Thursday, September 01, 2005

"Starvation Heights" by Gregg Olsen

"Starvation Heights" by Gregg Olsen

In September 1910 wealthy English sisters Claire and Dora Williamson first learned of "Dr." Linda Burfield Hazard and her fasting cure. They were staying at the Empress hotel in Victoria, Vancouver Island. The hotel was 2 years old.

Empress Hotel, Victoria British Columbia
Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

The sisters saw "Dr." Hazard's advertisement in a Seattle newspaper. Claire wrote away for her book: Fasting for the Cure of Disease. Claire's letter mentioned health problems of Dora's. When the book arrived, it contained a brochure advertising the "Hazard Institute of natural therapeutics" in Olalla, Washington. The sisters decided they had to go as sort of a spa holiday.

At first, the facility in Olalla was not ready, so the sisters began their "treatment" at a hotel in Seattle. After weeks of fasting and daily enemas, first in Seattle then after transfer to the facility at Olalla, Claire Williamson died.

The Williamson sisters' uncle and former nurse were shown an embalmed body that they knew was not Claire. Dr Hazard claimed that Claire had died of the ailments she had sought treatment for. In reality these were nothing more than a vaguely nervous stomach and pains in her knees, but Hazard claimed that Claire had been at death's door. The truth was that Claire had died of starvation.

After encountering "Claire's body", the nurse went out to Olalla to find Dora in a state near death. The surviving sister alternated between begging to leave and claiming the fasting treatment was healing her. In the sisters' state of weakness and complete dependence, Hazard had either tricked or forged Claire's agreement to will most of her estate to Hazard, as well as to declare Dora mentally incompetent and a ward of Hazard. If the nurse had not come and gotten her away from "Wilderness Heights" (Hazard's grandiose name for her facility), Dora too would have died.

The British Vice Consul, Lucian Agazziz, helped the women bring a criminal case against Linda Hazard, as well as suing her for return of Claire's property. Claire Williamson was far from the only "patient" of Linda Hazard's who had died under questionable circumstances. In the case of Claire Williamson, Linda Hazard was found guilty of manslaughter. The front page story in all the papers was about how Linda Hazard had sold Claire Williamson's teeth after her death.

Linda Hazard served less than two years in prison. She and her husband Sam then moved to New Zealand for several years where business was brisk. In 1920 they were able to return to Olalla and buy Wilderness Heights out right, and finally build the grand sanitarium she'd always wanted. She continued to have trouble with the law, and more patients died. Eventually the sanitarium burned to the ground, with hints of an insurance scam.

Linda's last trial for practicing medicine without a license was two years before her death. And indeed she fasted herself to death in 1938. Her husband Samuel outlived her by eight years.

Hazard did have her friends and supporters. Several of these were heavily into spiritualism and theosophy. She also found support from many members of "Home Colony" - an anarchist colony on the Key Peninsula. Linda's husband, Sam Hazard, was an alcoholic who tried to conceal his habit by buying bottles of high alcohol-content extracts - particularly vanilla. Apparently this was not a tremendously unusual problem. When Linda married Sam Hazard she knew he was already married to another woman. She had stood by him during his trial for bigamy and waited for his release from prison. Its less clear if she knew about yet another wife (his first) and the mounting debts and fraud that drove him out of West Point in disgrace.