Kansas Doctor Is Accused in Fire That Killed 2 of Her Children — (New York Times)

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New York Times

Published: November 24, 1995

A doctor who escaped a fire that destroyed her family’s $400,000 house a month ago has been arrested and charged with arson and murder in the deaths of two of her children, who died in the blaze.

Dr. Debora Green was arrested on Wednesday at a Kansas City, Mo., theater where she had taken her surviving daughter, a 10-year-old ballerina, to practice for her role in “The Nutcracker.”

Dr. Green, 44, was charged with murder and aggravated arson in the fire on Oct. 24 that killed her son, Tim Farrar, 13, and a daughter, Kelly Farrar, 6. The fire destroyed Dr. Green’s house, a six-bedroom, Tudor-style house in the Kansas City suburb of Prairie Village.

She was also charged with two counts of attempted murder. District Attorney Paul Morrison said that one of those charges stemmed from the fire and that the second was related to a poisoning attempt. He would not elaborate.

Dr. Green’s estranged husband, Dr. Michael Farrar, had been hospitalized three times with an unexplained illness a few weeks before the fire. He is also a physician.

When Mr. Morrison was asked about a motive for the fire, he said, “It’s a domestic situation, and that’s where I’m going to leave it.” He would not say whether the fire had been set with the intention of killing the children.

Mr. Morrison said it was too early to speculate about whether he would seek the death penalty. Dr. Green was being held today under a $3 million bond. Her lawyer, Dennis Moore, said his client had professed her innocence and was grieving for her children.

Dr. Green is an oncologist, or cancer specialist, who has stayed home to care for her children in recent years. Her husband is a cardiologist. The couple were separated at the time of the fatal fire.

Dr. Farrar filed for divorce the day after the fire and sought custody of Kate, who had escaped by climbing to the garage roof and jumping to safety.

Kate has been rehearsing the role of Clara in “The Nutcracker,” a production of the State Ballet of Missouri. Had she lived, Kelly was to have played an angel.

Investigators quickly ruled that the fire had been caused by arson. An inflammable liquid had been poured in several areas of the house.

The investigation included a closer look at an unexplained fire about 16 months earlier that had heavily damaged the family’s previous residence, as well as the mysterious illness of Dr. Farrar.

Dr. Farrar had fallen ill after the family visited South America on a school-related trip, and friends said doctors had speculated that he had acquired a strange type of typhoid on his journey.

The first time Dr. Farrar became ill, he was hospitalized and nearly died, The Kansas City Star quoted friends as saying. He went home, became sick again and returned to the hospital. Later, he was hospitalized a third time.

Nettie Agnew, senior vice president for the North Kansas City Hospital, said Dr. Farrar had been a patient there on Wednesday night. She said no details would be released, at Dr. Farrar’s request; the Star said he had been treated for an infection believed to be related to his previous illness.

About a month before the fire, on Sept. 25, the police said, officers responded to a domestic-disturbance call at Dr. Green’s house and found her “drunk, profane, bizarre but cooperative.” She was committed to a psychiatric unit for evaluation and released later.

At Mr. Morrison’s news conference, held in the Johnson County Courthouse late Wednesday, he said, “It’s a complicated case.”

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The following material was reported on Murderpedia, from police interviews with witnesses and the perpetrator about what happened:

While in the hospital for treatment, Green was diagnosed with “major bipolar depression with suicidal impulses” and placed on Prozac, Tranxene, and Klonopin. She returned home after four days in the hospital. Farrar, who had researched castor beans in the interim and come to the conclusion that Green had poisoned his food with the ricin that could be derived from the beans, moved out immediately upon Green’s return home.

The day of the fire, about a month after Farrar’s last release from the hospital, Farrar said that he had  taken the day off from work – the first day of what he intended to be a week-long vacation to recover some strength after re-starting his job post-hospital. He had spent the afternoon with Margaret Hacker and then picked up Tim and Kelly for Tim’s hockey game.   After dropping the children back off with their mother at about 8:45, he had dinner with Hacker, leaving her around 11:15 in the  evening.

Throughout the evening on October 23, 1995, a series of phone calls between Green and Farrar escalated into a confrontation. Farrar was convinced that Green was continuing to drink heavily while she should have been caring for the children,  and he told Green that he knew she’d poisoned him and that Social  Services might be called to protect the children if she failed to get her life in order. After the last call between Green and Farrar, Farrar watched television alone in his apartment until  about 12:30, when a neighbor’s phone call alerted him to the fire.

During his police interview after the fire, Farrar’s red eyes and trembling voice were apparent to detectives. He stated that Green had been “very concerned about money” in the context of their impending divorce, and that she may have set fire to the house to garner an insurance payout, but that she had never given any indication of intending to harm her children.

Green continued to stress after her sentencing  that she had little or no memory of events the night of the fire.   In the summer of 1996, she wrote a letter to her daughter claiming that she had taken more than the recommended doses of her medications that night. Similar letters to Michael Farrar varied from claiming she had no memory of the night of the fire to remembering firmly that she was innocent of the arson.  She  theorized that Margaret Hacker had set fire to the family’s house, and reiterated her claim from the show-cause hearing that Tim had  been the one to poison his father. Green said in a 1996 letter to author Ann Rule that she did not believe she had had the mental capacity to set the fatal fire, due to her alcohol abuse. In a later interview with Rule, she blamed her cloudy thinking during her court hearings on her Prozac prescription, and stated that   once she had stopped taking the drug, her mind was much clearer.

In 2000, represented by a new legal team, Green  filed a request for a new trial on the basis of having been rendered incompetent by the psychiatric medications she was taking  at the time of her hearings. Green further alleged that her  original attorneys had failed to represent her adequately, instead  focusing on avoiding a trial and the death penalty. She later withdrew the request when told that prosecutors would again ask for the death penalty. When the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty unconstitutional in 2004, she filed a second request for a new trial, which was denied in February 2005.