If you’ve never heard of a ‘starvation doctor’ before, that’s no surprise, because it’s not a real thing. Linda Hazzard, mother of the fad diet, made it up. Hazzard is the perfect example of a quack doctor, with no medical training or diploma to speak of. She did, however, obtain a medical licence issued by the state of Washington through a loophole in the system for the practice of alternative medicine. She referred to herself as a ‘fasting specialist’.
Who Was Linda Hazzard?
Hazzard was born in December 1867 in Carver, Minnesota. Little is known about her early life. In 1908, she self-published her book, Fasting for the Cure of Disease, in which she wrote:
“Appetite is Craving; Hunger is Desire. Craving is never satisfied; but Desire is relieved when Want is supplied.”
Hazzard believed that food was responsible for any kind of disease or sickness people suffered - more precisely, too much food.
Despite having no evidence for her claims, Hazzard preached that the human digestive system needed time to rest and benefitted from regular fasts which lasted days, weeks or even months. Her idea was that fasting could rid the body of toxins and correct imbalances, therefore preventing future illness.
During fasts, Hazzard dictated that patients only consume liquids, like vegetable broths and juices in very limited amounts.
Extremely manipulative and controlling, Hazzard had a knack for convincing people to act against their best interests i.e. starving themselves to death. People referred to her commanding presence, namely her booming voice and the permanently stormy look she possessed as almost hypnotic.
In the early 1900s (around 1903/4), Hazzard met Samuel Christman Hazzard, who had recently been kicked out of the military for misappropriating Army funds. Samuel was a rogue, a cheat and an alcoholic. Linda fell deeply in love with him. The two seemed well suited to each other, both cheating and scamming their way through life. Samuel had been married twice before, and either forgot he was still married to one of his previous wives (or he just didn’t care), when he married Linda. This resulted in Samuel serving 2 years in jail for bigamy.
In 1906, Samuel was released from prison and the couple moved to Washington for a fresh start. Hazzard opened her office in Seattle, Washington, but their home was in Olalla, Kitsap County, Washington, where she hoped to establish her sanitarium.
Hazzard’s patients would spend time between Seattle and Hazzard’s Olalla home, which she referred to as ‘Wilderness Heights’. Locals referred to it as ‘Starvation Heights’ (which is where the name of Gregg Olsen’s book came from). Patients were often transferred to Wilderness Heights once they became too ill to function due to weeks or months of fasting.
Hazzard’s Victims - 1908
Despite her dangerous methods, Hazzard did not have any difficulty convincing people that her treatments could work miracles for their health. Her patients were all well-to-do people from prominent families, with the means to surrender themselves wholly to pretentious and baseless health retreats.
Hazzard was strongly influenced by Edward Hooker Dewey, M.D., author of the book The No-Breakfast Plan and the Fasting-Cure. Dewey argued that all disease occurred as a result of overeating and fasting was the cure. The British Medical Journal debunked Hooker’s claims, saying they were not based on solid evidence and “foolishly delusional”.
Hazzard’s methods were more extreme than Hooker’s – she supplemented her fasting treatments with daily enemas which lasted hours and violent “massages”, which left her patients battered and bruised.
The year 1908 saw two fatalities caused by Hazzard’s deadly treatments. These included Daisey Maud Haglund, a wealthy Norwegian immigrant, who died on February 26 at the age of 38, after fasting for 50 days. Her son, Ivar, was just 3-years-old when his mother succumbed to Hazzard’s treatment (although an autopsy would later show that she had terminal stomach cancer). Ivar would later go on to establish hugely successful Seattle restaurant chain, Ivar’s.
Ida Wilcox, who fasted for 47 days, died on September 26.
Violet Heaton died of starvation on March 24 and Blanche B. Tindall died on June 18. It was becoming clear that something was badly wrong, however, Seattle’s health director at the time insisted that nothing could be done, as people were willingly putting themselves in Hazzard’s care.
Each time a patient died, Hazzard would maintain that the death was a result of a pre-existing condition, and not her treatment. She would perform her own autopsies, listing the cause of death as the pre-existing condition. However, when an autopsy was performed by a medical professional, the cause of death was always listed as starvation.
