Morbid Monday: Hazardous Dr. Hazzard, Whose Cure Was Starvation - Atlas Obscura
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Morbid Monday: Hazardous Dr. Hazzard, Whose Cure Was Starvation

Today Seattle’s Pike Place Market is a bustling tourist destination known for its quirky shops, fresh produce, and temporarily airborne fish. During the day visitors shop for food and flowers, while in the evening, pub-goers throng First Avenue looking for a good time. But a century ago, two spots in the market were connected to a far less cheery story; in fact, a story of deprivation so extreme that it was fatal.

article-imagePike Place Market in 1910 (via University of Washington, Seattle Photograph Collection)

“Doctor” Linda Burfield Hazzard arrived in Washington state around 1906, commuting to Seattle from her home-base in the Kitsap County town of Olalla. Despite her lack of a medical degree (she did have some training as an osteopathic nurse), she was licensed to practice medicine in Washington state through a loophole designed for alternative practitioners.

Her particular brand of “medicine,” however, was dangerously unusual. Hazzard was a proponent of fasting for the cure of disease, which was also the title of her 1908 book. The way she saw it, all disease was caused by “impure blood” that originated from poor digestion. Her cure included tiny helpings of thin soup and oranges, supplemented with daily enemas and massages so vigorous they often looked more like beatings. Within a few weeks, some of Hazzard’s patients looked like skeletons.

article-imageLinda Burfield Hazzard’s “Fasting for the Cure of Disease” (via Wikimedia)

But her treatments caught on, and soon members of Seattle’s smart set were coming to Hazzard to cure any and all ailments. She treated some of them from her offices in the market’s Outlook Hotel, later renamed the LaSalle Hotel. Later, she installed some in her sanitarium in Olalla, Washington. She called the place “Wilderness Heights”; the locals renamed it “Starvation Heights.”

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Some of Hazzard’s patients swore by her, but other Seattleites noticed that a disturbing number of those she treated seemed to die, and that one of their last acts was often to sign away property and cash to Hazzard herself. Despite complaints and press coverage, Seattle’s health director said he couldn’t intervene, since the patients were all adults who had undertaken their last diet voluntarily.

Hazzard’s undoing came when the wealthy British heiresses Claire and Dorothea Williamson, both in their early 30s, came for treatment in February 1911 after seeing a newspaper advertisement for Hazzard’s book while vacationing in Victoria, BC. By April, the women were so emaciated they were transferred by ambulance to the Olalla sanitarium. Just before they left, Hazzard’s attorney convinced Claire to sign a codicil to her will granting a yearly stipend of 25 pounds to Hazzard’s “Institute.” Around the same time, Hazzard began wearing Claire’s dresses, hats, and diamonds.

Across the ocean, the Williamsons’s childhood nanny, Margaret Conway, received a strange telegram asking her to come visit Olalla. By the time she arrived, Claire Williamson was a corpse. Conway was taken to E. R. Butterworth & Sons mortuary (right next to Pike Place Market), to identify the body, but said she didn’t recognize it. Conway then did her best to convince Dorothea — who at the time weighed 60 pounds — to leave Olalla, but it took the intervention of the sisters’ uncle in Portland and a hefty sum paid to Hazzard before Dorothea was freed. 

The Williamson case brought Hazzard into an even more unflattering spotlight, and the British vice-counsel in Tacoma pressured Seattle authorities to prosecute. When Seattle said it couldn’t afford it, Dorothea offered to foot the bill. Hazzard was finally arrested in August 1911, amid lurid headlines calling her a fiend. She said she was being persecuted for being a successful woman. But after damning medical testimony proved she had starved her patients to death, the jury came back with a verdict of manslaughter. Hazzard was sent to the penitentiary in Walla Walla, where she served two years. Although she was only convicted in the death of Claire Williamson, an estimated 40 others died in her care. She died in 1938, after embarking on her own fasting cure.

Meanwhile, the E. R. Butterworth & Sons mortuary on 1921 First Avenue, now the site of Kells Irish Pub, was implicated in the press around Hazzard’s crimes. There were rumors that the mortuary had cremated Claire, and substituted a healthier-looking corpse in her stead. Worse, one of Butterworth’s employees pled guilty to the illegal removal of Claire’s body from the Olalla sanitarium. But the mortuary itself was never charged with a crime. Today the site is a frequent stop on ghost tours, and has been the subject of several paranormal investigations. While Kells operates quite successfully on the bottom floors, in recent years the top floors have been home to a string of failed businesses. As Seattle’s first full-service mortuary — and one of the first in the United States — it’s seen its fair share of disturbing sites, but hopefully none were as dangerous as Linda Hazzard.

article-imageKells Irish Pub (photograph by Renato Lorini)

Bess Lovejoy is a writer, researcher, and editor based in Brooklyn. Her book Rest in Pieces was published last year by Simon & Schuster. 


Morbid Mondays highlight macabre stories from around the world and through time, indulging in our morbid curiosity for stories from history’s darkest corners. Read more Morbid Mondays>