Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Doctors

The Science of Fasting

Demon Doctors
Demon Doctors

During the turn of the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth, spas for the wealthy that purported to "cure" people of contemporary ills were all the rage. Sometimes they offered genuine service but often they were full of quackery, poised simply to siphon off money from trusting clients. Kenneth V. Iserson, in Demon Doctors, and Gregg Olson, in Starvation Heights, offer an account of a female doctor who used her "medicine" for sinister ends.

Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard
Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard

Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard set up her operation in 1907 in Seattle, Washington, and offered several versions of a published manual of her special method. One of the few female doctors in the country (trained as an osteopath), she presented herself as the only licensed fasting therapist in the country, and her final domain was a sanitarium, Wilderness heights, in the small town of Olalla, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. It was an isolated place, with no way to communicate with the outside world. Exuding self-confidence, Dr. Hazzard assured people that her method was a panacea for all manner of ills, because she was able to rid the body of toxins that caused imbalances in the body. As strange as it may seem, she managed to persuade people to go without food, aside from some water and a thin tomato and asparagus soup, for long periods of time. As their bodies shed "toxins," she required enemas (a fashionable purgative in many such places) and provided vigorous massages meant to accelerate the process.

Starvation Heights
Starvation Heights

As patients weakened, Hazzard found ways to encourage them to turn over to her their accounts and power of attorney. Not surprisingly, several died under her "care" and she grew richer. Her bigamous husband, Sam, helped get the patients, once they were very weak, to change their wills to make Dr. Hazzard their beneficiary. Yet when attacked for her methods as patients died, she insisted that they had been near death when they came, and she could not be expected to work miracles. Even with these dire stories, she still drew both disciples and patients from around the world. Local residents dubbed the place Starvation Heights, and it caught the attention of authorities when two wealthy British sisters came to "take the cure."

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