Hazzard and her husband’s intent became clear when 26-year-old New Zealander Eugene Stanley Wakelin was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head on their Olalla property. While it was initially assumed that Wakelin had committed suicide, Wakelin was the son of a British lord, so Hazzard assumed he had money. But when it turned out he wasn’t wealthy after all, it was suspected that the Hazzards may have had killed him in frustration.
Maude Whitney died as a result of fasting in 2010.
The same year, 24-year-old Earl Edward Erdman, a civil engineer, was in search of a physician who could help with his painful indigestion. He had been to several of doctors, none of whom brought him any relief, so he turned to Hazzard. During a consult, Hazzard assured him that her fasting treatment was just what he needed. Erdman’s treatment began on February 1st. By March 28th, he was dead.
Erdman kept a diary through February to document his treatment. It went like this:
February 1- Saw Dr. Hazzard and began treatment this date. No breakfast. Mashed soup dinner. Mashed soup supper.
February 5 – 8 - One orange breakfast. Mashed soup dinner. Mashed soup supper.
February 9 -11- One orange breakfast. Strained soup dinner. Strained soup supper.
February 12- One orange breakfast. One orange dinner. One orange supper.
February 13- Two orange breakfast. No dinner. No supper.
February 14- One cup of strained tomato broth at 6 p.m.
February 15- One cup hot strained tomato soup night and morning.
February 16- One cup hot strained tomato soup a.m. and p.m. Slept better last night. Head quite dizzy. Eyes yellow streaked and red.
February 17- Ate three oranges today.
February 19- Called on Dr. (Dawson) today at his home. Slept well Saturday night.
February 20- Ate strained juice of two small oranges at 10 a.m. Dizzy all day. Ate strained juice of two small oranges at 5 p.m.
February 21- Ate one cup settled and strained tomato broth. Backache today just below ribs.
February 22- Ate juice of two small oranges at 10 a.m. Backache today in right side just below ribs.
February 23- Slept but little last night. Ate two small oranges at 9 a.m. Went after milk and felt very bad. Ate two small oranges 6 p.m.
February 24- Slept better Wednesday night. Kind of frontal headache in a.m. Ate two small oranges 10 a.m. Ate one and a half cups hot tomato soup at 6 p.m. Heart hit up to ninety-five minute and sweat considerable.
February 25- Slept pretty well Thursday night. Ate one and a half cups tomato broth 11 a.m. Ate one and a half cups tomato broth 6 p.m. Pain in right below ribs.
February 26- Did not sleep so very well Friday night. Pain in right side just below ribs in back. Pain quit in night. Ate 1 and a half cups tomato broth at 10:45 a.m. Ate two and a half pump small oranges at 4:30 p.m. Felt better afternoon than for the last week...
The day after Erdman’s death, The Seattle Daily News headline read:
“Woman ‘M.D’ Kills Another Patient.”
Lewis E. Rader, former Washington State legislator and publisher of the magazine Sound Views, sought treatment from Hazzard for stomach pain. Rader, an Olalla resident, was treated at home in the beginning, but was eventually moved to Seattle’s Outlook Hotel. Health inspectors tried desperately to convince Rader to cease receiving treatment from Hazzard, but he refused, likely delusional from lack of food, telling them to leave him alone. Rader died on May 11 after a 37 day fast, weighing less than 100 pounds and standing at 5”11. He was 46 years old.
Lawyer Frank Southard and C. A. Harrison, publisher of Alaska-Yukon magazine died the same year. A British man, John ‘Ivan’ Flux, had come to America to purchase a ranch. He died after a 53-day-long. Before his death, he signed over his assets to Hazzard. He died with just $70 to his name.
The Williamson Sisters
Probably the best known of Hazzard’s victims were British sisters Claire and Dorothea Williamson. The Williamson sisters had too much money and too much time to know what to do with. They were also hypochondriacs and avid followers of alternative medicine. They first saw an advertisement for Hazzard’s book, Fasting for the Cure of Disease, in a Seattle newspaper while staying at a luxury hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. They ordered the book right away. When it arrived, tucked inside was a pamphlet for Linda Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Therapeutics in Olalla.
