Starvation Heights

A mostly forgotten place, across Puget Sound from Seattle, Olalla, WA, has a handful of dilapidated buildings. But in the 1910’s it was international news for a murder trial that the region hasn’t seen before or since. At the center of this is a woman named Dr. Linda Hazzard.

Linda, lacked a medical degree and formal training, but she was licensed by the state as a “fasting specialist”. She believed that the root of all disease lay in food. She wrote a self published book in 1908, Fasting for the Cure of Disease, and wrote that the path to true health was to periodically let the digestive system “rest” through near total fasts for days or more. During the fasts that her patients performed, they were also “flushed” with daily enemas, and vigorous massages that sounded more like beatings. They only consumed small servings of vegetable broth.

Linda’s methods attracted patients who were from all walks of life, but her best remembered patients were a pair of British sisters, Claire and Dorothea(Dora) Williamson. They had learned of Dr. Hazzard’s book while staying at a lush hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. The girls were not seriously ill, but they felt that they were suffering from a variety of minor ailments. They were also believers of “alternative medicine”.

As soon as they learned of Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Therapeutics, they became determined to undergo the “most beautiful treatment”. When the sisters arrived in Seattle in 1911, they were told that the sanitarium wasn’t yet ready in Olalla, and instead they were set up in an apartment, where Dr. Hazzard fed them a broth made from canned tomatoes. A cup, twice per day and no more. They were also given hours-long enemas in the bathtub with supports for when the girls fainted.

Claire and Dora Williamson were transferred to the home in Olalla two months later and weighed about 70 pounds each. This was worrisome to neighbors who saw them.

Claire and Dora Williamson before treatments

Claire and Dora’s former nurse, Margaret Conway was the only one who suspected something was amiss. She arrived in Vancouver where, Samuel Hazzard, Linda’s husband, met her. On the way to the hotel, Samuel shared some startling news: Claire was dead.

Dr. Hazzard explained that the real culprit was the course of drugs given to Claire as a child that shrunk her internal organs and caused cirrhosis of the liver. As Dr. Hazzard stated, Claire was much too far gone for the “beautiful treatment” to save her.

Arriving at Olalla, Margaret saw Dora, who weighed approximately 50 pounds and couldn’t sit without pain, but she couldn’t get her to leave Olalla, even though she was starving to death.

The horrors that Margaret saw in Dora’s bedroom matched those in Dr. Hazzard’s office: The doctor and her husband had been appointed the executor of Claire’s considerable estate and well as Dora’s guardian for life. Dora had also signed over power of attorney to Samuel Hazzard.

The Hazzard’s had helped themselves to Claire’s clothes, jewelry, and household goods, and delivered reports about Dora’s mental stated to Margaret while wearing Claire’s robe. Finally, with help from Mr. John Herbert, the girls’ uncle, they were able to remove Dora from the property.

Upon investigating the case, Mr. Herbert and the British vice consul Mr. Lucian Agassiz, discovered that Dr. Hazzard was connected to other deaths of wealthy individuals. Many of whom had signed over their estates to her before they died. In all about a dozen people are said to have starved to death under Hazzard’s care, although the number could be higher.

Dr. Linda Hazzard, mug shot

In August 1911, Linda was arrested on first degree murder charges for starving Claire Williamson to death. The jury was unmoved by Linda’s claims and returned with a verdict of manslaughter. She served two years hard labor at Walla Walla, and her medical license revoked. She was later pardoned by the governor, but her license was never reinstated.

The institute burned down in 1935, and in 1938 Linda fell in and passed away shortly thereafter. The ruins of the building still remain as does her offices in downtown Seattle. It is rumored that the ghosts of murdered patients still haunt the premises.

You are your own best investment

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