Starvation heights

by Gregg Olsen

Paperback, 2005




New York : Three Rivers Press, [2005].


True story of two wealthy British heiresses who traveled to the Pacific Northwest to undergo the revolutionary "fasting treatment" of Dr. Linda Burfield Hazard. Within a month of their arrival, they were emaciated and waiting for death, and they were not the first victims of Linda Hazzard.

User reviews

LibraryThing member piemouth
Claire and Dorothea Williamson were rich British hypochondriacs. When they met charismatic Dr. Linda Hazzard in 1910, they were convinced her fasting cure could help them. They were desperate to go to her "sanitarium", Wilderness Heights, in Olalla, Washington, where patients fasted for days, weeks or months on a diet of small amounts of tomato and asparagus juice and occasionally, a small teaspoon of orange juice. What could possibly go wrong? While some patients survived and publicly sang her praises, more than 40 patients died under her care, most from starvation. But the Williamsons didn't know that.

Having started their "treatment" of small amounts of juice and osteopathic treatments that left bruises, the sisters went by ambulance to Dr. Hazzard's isolated sanitarium. They were put in separate cabins and each was told that the other was losing her mind, but that was just the effect of the toxins leaving their bodies. Continued fasting would restore them to health! Dorothea was starting to realize that maybe they'd gotten themselves into trouble. She cabled their old nurse, who was appalled when she showed up and learned that Claire had died and that Dorothea weighed less than 60 pounds. Dr. Hazzard tried to keep Dorothea from leaving, but eventually she was able to get away. It also came out that before Claire died, Dr. Hazzard had gotten her to bequeath her fortune to her, in grateful repayment for treatment.

The DA didn't want to try the case because it would be too expensive, but the British Consul arranged for the Crown to pay. Dr. Hazzard was tried and convicted of manslaughter and served two years in prison. Dorothea recovered and moved to England, where she married. Wiser? I don't know. Dr. Hazzard moved to New Zealand for a while, but returned to Olalla in 1920 and once again operated the "sanitarium," even though she'd lost her medical license. Ironically, she died in 1938 while attempting a fasting cure on herself.

Was Dr. Hazzard a cold blooded killer who starved patients to get their money? That's not clear. I mean, she was definitely killed people but it looked as though she was sincere about what she was doing - she believed in fasting enough to die that way. But as an old history professor of mine used to say, sincerity is one of the minor virtues. What was her hold on people? Even after the conviction she had patients who stoutly defended her. Annoyingly, the book doesn't give us many insights into Dr. Hazzard except that she was apparently very charismatic and she liked controlling people, including her husband.

I was annoyed by the whole book. The interesting story is told in the most detailed, plodding way. Much of it is imagined conversations (between Dorothea and Claire at the sanitarium, for instance). Every chapter ends with an italicized paragraph of someone talking about something like how they were always scared to walk past the ruins of the old sanitarium, only without dates or who's speaking, so that you're wondering what it has to do with the narrative. It actually doesn't have anything to do with it; these are memories of people who lived in the area. I guess they're supposed to convey the creepiness of the tale. I gave up a third of the way in and skimmed the rest.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
A far cry from the sensational stuff on the shelves today, this book of true crime is based in solid research and the writing is excellent.

Here's the story: Set in 1911, two sisters, Claire and Dora Williamson, were firm believers in alternative medical treatments and had the reputation among family and friends as being "faddists," or latching on to all types of non-medical therapeutical cures. While vacationing in Canada that year, they came across some information relating to a "fasting cure" under the auspices of one Linda Burfield Hazzard, who never graduated from medical school but had a license as an osteopath in the state of Washington. Her ad promised a cure in the woods of Washington state in a restful sanitarium, and this captured the imagination of the sisters who decided to go for the cure. Neither of them was really sick but they figured they'd get a few treatments to improve their overall general health. Very bad mistake.

Even now there are people that believe in this "fasting cure." If you pull up Linda Burfield Hazzard's name on the internet, her methods are still being touted, even though there were a number of deaths among the people in her care who had undertaken the fasting cure.

I HIGHLY recommend this book. The author has done such a great job here and frankly I'm a bit surprised that this book is not more well known.
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LibraryThing member bnbookgirl
I enjoyed this book as did the other members of our book club. Our biggest criticism was the middle of the book. It seemed as though there was alot of "filler". This was something that I was not aware of and I was intrigued by the story and the fact that such a clinic would exist. It seems that there has always been "doctors" who are willing to prey on desperate people. The author is a great writer, it is reminiscent of Devil in the White City (which is much better) in style, as you feel you are reading historical fiction rather than nonfiction. The characters come to life as did the Pacific Northwest. I liked the addition of the flashbacks as it brought different light into the story. This is a great book for a book club discussion as many issues arise that can spark interesting conversation.… (more)
LibraryThing member slug9000
I found this book almost intolerably boring. I love historical nonfiction, and I love true crime, but this one didn't work for me. I had a few issues with it:

First, it is too long. This book could've been shortened by at least a third and I don't think we would've missed much. Essentially, a female doctor in Oregon was accused of starving her patients to death to take control of their assets.The book focuses on one death and the trial that resulted from it, but that is the basic storyline.

