann Rule: They are doing very well, although it probably would be too optimistic to think that they won't have painful scars for the rest of their lives. All they can do is go on.
Hugo from Amityville, NY: Hello, Ms. Rule. I read that you often lecture to enforcement officials on serial murder. What do you lecture on? Are you ever consulted when the police are stumped by the types of cases you write about? Thank you.
Ann Rule: I lecture on serial murderers, beginning with my slide presentation on Ted Bundy. I have the dubious distiction of having known a serial killer personally as a friend before, during, and after his crimes. I also lecture on women who kill and on high-profile offenders. I've written 1,400 articles and books about murderers. And over the last 25 years, I've learned quite a bit from reading case files and attending trials. Sometimes smaller departments will ask my opinion on baffling cases that sound like cases I've written about. In Seattle, I get a lot of calls from people who have information or think they have information about the still-unsolved Green River murder cases that began in 1982. At their request, I pass information on to the Green River Task Force.
Denver from Rockville, MD: Are you ever bothered by the subjects of your books? I hope you won't be offended, but in the whole scheme of literature, what purpose does "true crimes" actually serve? Is it pure escapism?
Ann Rule: I'm not offended. When I began with True Detective, I was very troubled to realize that I made my living off of other people's tragedies. I actually went to a psychiatrist, and he told me that half the world makes a living off the other half's troubles. He said what mattered was how I felt about the people I wrote about. I was relieved, because I did feel a personal connection and grief for my subjects. I think there are many positive sides to true-crime writing. To begin with, I think its important to explore the causes of violence so that we can stem the tide. I have had any number of letters and calls from women particularly, who told me that one of my books saved their lives. I try to preach in a subtle away about being aware of danger, being ready to fight, keeping car doors locked, and the dangers of trusting men just because they are good looking. I really do believe that I am doing what I was meant to do and plan to continue for another 25 years.
Caren from Toronto, Canada: What do you like to read in your spare time?
Ann Rule: Maybe it's a surprise, but I like to read gentle, sensitive novels, particularly books by Anne Tyler. I like Garrison Keillor, have just finished LAKE WOBEGON BOY. I also read biographies, autobiographies, and love books on the advances in medicine. I'm an eclectic reader who admits she reads the National Enquirer, the Star, and People every Monday just to clear my mind. I used to read a lot of true crime, but when you write it all day, you don't want to read true crime at night. My heroes in the genre are first of all Thomas Thompson and his book BLOOD AND MONEY and Truman Capote for IN COLD BLOOD. I also admire Shana Alexander for MRS. HARRIS, Jerry Bledsoe for BITTER BLOOD, and Darcy O'Brien for TWO OF A KIND. I can remember being four years old and thinking that being able to read would be the most magical thing in the world, and it is. One day, I hope to write some gentle novels myself. I started out writing humor, and I'd like to do some of that too. In the meantime I'll try to read the best of other author's works.
Moderator: We are so glad that you have joined us tonight, Ms. Rule... We hope that you will join us again and are eager to see your next book on the shelves!
Ann Rule: Thank you. I really enjoyed being on tonight.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ann Rule is one of my favorite true crime authors to date. Readers become so absorbed in her books that they feel true emotions for the victims and families. In this one, "Bitter Harvest" it tells of a woman named Deb Greene who kills 2 of her children because her husband wants a divorce. Ann Rule described the psyche of Mrs. Greene and how her childish personality turned her into a cold blooded murderer. Those who love true crime should pick up this book. There are a lot of interesting aspects of the story that I cannot sum up here, but should be read. I highly recommend it!
This book holds you till the end. As with all of Ann Rules books you can't put it down. It's horrible to know what a person could do to their own spouse and children.
Ánn does it once more..enticing me to grip this book without the need to let go. The language she uses is simple yet profound, not too bombastic yet insightful. I look forward to reading more of Ann Rule's work
This was one of Ann Rule's best novels. I couldn't put it down...very good thriller!
Excellent book! Could not put it down. Ann Rule makes true crime read like fiction. One of her best!!
