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In 1911 two wealthy but hypochondriacal sisters found a sanitorium that promoted a special “fasting” cure for whatever ails you. They were so eager to check in and become patients, but didn’t know that Dr Linda Hazzard would try to kill them, not by fasting, but by placing them on a starvation diet that would weaken and terrify them. This is their story, including the famous court case against Dr Hazzard.
Claire and Dora Williamson thought that the revolutionary “fasting” cure would help their vague maladies: female trouble, headaches, malaise. A plan was concocted to get in touch with Dr Hazzard and gain admittance to her sanitorium. The sisters told no one of their journey, and thus no one missed them, as they were always traveling here and there. The sisters were separated once the fast started in earnest, and could only hear each other. As they grew weaker, dizzy and exhausted, each one thought the other one was getting stronger. Finally Claire slipped away, her jewelry and money appropriated by Dr Hazzard and her husband Sam. Dora was told that she was becoming insane, and it was her sister Claire’s wishes that she stay on at the sanitorium until her death. Purely by accident the sister’s former nanny tracked Dora down, and spirited the emaciated woman away. Part Two of the story tells the story of how the British Vice Consul championed the Williamson’s plight and attempted to take legal action against Dr Hazzard and Starvation Heights.
This is a true story, told with chilling detail due to author Gregg Olsen‘s thorough research. Washington State provided archival materials to the author, such as Claire Williamson’s death certificate, the court ruling, interviews with former residents and photographs of the town of Olalla at the time of the incident. Dr Hazzard’s place was notorious amongst the residents, but they were an insular group and no one thought to say anything against the Hazzards. This was why so many people had died (at least 40) at Linda Hazzard’s hands.
Linda Burfield Hazzard was a strong willed woman, a feminist who railed against the Old School of male doctors. In fact, she was never given a real medical license, a fact that was made much of in court. She felt the medical establishment was against her, and only wanted to provide an alternative method for healing.
On the one hand, she did prove herself as a maverick, but on the other hand she took things too far and was greedy. Healing by starvation was not her intent–or was it? Olsen paints a picture of her as just a little off, controlling and single minded. I was not sympathetic to her character at all, and felt as if she set the female gender back many years with her antics. Being an advocate of natural healing does not mean starving someone against their will in the name of medicine.
Olsen’s writing is detailed and colorful, giving equal time to both good and bad guys. Back story on both Linda and Sam Hazzard is given, albeit towards the latter part of the book, but it does explain a lot about both of their psyches. The court proceedings do not consume too much, which I liked, but the parts about the Consul trying to enlist help from the British and neighboring cities became a bit dry.
All in all, this was a good read. Fans of true crime will enjoy this, and marvel at the facts that permitted such injustice to proceed unchecked for so long. Author Olsen is well versed in the true crime genre, and provides fact and sensation equally. Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”1400097460″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].