The Poison Tree: A True Story of Family Terror

Open Road Media
4
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Edgar Award Finalist: The shocking account of a Wyoming father who terrorized his family for years—until his children plotted a deadly solution.

One cold November night, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, fifteen-year-old Richard Jahnke Jr., ROTC leader and former Boy Scout, waited for his parents to return from celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the night they met. When his father got out of the car, the boy blasted him through the heart with a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun. Richard’s seventeen-year-old sister, Deborah, was sitting on the living room couch with a high-powered rifle—just in case her brother missed.
 
Hours later the Jahnke kids were behind bars. Days later they made headlines. So did the truth about the house of horrors on Cowpoke Road.
 
Was it cold-blooded murder? Or self-defense?
 
Richard Jahnke Sr., special agent for the IRS, gun collector, and avid reader of Soldier of Fortune, had been subjecting his wife, Maria, and both children to harrowing abuse—physical, psychological, and sexual—for years. Deborah and her brother conspired to finally put a stop to it themselves. But their fate was in the hands of a prejudiced and inept judicial system, and only public outcry could save them.
 
Written with the full and revealing cooperation of the Jahnkes, this finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime is “the ultimate family nightmare, played out in the heartland of America. . . . From the night of the murder through both trials, convictions and both youngsters’ eventual release . . . it’s gripping reading” (Chicago Tribune).
 
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About the author

Alan Prendergast is an award-winning journalist and author. His stories have appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, including the true crime collection Seven Sins (2012), The Best American Crime Reporting 2008, and The Best American Sports Writing 2009. He has also written for Rolling Stone, Outside, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Men’s Journal, and other national publications, and is the author of The Poison Tree (1986), a book about child abuse and parricide that was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.
 
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4.5
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Additional Information

Publisher
Open Road Media
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Published on
Nov 22, 2016
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Pages
326
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ISBN
9781504042154
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Language
English
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Genres
Family & Relationships / Abuse / Child Abuse
Social Science / Violence in Society
True Crime / Murder / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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A mother’s search for the son she gave up uncovers terrifying secrets in a Minnesota town in this “masterfully depicted true-crime tale” (Publishers Weekly).

In 1962, Jerry Sherwood gave up her newborn son, Dennis, for adoption. Twenty years later, she set out to find him—only to discover he had died before his fourth birthday. The immediate cause was peritonitis, but the coroner had never decided the mode of death, writing “deferred” rather than indicate accident, natural causes, or homicide. This he did even though the autopsy photos showed Dennis covered from head to toe in ugly bruises, his clenched fists and twisted facial expression suggesting he had died writhing in pain.
 
Harold and Lois Jurgens, a middle-class, churchgoing couple in picturesque White Bear Lake, Minnesota, had adopted Dennis and five other foster children. To all appearances, they were a normal midwestern family, but Jerry suspected that something sinister had happened in the Jurgens household. She demanded to know the truth about her son’s death.
 
Why did authorities dismiss evidence that marked Dennis as an endangered child? Could Lois Jurgens’s brother, a local police lieutenant, have interfered in the investigation? And most disturbing of all, why had so many people who’d witnessed Lois’s brutal treatment of her children stay silent for so long? Determined to find answers, local detectives and prosecutors rebuilt the case brick by brick, finally exposing the shocking truth behind a nightmare in suburbia.
 
A finalist for the Edgar Award, A Death in White Bear Lake is “a distinguished entry in the annals of crime documentary,” and a vivid portrait of the all-American town that harbored a sadistic killer (The Washington Post).
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