Hazzardous Medicine

Linda Burfield Hazzard had the potential to accomplish a great deal of good in her lifetime. Born in 1867 in Minnesota, she became a doctor at a time when women were not encouraged to pursue such a career. She was an intelligent and very determined woman as wel, and a charismatic speaker and writer.
But something went wrong. Something went very wrong indeed.
Dr. Hazzard chose a peculiar area of medicine in which to specialize. Her specialty was fasting. At that time, fasting was considered quack medicine, largely discredited. This did not prevent the determined doctor from publishing a highly successful book in 1908, “Fasting as a Cure for Disease.” In it, she claimed that her fasting method could cure just about any disease known to man, up to and including cancer.
With her alcoholic husband Sam, Hazzard opened Wilderness Heights, a “sanitarium” in Olalla, Washington, a remote and picturesque coastal town. Here, wealthy patients came to take the cure. Many never made it out of Olalla alive.
Earl Erdman, a Seattle city engineer, kept a detailed diary of his stay at Wilderness Heights. In it, he described the spartan meals he consumed as part of the fasting treatment. The diet consisted mostly of strained tomato or asparagus broth, only a cup or less once or twice a day, supplemented with tiny amounts of orange juice. Erdman wrote that he slept well on this diet but that he was light-headed, suffered severe backache, and that his eyes were “yellow-streaked and red.” He died after nearly two months at Wilderness Heights. Predictably, the cause of death was starvation.
It was the Williamson sisters who finally exposed the full extent of the “treatment” prescribed by Linda Hazzard. Dorothea and Claire were wealthy British women in their early thirties, both perfectly healthy but with an interest in medical fads. This, coupled with a fair amount of hypochondria, led them to sign on for the fasting cure in 1912.
Initially the sisters lived in an apartment in Seattle, where they were cared for by a nurse and visited by Dr. Hazzard. When they were sufficiently weakened, they were moved to Olalla and the sanitarium itself.
It was at this point that Linda Hazzard gained control of the sisters’ finances and took possession of their jewelry and other valuables. She took advantage of the ladies’ rapidly-deteriorating health to get them to sign documents giving her such control.
And the treatment continued. Dory, as Dorothea was called, finally began to suspect that something sinister was going on. She and Claire were literally wasting away, in constant pain and barely able to talk. Dr. Hazzard separated them, and by the time Dory was finally permitted to see her sister, Claire was near death. Claire died shortly after a “massage” which was a part of the “treatment” which consisted, essentially, of Hazzard vigorously pounding on the sunken abdomen.
Claire Williamson died weighing less than fifty pounds. Dory was less than sixty pounds when a family friend finally arrived and rescued her, taking her to Seattle against the strong objections of Dr. Hazzard.
From there the terrible truth of what happened at Wilderness Heights began to come out. Hazzard went on trial for the murder of Claire Williamson, with Dory as the star witness against her. She was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two to twenty years in prison. She was released after two years, and a year later was pardoned by the governor of Washington.
The Hazzards promptly moved to New Zealand, where Linda worked as an osteopath and dietician for four years. After that they returned to Olalla and reopened their “sanitarium” though this time Dr. Hazzard billed herself as an educator, since her license to practice medicine had been revoked.
But the loss of her license made little difference. Linda Hazzard was still starving her gullible patients. Several more would die by her “treatment” methods, but she continued to operate without interference. The local residents were used to seeing pathetic, skeletal men and women around the sanitarium, and they referred to the place as Starvation Heights.
The sanitarium finally burned to the ground, and a few years later, in 1938, Linda Hazzard died by self-starvation in an attempt to cure herself.
Gregg Olsen, noted crime writer, deatailed the Hazzard case in a book called “Starvation Heights.” I hesitate to recommend it to anyone, because I didn’t actually finish reding it. I was forced to give it up because it was so slow-moving, so wordy, so BORING, that I just couldn’t keep on. The book was as heavy and indigestible as Dr. Hazzard’s cure was spartan and unnourishing.


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