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Linda Hazzard

The Starvation Doctor

By Paige GuffeyPublished 8 months ago 10 min read
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In the 1900s, a grandfather clause in Washington law allowed Dr. Hazzard, later known as the Starvation Doctor, to practice a form of alternative medicine that involved extended periods of fasting. For five years, she would essentially starve her patients until they succumbed to death in Olalla, Washington. After their deaths, Dr. Hazzard would recieve large portions or all of their estate, meaning that she financially gained from their deaths.

Linda Laura Hazzard was born Lynda Laura Burfield on December 18, 1867 in Carver, Minnesota. She was the oldest of seven children to Susanna Neil and Montgomery Burfield. Little is known about her early life. It does appear that she was married at the age of 18 and had two children, but she left her husband and kids behind in 1898 in order to pursue a career in Minneapolis. Linda had received minimal training as an osteopathic nurse and held no medical degree.

Osteopathic medicine is a “whole person” approach to medicine. This means that the cure, or treatment, is focused on treating the entire person and not just the ailment. Practitioners of osteopathic medicine use a hands on approach that looks at every aspect of your life in order to treat you. It is commonly used to treat neck pain, back and shoulder pain, muscle pain and several other conditions. The most common treatment is similar to that which you would recieve at a chiropractor’s office.

Her first patient died in Minneapolis around 1902. This was the same time that her divorce finalized. The coroner who performed the autopsy determined that cause of death was starvation and tried to have her prosecuted. However, since she wasn’t licensed to practice she wasn’t held accountable for the death. The detectives approached Hazzard to inquire about what had happened to the victim’s valuable rings and she became evasive.

It wasn’t long after this that Linda met her next husband, Samuel Christman Hazzard. Samuel was a West Point Graduate who had thrown away a promising military career when he had been caught misappropriating military funds. He had married twice before and more bad publicity came about for Linda when it was discovered that he had failed to divorce at least one of his previous wives. His bigamy trial was highly publicized and ended in a two year prison sentence.

The couple moved to Washington after Sam was released in 1906. Linda began to practice in Seattle, commuting by ferry from a 40-acre spread in the Kitsap County town of Olalla. This land, which she named Wilderness Heights, would come to be known as Starvation Heights by the locals. Her dream was to build a large sanitarium on the land.

Even though Linda had no medical license or degree, she was able to become licensed and practice due to a loophole that grandfathered in some practitioners of alternative medicine without degrees.

The locals embraced her medical theories. Dr. Hazzard stated that her practice of fasting was a cure-all for disease. She firmly believed that by fasting one could rid their body of toxins that caused imbalances. Daisey Maud Haglund would become Hazzard’s first known Washington victim. Daisey fasted for fifty days under Hazzard’s direction. She died on February 16, 1908 at the age of 38. She left behind a three-year-old son, Ivar, who would go on to make a name for himself by owning and operating a successful line of restaurants. Those restaurants, Ivar’s Salmon House, are still around today in the Seattle area.

More victims were soon to follow- Ida Wilcox in 1908, and Blanch B. Tindall and Viola Heaton in 1909. Mrs. Maude Whitney died in 1910. After civil engineer Earl Edward Erdman died three weeks after beginning the cure in 1911, The Seattle Daily Times headline read: “Woman ‘M.D.’ Kills Another Patient.”

Linda Hazzard

Even with the deaths that were happening due to her treatments, patients kept coming. Frank Southard, a lawyer, along with C.A. Harrison, publisher of Alaska-Yukon magazine, died just a few months later under Hazzard’s care. In this string of deaths was also an Englishman, Ivan Flux, who had come to America in order to buy a ranch. He fasted for 53 days and during this time Hazzard gained control of some of his cash and property. When he died his family was told that he only had approximately $70 left to his name.

Authorities did attempt to intervene and stop Hazzard from treating patients. When Ellsworth Rader, a former legislator and publisher of the magazine called Sound Views began wasting away at the Outlook Hotel that Hazzard was treating him at, health inspectors tried to convince him to leave, though he refused. Under pressure, Hazzard whisked him away to a secret location where the 5’11” tall man would die weighing less than a hundred pounds.

Despite the shocking number of deaths occurring due to Hazzard’s treatments the health director of Seattle said that he couldn’t intervene. Dr. Hazzard was a licensed practitioner, and the patients were willing participants. She had many loyal followers and a commanding personality. Some of her patients were even frightened of her and couldn’t bring themselves to disobey or turn against her. The health director did keep a careful eye on her though, prepared to step in if Hazzard began to treat any children.

Patients would be put up in Seattle hotels or in cabins on Hazzard’s Olalla property. In the event of death, the autopsy reports always stated starvation as the cause of death, unless Hazzard did the autopsy herself. If she did the autopsy the cause of death was anything but starvation.

The only exception to this pattern was in 1909 when a 26 year-old Eugene Wakelin’s decomposing body was found on the Hazzard’s property. His cause of death was a bullet wound to the head and was presumed to be a suicide. Linda Hazzard had become the young man’s power of attorney and at one point complained to his lawyer that she needed more of his funds in order to cover his funeral expenses. It would later be speculated that the Hazzard’s had murdered the young man.

