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Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest
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Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  3,187 Ratings  ·  452 Reviews
In 1911 two wealthy British heiresses, Claire and Dora Williamson, came to a sanitorium in the forests of the Pacific Northwest to undergo the revolutionary “fasting treatment” of Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard. It was supposed to be a holiday for the two sisters. But within a month of arriving at what the locals called Starvation Heights, the women were emaciated shadows of t ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published May 3rd 2005 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 1997)
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Feb 07, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 1910, two wealthy young Englishwomen, called Miss Claire and Miss Dorothea Williamson, travelling in America, saw an advertisement in a Seattle daily newspaper and wrote off for a book titled, “Fasting for the Cure of Disease.” Although wealthy, the two sisters were orphaned and without any definite sense of purpose. In other words, they had both too much money and too much time on their hands. They had taken health cures before, but were afraid that relatives would mock them if they suggeste ...more
The first half of this book was amazing; equal parts gripping, terrifying, and heart-wrenching. The writing brought both the setting and the characters vividly to life for me. I was RIGHT THERE with these two poor sisters. Only two true crime books have disturbed me to the point of giving me nightmares, and this was one of them. This is not only an historical account of the murders committed by "doctor" Hazzard, but also an interesting study on the dangers of good people, such as the Williamson ...more
Feb 29, 2012 Lucy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gregg Olsen's account of the exposure and trial of early-twentieth-century Seattle "healer" Linda Burfield Hazzard chiefly interested me because of the striking similarity between Hazzard's ideas about health and some ideas that are current among first-world health faddists--indeed they may never have really gone away. Hazzard, who was yet another played-down, Minnesota-grown serial killer (Carl Panzram didn't hail from Lake Wobegon, evidently), was a proponent of "the fasting cure." People's bo ...more
Nov 10, 2016 Jeanette rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The first third of the book was interesting. But the entire was difficult to read. It's choppy and in a rather archaic style, IMHO. It's occurring during the first decade of the 20th Century near Seattle.

There is much repetition and the entire core of the belief system, diet theory, fasting regime that was proposed by Mrs. Hazzard in her estate /spa placement could have been described and eye witness reports included too, within half these number of pages.

The court cases, the letters of witnes
Ruth Turner
Mar 10, 2014 Ruth Turner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime

Well, that was certainly a grim read! What a God-awful way for those people to die.

Well written and very well researched. The author brought the location and the people to life for me.

It was certainly different than any other true crime books I've read and I liked it a lot.

October 2014

From time to time, and for no particular reason, I find myself thinking of Starvation Heights and the notorious Linda Hazzard, and because the story has stayed with me I've increased my rating from 3 stars to 4 sta
John Hager
Mar 15, 2013 John Hager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a terrific book about the nature of small towns and authority and the need to feel healthy at all costs. I'd hesitate to describe it strictly as non-fiction; some of the passages in the book provide personal information that couldn't come from newspaper accounts, interviews or even diaries. If you're looking for the lurid, gory details of true crime, look elsewhere. This book provides little of that; what details there are come across as more clinical than titillating. They provide a gri ...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac
True Crime Commemoration # 7
Setting: early 1900s Washington state
Trixie Fontaine
GREAT true crime: well-researched, engaging/absorbing, richly detailed. LOVED it partly for the local lore and how deeply rooted it is in King, Kitsap and Pierce counties (WA state) and partly loved it because it's about a woman (killer) who seized/exercised power in a time period when most women didn't (her victims, for example). Timely reading for me picking it up now with the New Age sweat lodge deaths/"murders" in the news recently.

There are many appealing aspects of the women's stories: the
Aug 18, 2007 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: True crime buffs
Shelves: truecrime
Although this is certainly categorized as true crime, it's atypical of the genre in that it's not the usual contemporary "Husband kills his wife to profit from the life insurance policy and run away with the mistress" sort of thing. (This means I can feel less stupid for reading it. Just kidding. Sort of.) Rather, it's set in the early 20th century; two middle-aged, unmarried sisters from England arrive at a sanitorium in the Pacific Northwest to undergo a "starving treatment" that's meant to im ...more
Oh good lord, whatever you do, don't sign yourself up for a fasting cure courtesy of Linda Hazzard, the kind-of not-really "doctor" who ran a remote, isolated spa-type sanitarium in Olalla, WA back in the first decades of the century. Hazzard had one prescription for all her patients: stop eating, take daily enemas, and submit to hard-fisted "osteopathic" treatments that consisted of being smacked and pummeled in an effort to expunge the body's "poisons."

Amazingly, plenty of people signed up. M
Nancy Oakes
Feb 12, 2008 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A far cry from the sensational stuff on the shelves today, this book of true crime is based in solid research and the writing is excellent.