The sisters immediately became enthralled with the idea of Hazzard’s fasting treatment and signed up right away. They did not tell their family their plans, knowing they would disapprove.
The reality was far from what they had imagined. The sanitarium in Olalla “wasn’t ready yet” according to Hazzard, so she installed the sisters in a Seattle apartment. She fed them two small portions of canned tomato broth twice a day and gave them daily violent massages and enemas which were so painful the women regularly fainted.
As Claire and Dora began to grow weaker, Hazzard began questioning them about the size and worth of their estate. Once the women had been receiving treatment for around 2 months, they were transferred to Hazzard’s Olalla home.
The Rescue Mission
Margaret Conway, Claire and Dora’s childhood nanny, received a strange letter asking that she come to Olalla as soon as possible. Margaret arrived in Seattle by boat on June 1. Samuel Hazzard met her at the boat terminal with some shocking news: Claire was dead. Linda Hazzard insisted that Claire’s had died of cirrhosis of the liver, and would have died regardless of her fasting treatment.
On seeing Claire’s body, Conway was stunned; it looked nothing like Claire. When she arrived in Olalla, she was taken to see Dora, who was living in dire conditions on the Olalla property. She was just days away from death. Completely delusional, she insisted the treatment was helping her, and she didn’t want to leave.
Conway made several more disturbing revelations: Claire had signed over her estate to Hazzard before she died. Hazzard had also been appointed as Dora’s guardian for life. She had also signed her power of attorney over to Samual Hazzard. Conway realised that Hazzard was helping herself to Claire’s wardrobe, regularly wearing the dead woman’s clothes and jewellery.
Although intimidated by Hazzard, Conway knew that the Hazzards were dangerous and that she had to help Dora. She got up the courage to tell Linda Hazzard she was leaving with Dora, but Hazzard told her no, she could not, as she, Linda Hazzard, was Dora’s guardian.
Conway managed to send a message to Dorothea’s uncle, John Herbert, in Portland, Oregon, telling him of the danger his niece was in and that she badly needed his help. Herbert arrived, and Hazzard immediately handed over a bill of $2000 for Dorothea. He managed to haggle this down to $1000. Herbert, Conway, and a skeletal Dorothea left the Olalla property, never to return.
Justice for Claire
On August 11, 1911, Linda Hazzard was arrested for the murder of Claire Williamson. In January 1912, Hazzard’s trial began. The jury heard testimony from nurses who worked for Hazzard. They detailed the horrific treatment, on par with torture, that the sisters endured at the hands of Hazzard. The prosecution explained how Hazzard and her husband not only starved the sisters physically, but financially, taking advantage of their vulnerable states by draining them of their assets.
Hazzard maintained that starvation was never the cause of death in any of her patients; they had all died from diseases that were plaguing them before they began fasting. She also argued that she was being attacked for being a successful woman.
The jury sided with the prosecution, and Hazzard was ultimately convicted of manslaughter. She was sentenced to 2 – 20 of hard labor at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Released on parole in December 1915, after serving just 2 years, Samuel and Linda Hazzard moved to New Zealand, where Hazzard’s following was still very much alive. While in New Zealand, Hazzard continued to refer to herself as a doctor, despite having had her medical licence revoked by the state of Washington. Authorities in New Zealand were alerted to the fact Hazzard was not a real doctor, and charged her with practicing medicine without registration. She was found guilty, but only received a small fine for her crime.
Back to Olalla
The Hazzards returned to Olalla in 1920. Linda Hazzard finally built the sanitarium she had always dreamed of, calling it a “school for health”. People continued to be intrigued by Hazzard’s methods, and she had a steady flow of gullible patients showing up in Olalla for fasting treatment. Hazzard continued supervising fasts, as if the previous 9 years had never happened. It is not known how many more patients died in her care.
Hazzard wrote another book, “Scientific Fasting: the Ancient and Modern Key to Health” (1927).
In 1935, the sanitarium burned to the ground.
Hazzard literally got a taste of her own medicine when in 1938, she starved to death during a fast. She was 70 years old.