Second, it is hard to find any of the characters sympathetic. Now, I am looking at this with twenty-first century eyes, so this assessment may not be entirely fair, but the victims in this book are so devout in their belief in natural remedies that they come across as foolish. Even accounting for the gender inequality, the fact that medicine was still evolving into a science, and the few options that existed for unmarried women of means at the time, I found the victims somewhat unlikable, especially in the beginning. They become less annoying as the book moves on, but I never felt overwhelming sympathy for them. I know this is so harsh, and even as I write this I feel a little guilt about blaming the victim, but their fussy and delicate mannerisms annoyed me throughout the entire book.

The doctor who was accused of starving the victims in this book is also entirely unlikable, but there was something in the way she was portrayed that came across as slightly misogynistic and one-dimensional - not unlike the sometimes-ridiculous newspaper descriptions of her at the time of her trial. Now, I should be clear here that I thought she was a nut, but I thought there was something lacking in the way she was portrayed.

Which brings me to the writing. For a work of nonfiction, the author is clearly trying to write this as if it is a work of fiction. There is no adequate bibliography (at least in the Kindle version), and my understanding is that a lot of the story comes from a handful of first-person accounts. So it reads like an exaggerated recounting of those reports, with unnecessary filler. I read a lot of nonfiction, and in good nonfiction, the facts usually speak for themselves. Trying to present them in the style of a breathless romance usually detracts from the story. That was the case in this book.
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LibraryThing member BellaFoxx
I was bored at first when I started this book. But if you look at the books I had read just prior to this, you will see I was on kind of a murder and mayhem high when I started this book. Although this book also deals with a murder, it was a quite different method then I had previously read about. Gregg asked me not to give up on the book, since I was only at the 20 or so page mark I didn't.

The time period of this book as mentioned, steamships and gaslights, a slower paced time and the book follows this, Gregg Olsen carefully sets the stage, drawing the people with care and attention to detail. In the end, one feels that they truly 'know' everyone involved in the case and since you know the characters, you care and want to know what happens to them.

What Gregg does is take a quote from after the case had ended, in some cases from after Linda Hazzard had died, giving the communities take on Starvation Heights, sometime the stories and superstitions that were common in that area. These are scattered about the narrative of the case and the trial. Also we learn the history of Linda Hazzard and her husband and son, how they came to be in Olalla and the trouble that seemed to follow them. Much of it of their own doing it must be noted.

What Gregg doesn't do is report the trial word for word with trail transcripts. He does reprint some newspaper accounts and articles. Enough to keep you informed, but not so much that you are bored.

At the end of the book, he gives you a little synopsis of how he found out about this case and what intrigued him to write it. Where he got most of his information. This is important for me, I am always thinking as I read non-fiction, "How do they know that? How does the author know that this person said that?" And my absolute favorite part is when he talks about digging in the mud with his daughters on Father's Day looking for bones and teeth. Well what else would you expect from a true crime writer on his day?

I recommend this book to fans of Historical True Crime.
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LibraryThing member Randall.Hansen
A thoroughly researched story of a crazy naturalist "doctor" in Olalla, WA, who treated all her patients with the "fasting cure" and the wealthy hypochondriac British sisters who went under her care. Not surprisingly, many of the doctor's patients died of starvation, including one of the sisters. True story... and the book takes us through ALL the details, from the sisters arrival to the aftermath of the death and trials... and while interesting and enlightening, the author just gets a bit carried away in the details and at times loses the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member jen.e.moore
A fascinating story about a case I've never heard of before, about a female "fasting specialist" who either was a serial killer or had the worst luck with patients.
LibraryThing member shannon.dolgos
Two well-off sisters decide to go to the spa to get their health on track, when in reality their health problems were minimal. Their treatment began at their apartment, while the spa was getting prepared for their arrival. They were given broth, colon cleanses, and extremely rough massages to begin the detoxification process.

Once relocated to the spa and out of the watchful eyes of others, the treatment continued and their health only declined until by luck a hero came to their rescue. Unfortunately, only one sister would survive the spa...and much of their wealth had long been embezzled by the "good" doctor.

The doctor went on to continue her method, even after lawsuits surrounded her...the spa was aptly named Starvation Heights because patients would come there, and many wouldn't leave alive.

Another true account that definitely fits that the truth is scarier than fiction...
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LibraryThing member glinfoot
Started out ok, but dragged so much in the middle on that I finally skimmed the end.



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