After first reading this fascinating character study, I checked forensic psychology websites and stumbled onto the traits of borderline personality disorder that, IMO as a layperson, fits Debora Green to a 'T'. Bearing in mind the specific criteria, I reread Bitter Harvest. Not to be missed is the chilling depiction of Debora Green's jovial aspect during her middle-of-the-night interview at the local police station while firemen were still at the scene of the fire and she was unaware of the fate of her son and youngest daughter. When the detective asked where her children went to school...'They all go to Pembroke Hall' she said speaking so fast it was hard to make out the words, 'At least the living ones do.' paperback pg 182 Another reviewer has been critical the Ann Rule got some details wrong; but if the dialogue and description on this one page is accurate, that alone is worth the price of the book.
People who say that Ann needs to "get her facts straight" really have no idea what they are talking about. Ann Rule investigates ALL of her books thoroughly, leaving no stone unturned. She is fair and accurate, always telling the whole story. This is another masterpiece from Ann Rule and I was unable to put it down. If you love true crime from a writer that tells it ALL perfectly, you will love this story of a woman willing to kill her own children because her husband wants a divorce. Get into the sick and childish mind of Deborah Green, a woman who had it all, her own medical practice, a beautiful home and family and getting her own way was all that mattered. Great job Ann, another great book!
This is quite an interesting and tragic story. I was pulled in to the world of Dr. Green and could not put this book down. I however, felt that I never really got to know her mind or the reasons behind what she did. I was told of her life, but never gained insight into what drove her to such depths of despair. I find it hard to believe that her husband was the driving force behind all her evil and hateful ways. I think this book could have been written in a more objective way. Mike was never a shining example as Rule makes him out to be. I think he should share some of the blame for the breakdown of this family. Women who are committed and are on several meds should not be raising children. It's not alright for Mike to walk away and not shoulder some of the blame. Rule allows him to ramble on about his horrible wife, but she never questions him on why he stood by and watched this downward spiral. I would love to see a book about this family from someone willing to point fingers at all of the involved parties. From Mike Farrar to his parents and Debora Green's family, they should be ashamed that a woman who was so obviously a nut case was allowed to raise small children alone. Deplorable! and Ann Rule should have broached that subject. This story didn't unfold in the 50's before people understood mental illness. This was in the late 90's after numerous other mother's had plunged over the edge of sanity and killed their children. No one saw this coming? Oh, Please. Rule should have gone into this project with the same question for all involved, Why didn't you do something to prevent this from happening?
Ann Rule is the best on true crime this book tells all and makes you feel like you know the people she is writing about. An excellent book to read.
I think that this is one of Ann Rule's finest novels, as well as the usual in impressive writing.
I found this book very interesting, and read it in one day. It was a very in depth case study into the personality disorders of Deborah Green. She seemed to be completely apathetic toward her marriage until it fell apart; her response to its eminant failure and her treatment of her children during its demise was so horrific that I truely believe that she has to be severly mentally ill. Any mother that would harm her children, in my opinion, must be somewhat crazy, not just evil.
Am a big Ann Rule fan. She doesn't disappoint in this book.
I have read almost all of Ann Rule's books and this is her best. I just couldn't put the book down. Ms. Rule is the best at writing true crime.
The book kept me awake and ended like most of her books do.
This book was amazing! Ann Rule did a wonderful job- it was written so smoothly, and i loved the way that the characters were described with such detail.
No one does it better then Ann Rule when it comes to investigative research in preparation for full length true crime books. As usual, Ann Rule fully explores the backgrounds of those involved and provides full character descriptions. 'Bitter Harvest' will not disappoint and her hard work shows in this smooth flowing rendition of the terrible crimes committed by Debora Green against her children and husband.
I have read several of your books and love them. This and the book about Ted Bundy are my favorites to date. If you do not like true crime novels, do not read Ann Rule. She is the queen of true crime.
I I have been reading Ann Rule for over twenty years She never disapoints xoxoxoxoxop
Very interesting story.... one I would highly recommend to book clubs... it would make for a very interesting discussion
I have read everythin by ann rule some books more then once must read for anybody into true crime!
I used to live in a house in the same neighborhood. The plot of where her house used to be was right behind mine. The neighbors told told my dad who told me the story.
Another great book by Rule .. to think a mother, wife could do this to her family, so sad .. Bn
I couldnt put it down! Thats my four star rule!