The patients that ultimately brought about the downfall of the deadly Starvation Doctor, were Dorothea and Claire Williamson. These two sisters were in their early 30s and were very wealthy. They were known to be hypochondriacs and constantly sought out new types of treatments for a slew of ailments. While in British Columbia they stumbled across an advertisement for Hazzard’s treatment. When they left to recieve Dr. Hazzard’s treatment, they did so without telling their family where they were going and for what purpose. The sisters began treatment in February of 1911.

By April, just a few months later, the sisters were emaciated and delirious. They were transferred to Olalla by twin ambulances and just before they departed, Hazzard’s lawyer obtained a shaky signature from Claire. This signature was a codicil to her will leaving a monthly stipend of 25 pounds sterling per year to the Hazzard’s “Institute.” It also added that in case of death her body was to be cremated under the charge and direction of Linda Hazzard.

On April 30, the sister’s childhood nanny, Margaret Conway, received a cryptic telegram, summoning her to visit them in Olalla. She set sail from Sydney, Australia a week later and arrived in Seattle on June 1.

Sam Hazzard met the boat and took Conway to Linda Hazzard’s office. There she was informed that Claire had passed away and that Dorothea was all but insane. When she was shown what was said to be Claire’s embalmed body she didn’t recognize her former charge. She was then taken to see Dorothea, who by then was a living skeleton staying in a cabin by herself.

Dorothea immediately begged to be taken away, but changed her mind the next day and stated that the treatment was doing wonders for her. Conway stayed with Dorothea and tried to sneak some rice or flour into her main source of nutrition, a broth made of canned tomatoes. She learned that the Hazzard’s had become Dorothea’s power of attorney and had helped themselves to some of her funds. When she announced that she would be removing Dorothea from their care she was told that she could not leave with her and Dorothea would remain under their care until the day she died.

In lieu this, Conway snuck off the property and contacted the sisters’ uncle in Portland, Oregon and he came to their rescue. Dorothea now weighed only 60 pounds. After the uncle negotiated payment with the Hazzard's they were all finally free to leave.

Dorothea Williamson paid for the trial and prosecution of Linda Hazzard after Kitsap County said they couldn’t afford it. In August of the same year, Linda Hazzard was arrested. The headline of the Tacoma Daily News read: “Officials Expect to Exposed Starvation Atrocities: Dr. Hazzards Depicted as Fiend.”

Dorothea Williamson

Dr. Hazzard presented that she was being prosecuted solely due to the fact that she was a successful woman and that other doctors resented her success and opposed natural cures. She stood firmly in the belief that she would take the stand and put those doctors in their places, maintaining her innocence.

There was plenty of damning evidence that worked in the prosecutors favor in stating that the Hazzard’s were crooks. Medical testimony and a complete paper trail, including a forged diary entry saying Claire wanted Linda Hazzard to have her diamonds, were presented against her.

Despite the evidence against her, she did have her defenders. The most shocking of these was her first victim’s husband, John Ivar Haglund. Even though Daisey had died due to her treatments he continued to have faith in her and even took his young son to see her for treatment three times a week.

The jury would come back with a verdict of manslaughter. The press theorized that if Hazzard had been a man, the verdict would have been murder. She would serve two-years at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. Afterwards, she and Sam would move to New Zealand.

Eventually, the couple would return to Seattle. In 1920, she built her dream sanitarium but called it a “school of health” since the state of Washington had pulled her license. She resumed starving people to death until the building burned to the ground in 1935.

In 1938, Dr. Hazzard died, putting an end to her reign of terror. Ironically, her cause of death would be starvation due to the fast that she embarked on when she began to feel unwell. The total amount of victims remains unknown, but it can safely be said that she starved at least a dozen people to death.

Linda Hazzard Home

Sources:

Hazzard, Linda Burfield (1867-1938) - HistoryLink.org

Linda Hazzard: The Rise & Fall of Washington’s first female serial killer | Brutal Nation | Medium

The Doctor Who Starved Her Patients to Death | History| Smithsonian Magazine

Things You Didn’t Know About Serial Killer Linda Hazzard (grunge.com)

The Starvation Doctor: Dr. Linda Hazzard’s Deadly Cure - Historic Mysteries

“Erdman Diary Tells Methods of Treatment”. The Seattle Daily Times. August 14, 1911.

How Long Can You Live Without Food? Effects of Starvation (healthline.com)

Table: How Starvation Affects the Body - MSD Manual Consumer Version (msdmanuals.com)

Q&A: Osteopathic medicine - Mayo Clinic Health System

Osteopathic Medicine: What It Is, Types, and Uses (verywellhealth.com)

By Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash

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About the Creator

Paige Guffey

Just an odd mom obsessed with all things strange, weird, creepy, and true crime. I'm here to share my passion and present to you my research into all things related.

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