In the hazy days of the turn of the 20th-century medicine, Linda Hazzard didn’t need a medical degree to get a “fasting specialist” license. With this qualification, she cashed in on the fasting health fad of the time by opening a sanitarium in Olalla, Washington.
Wilderness Heights catered to wealthy people willing to spend a good amount in the hopes of restoring their health (and, probably, dropping a few unwanted pounds.) Hazzard wasn’t satisfied with the profit she got through fees, however. An extremist to the end, it seems she always wanted more. As time went on, though, it became evident that her methods had more sinister intentions than misguided therapy.
“Appetite is Craving; Hunger is Desire. Craving is never satisfied; but Desire is relieved when Want is supplied,” Hazzard wrote in her book Fasting for the Cure of Disease, self-published in 1908.
“Fasting is the greatest remedy– the physician within.”
Fasting has had associations with both health and religious practices since the start of recorded history. The health benefits of long-term fasting have been disproven by modern science, but intermittent fasting and lower calorie diets have shown to have weight loss and longevity benefits. The idea of fasting is more than about health for humans, though. Fasting is often done for “spiritual” or psychological reasons. Its association to penitence and cleansing is used to address feelings of guilt or loss of control.
Juice cleanses are so popular because they claim to offer a short-term solution to any number of issues. With the abundance of delicious food around us, the option of changing overeating behaviors through a strict plan is enticing. It’s never fully about the food, though, it’s about gaining control over some aspect of our lives that we can control. So much happens without our consent; it’s comforting to decide exactly what goes between our lips. The added deprivation helps us feel like we are paying for our faults and flaws.
With Linda Hazzard, she asked that her patients give all their control to her. The choice to take her form of twisted healing was initially the patients, but once there, they submitted to not a fast, but systematic starvation. The torture inflicted at this retreat was even more brutal than living off watery broths, however. She also subjected the patients to enemas that lasted for hours and brutal “massages” that left bruises. Hazzard was once observed administering one these forceful massages while yelling out “Eliminate! Eliminate!”
According to a diary of one man who starved to death under her care, all he was given for sustenance for two months were strained broths and a few oranges. Earl Edward Erdman recorded February 26, 1910, a month before he died: “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.”
He wasn’t the only one to perish under Hazzard’s tortuous program, there are 15 known victims of Hazzard’s starvation techniques, and some say there are more than 40. The first death from her practices occurred in 1902, the same year she divorced her first husband. There was an attempt to prosecute her then, but the case as thrown out because she wasn’t yet a licensed physician.
In 2011 author Gregg Olsen (2005’s Starvation Heights) hosted a ghoulish fundraiser for a local library on the centennial anniversary of British heiress Claire Williamson’s death at Hazzard’s clinical retreat.
Williamson passed away weighing only 50 pounds while under Hazard’s care. She had entered Wilderness Heights with her sister Dorothea “Dora,” who survived but was declared mentally insane and had all her rights signed over to the malicious doctor. Not only was Dora beholden to Hazzard and her husband’s guardianship for the rest of her life, the couple had raided her dead sister’s possessions, including her clothes and $6,000 worth both of their fine jewelry.
It took massive amounts of outside efforts to free Dora of Hazzard’s clutches, and to avenge her sister Claire. John Herbert, an uncle of the sisters, had to pay Hazzard off to free Dora. He, along with British vice consul Lucian Agassiz, dug into Hazzard’s affairs and found quite a mess. She had gotten the estates of several now deceased wealthy clients signed over to her before their demises. During her trial for the death of Claire Williamson, the prosecutor referred to her as “a financial starvationist,” arguing that she purposefully starved her victims to death for financial gain.
Although she seemed to be connected to a number of suspicious deaths, she was only arrested, tried, and convicted for the death of Claire Williamson. Hazzard served eight years doing hard labor in Walla Walla prison but seemed to learn nothing from her punishment; she went back to her same old tricks after she got out. Her new patients believed in her practices and were under the impression she had been wrongly convicted. In a bit of fitting justice, Hazzard passed away in 1938 as the result of trying one of her newest starvation treatments.
“The point is, we don’t really know how many people (Hazzard) starved to death,” Gregg Olsen said of Linda’s sinister legacy. “At first the bodies were buried on the property and trees were planted on their graves. Later, they were just dumped in the woods and eventually some were just thrown off the cliff into Puget Sound.”