Here's the story: Set in 1911, two sisters, Claire and Dora Williamson, were firm believers in alternative medical treatments and had the reputation among family and friends as being "faddists," or latching on to all types of non-medical therapeutical cures. While vacationing in Canada that year, they came across some information relating to a "fasting cure"
Rebecca Hill
Dec 16, 2014 Rebecca Hill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review contains spoilers... Scroll down to read more!

Dr. Linda Hazzard fashioned herself as a "specialist of fasting cures." What she really was, was a marketer of death and greed. She took on a facade of caring and devotion to her patients, but very few of them ever lived to tell the tale. Her mistake was targeting wealthy clients, who unbeknownst to her, left a paper trail, and also relatives who wondered where their loved ones had gone. The true deprevations of her crimes would have gone
Dec 25, 2014 Sonia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: True Crime Enthusiasts
Shelves: ebooks
So, this is the true story of two wealthy sisters with more money than sense decide to cure non-existent ills by fasting under the care of a licensed doctor with no medical training. See, in turn of the century Washington State, you could get your medical license like that. Linda Burfield Hazzard completely dominates the women until one starves herself to death. Although 14 others had died before her, Dr. Hazzard escaped liability until she guided toward the death the daughter of a wealthy famil ...more
J.H. Moncrieff
Sep 08, 2016 J.H. Moncrieff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Just wow.

I can only imagine how much work it was to piece together the true story of Linda Burfield Hazzard, who killed multiple people in the early 1900's under the guise of healing them with her "fasting cure." Yep, she basically charged them good money to starve them to death while beating them during her "osteopathic massages," and once they were dead, stole everything they had left.

Olsen does a masterful job on this book, as always--he's one of the few reliable, high-quality true crim
Jul 29, 2010 Rikelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 09, 2011 Constance rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
I would recommend this to any fan of true-crime, especially those who enjoy a little northwest atmosphere in the mix. Yes, the writing is a bit over-the-top with a torrid love of adjectives that could only be rivaled by the likes of, say, V. C. Andrews ("It was one of those sweltering summer days when the saffron light of the sun smacks the back of the neck, causing baby fine hairs to adhere to the skin and armpits to rain down..."). And the style, which intermixes details of the events leading ...more
Annie LaVerdure
Mar 12, 2009 Annie LaVerdure rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a disturbing and fabulous story that only a true Northwestern could write. Starvation Heights takes you into the cold and wet forests of the old pioneer days in Seattle and surrounds you with mystery and a feeling of panic to escape while you turn every page.

In my travels I have noticed that the East of the Rockies is rich with creepy stories of betrayal, deadly ghosts and gruesome acts of human carnage. But this brilliant book brings evil and history together and makes my Northwestern h
Pretty good book. Well written. I will never understand the gullibility of some people. It seems that some people truly will believe any thing if they are told the right way. Tell someone you're an expert.... and they'll believe you. Not to mention in the end you realize the justice system in America was just as reliable 100 years ago as it is today. A very interesting story and a well written book. As much as I despise the so called "doctor"... it is hard to feel sorry for such ignorant people. ...more
Jun 26, 2017 Beckbunch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of the book, I'd give 4.5 stars, the last half, 3.5. The description of Hazzard's methods and the Williamson sisters' total cluelessness kept me reading, but the trial seemed to drag and I found myself wanting to skip ahead to the verdict. I also wonder why the author opted to not include photos. There is a hazy photo of Hazzard's face on the cover, but I went online to see more of this woman who could seemingly hypnotize people. I also wanted to see photos of the house and the Wi ...more
Debbie Deerwester
Jul 10, 2017 Debbie Deerwester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No way... Sometimes real life stories are more horrifying than fiction. In this little town of Olalla in Washington there was a crazy doctor (licensed with only two years in the field and no degree) who built a sanitarium to house her patients undergoing the "fasting treatment". In a nutshell, she preyed on wealthy people, starved them until they died and took their money. The author did a lot of research with factual accounts all throughout. There are also snippets of stories from people who li ...more
Kyle Wendy Skultety (

This review originally appeared on my blog at

In 1911 two wealthy but hypochondriacal sisters found a sanitorium that promoted a special “fasting” cure for whatever ails you. They were so eager to check in and become patients, but didn’t know that Dr Linda Hazzard would try to kill them, not by fasting, but by placing them on a starvation diet that would weaken and terrify them. This is their story, including the famous court case against Dr Hazzard.

Claire and Dora Williams
Jun 01, 2008 Xysea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historical fiction lovers and true crime afficianados
Boy, this book is a doozy.

