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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

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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


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.

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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Simon & Schuster
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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

Meet the Author

Ann Rule is the author of thirty New York Times bestsellers, all of them still in print. Her first bestseller was The Stranger Beside Me, about her personal relationship to infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. A former Seattle police officer, she knows the crime scene firsthand. For more than two decades, she has been a powerful advocate for victims of violent crime. She lives near Seattle. Visit her at AuthorAnnRule.com.

Brief Biography

Seattle, Washington
Date of Birth:
October 22, 1935
Place of Birth:
Lowell, Michigan
Creative Writing Program, University of Washington

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Bitter Harvest 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
Lindsie More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of Ann Rule's best novels. I couldn't put it down...very good thriller!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! Could not put it down. Ann Rule makes true crime read like fiction. One of her best!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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?
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this is one of Ann Rule's finest novels, as well as the usual in impressive writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
dragonAZ More than 1 year ago
Am a big Ann Rule fan. She doesn't disappoint in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book kept me awake and ended like most of her books do.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I I have been reading Ann Rule for over twenty years She never disapoints xoxoxoxoxop
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting story.... one I would highly recommend to book clubs... it would make for a very interesting discussion
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read everythin by ann rule some books more then once must read for anybody into true crime!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great book by Rule .. to think a mother, wife could do this to her family, so sad .. Bn
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put it down! Thats my four star rule!