In one of the most gripping tales of historical true crime I’ve ever read, “Starvation Heights” had me from page one, and it completely caught me by surprise. It’s the story of a power-hungry doctor from the 1910’s who espoused a “healing” method that was popular at various times in history called fasting.
But the lengths that Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard went to to “heal” her patients were nothing short of serial murder.
Dr. Hazzard believed that a diet of nothing but a few teaspoons of soup and water, along with enemas (which were quite popular in the early 20th century) and vigorous massage, would rid the body of “toxins”, leading to better health.
As the patients wasted away, Dr. Hazzard would “encourage” her patients to sign over power of attorney, quietly and violently becoming a very rich woman.
Two of Dr. Hazzard’s patients – British sisters named Claire and Dora Williamson – are the sad subjects of this book. They came to Dr. Hazzard’s rural Washington clinic in search of healing and emotional well-being.
After dwindling down to under 75 pounds, Claire managed to send a telegram home begging for help. But before her Nanny could arrive, she passed away. Dora, however, was able to escape and eventaully was nursed back to health and was able to be a witness in the trial of Dr. Hazzard, where she was convicted of manslaughter.
But justice would not prevail in this case, and after serving only a short term, the governor commuted her sentence. Eventually re-arrested after the death of another patient, the number of victims who died under her care will likely never be known.
In an odd twist, Dr. Hazzard’s book, Fasting for the Cure of Disease is still available at various locations online.
I recommend this book, not only as a great historical true crime book, but just as a gripping read all around. Pick it up – you won’t be disappointed.