It's the story of two British heiresses and an unscrupulous con-person of a doctor who fleeces them of their money, their excess poundage and one of them of their lives.

Dr Linda Burfield Hazzard is a 'fasting specialist'; ie, she believes in fasting as a cure of most diseases and ailments and applies the 'practice' rigorously. Maybe a little too rigorously. Under her care, 40 patients waste away to death from starvation.

But Dr Hazzard is nothing if not resourceful. She
Dec 30, 2016 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book on the recommendation of the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class in their episode that discussed this case. I highly recommend both the podcast and the book. The case of Linda Burfield Hazzard is a fascinating one. It's also interesting to see that the lengths many people will go in order to cure their real or imagined maladies hasn't changed much. What has changed is how we deal with the practitioners of these so-called natural cures.

Sisters Claire and Dorothea Williamson
Melinda Elizabeth
When you read Starvation Heights, it’s a good idea to consider the strange and whacky things that we do in the current age in order to look good, maintain a healthy diet, and what we currently have as a ‘superfood’. It would be easy to scoff at privileged sisters Claire and Dora without that contemporary consideration of the lengths we go to for a slim figure.

Investigating the ‘fasting cure’ heralded to be the cure for many an ailment in the early 1900’s, Linda Burfield Hazzard is the only cert
Jan 14, 2014 Kavita rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime, usa
This book is about two rich sisters who encounter a quack and pay with their lives. There is not much wrong with the sisters that a nine to five job and some brisk exercise could not have cured. But having too much money, they instead get themselves admitted to a sanatorium run by Linda Hazzard to undergo a fasting treatment, and one of them dies due to starvation. It comes out that the doctor had tricked the continuously weakening sisters to turn over their fortune to her. After the death of on ...more
May 31, 2017 Amie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this to be a fascinating take on what real bad-guys look like. Very rarely are there people who are readily recognized as cruel. More often they hide their cruelty behind a facade of caring or duty. It is even possible that Mrs Hazzard did believe in the fasting cure itself, but was not above taking the opportunity to fleece some wealthy people when it arose.

My one real complaint was how the author depicted Sam Hazzard during his West Point DNA Minnesota days. He was so cowed at Olalla
Aug 21, 2013 Veronica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I've never read True Crime before, and it still doesn't interest me as a genre. I read "Starvation Heights" while hearing about the woman it centres on ("Dr." Linda Hazzard) during a historical walking tour of Seattle. The guide recommended the book, and because it's set in the early 1900s, a favourite period of mine, I bought the book.

What a read! Linda Hazzard was a cruel con-artist dressed up as a doctor promoting "the fasting cure" to those with wealthy pocketbooks. Basically, she starved pe
May 24, 2010 Christiane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Linda Hazzard was an osteopath who wrote a small book called “Fasting for the Cure of Disease”. Two British sisters (orphans in charge of a large fortune) came across this book as they visited Victoria, B.C. and convinced themselves that if they took the treatment at Dr. Hazzard’s sanatorium they would be restored to perfect health. Only one of the sisters would survive their encounter with the "fasting specialist". Dr. Hazzard is a fascinating character; it's difficult to know whether she w ...more
Dec 29, 2012 Nina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating tale, showing how faddish diets have a long history beyond the many touted today. Linda Burfield Hazzard pioneered the fasting cure with her book Fasting for the Cure of Disease, which appealed often to the desperate and sometimes to the bored rich hypochondriac and it frequently resulted in starvation to death. It's interesting given the intermittent fasting diet gaining some notoriety now.

The book itself was really engagingly written and I have to say I enjoyed the first third of
Chrissie Bentley
It's incredible that a story like this could unfold in the name of medicine, but even more stunning than the local (Seattle and environs) authorities should be so untroubled about mass murder taking place on their doorstep. A brilliant, chilling book that everyone should read - preferably right before they throw themselves into whatever the latest health fad might be.
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Throughout his career, Gregg Olsen has demonstrated an ability to create a detailed narrative that offers readers fascinating insights into the lives of people caught in extraordinary circumstances.

A #1 New York Times bestselling author, Olsen has written ten nonfiction books, ten novels, and contributed a short story to a collection edited by Lee Child.

The award-winning author has been a guest on
More about Gregg Olsen...

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“As the campfire burned to an ashy bowl of red-hot embers, the boys would ramble on, piling up horror upon horror, like cordwood stacked under a blood-red-barked madrona tree.” 1 likes
“Only in the campfire-stoked stories of Boy Scouts, bedtime tales baby-sitters employ to frighten bratty charges, or in the sweet delight of grandpas who never grew up, would the stories live on.” 1 likes
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