Title: Starvation Heights
Author: Gregg Olsen
Book Length: 436 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, Medical History
Read Start Date: January 31, 2023
Read Finish Date: March 8, 2023
Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: 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 their former selves, waiting for death. They were not the first victims of Linda Hazzard, a quack doctor of extraordinary evil and greed who would stop at nothing short of murder to achieve her ambitions. As their jewelry disappeared and forged bank drafts began transferring their wealth to Hazzard’s accounts, Dora Williamson sent a last desperate plea to a friend in Australia, begging her to save them from the brutal treatments and lonely isolation of Starvation Heights.
In this true story—a haunting saga of medical murder set in an era of steamships and gaslights—Gregg Olsen reveals one of the most unusual and disturbing criminal cases in American history.
My Review: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Starvation Heights tells the story of Linda Hazzard, a quack doctor who operated a fasting sanitarium in the early 20th century in the state of Washington. Hazzard claimed that fasting could cure all manner of ailments, and convinced many wealthy patients to undergo extreme fasting regimes under her supervision. However, many of her patients suffered greatly, and some even died under her care.
The book delves into the disturbing and often gruesome details of Hazzard’s practices, and explores the psychology behind her obsession with starvation and control. It also examines the social and cultural context of the time, and how the prevailing attitudes towards medicine and health allowed Hazzard to operate her dangerous and fraudulent business for years.
The harrowing account of Hazzard’s patients’ starvation had a profound impact on me. The book focuses on the “treatment” of Claire and Dora, two heiresses from England who voluntarily submit themselves to Hazzard’s dangerous regimen. They are forced to survive on meager amounts of vegetable broth for over 40 days and endure brutal enemas and physical abuse. Claire eventually succumbed to the “treatment” and died.
Like the curl of smoke from a candle, Claire was gone.”Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 21%
It is shocking to learn that despite numerous witnesses, no one intervened to stop the cruelty. Adding to the horror, the State refused to prosecute Hazzard for Claire’s death by starvation because it was deemed too costly. Instead, they sought to have Claire’s estate pay the expenses. Can you imagine!?!?
Many of her critics were aghast that it had taken so very long for the fasting proponent to be stopped at all. They wondered what kind of power she held? How was it that she had been allowed to get away with repeated murder?”Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 52%.
All of this death and cruelty was motivated by greed.
The way the vice-consul perceived it, Linda Burfield Hazzard had targeted wealthy and vulnerable subjects of the British Empire. It was her practice to have herself appointed administrator of their estates, and once accomplishing that, she and husband Samuel were in the position to submit enormous bills to the dead patients’ estates and extract large sums of money. Everything had been for greed. For the love of money.”Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 55%.
Hazzard not only robbed her patients of their money and possessions but also manipulated them into believing that the starvation was actually working. Despite weighing no more than a young child, Hazzard’s patients were convinced that they were getting better.
She had such a will that when she placed food of an inferior quality on the table and told me it was the best, it immediately became in my eyes the best. Her great power over people lies in her tremendous will plus mental suggestion.”Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 23%.
The book was undoubtedly meticulously researched, and despite being a work of non-fiction, the storytelling was exceptional. Even the trial segment of the book was engaging, as Hazzard’s behavior in the courtroom was truly unbelievable. Through the trial, readers were able to delve into the details of the case and learn more about Hazzard’s other victims, who unfortunately numbered quite a few.
I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in true crime and medical history. It may also appeal to those interested in the darker side of human nature and the psychology of manipulation. However, due to the disturbing content and descriptions of abuse, it may not be suitable for all readers due to various trigger warnings.
Trigger warnings include, but are not limited to:
- Extreme malnutrition
- Physical abuse and violence
- Medical malpractice
- Death and dying
- Manipulation and exploitation
- Mental illness
- Eating disorders
Please note that this list may not be exhaustive, and individual readers may find other aspects of the book to be triggering or distressing. It is always a good idea to research a book’s content and potential triggers before reading, and to prioritize self-care while reading if necessary.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.