Starvation Heights

Starvation Heights by Pacific NW author Gregg Olsen.  Cover: Three Rivers Press.

Starvation Heights by Pacific NW author Gregg Olsen. Cover: Three Rivers Press.

Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without a scary story to share. So here’s one I would like to share with all of you. It’s called Starvation Heights and was written by Pacific NW author Gregg Olsen. What makes this story all the scarier is that the characters, the plot, and the setting are all true. There really was a “Starvation Heights.”

It was an idyllic setting for murder. A 40 acre estate tucked away in the woods outside of Ollala, WA, on the Kitsap Peninsula. The property was purchased in the early part of the 1900’s by Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard, a “certified” fasting specialist, and her husband. She promptly named it Wilderness Heights.

Dr. Hazzard was a strong-willed woman, relentless and unyielding. Merciless, some would call her. She wanted the site for a world-class Sanatorium where her followers could rest, rejuvenate, and restore their bodies to perfect health. Instead, Wilderness Heights became a nightmare asylum where inpatients were quickly reduced to walking skeletons by her bizarre, unorthodox treatment.

Her followers fasted for weeks, sometimes months, under her care. Subjected to daily enemas, they subsisted on only small amounts of tomato and asparagus juice. Over 40 people died of starvation. And each time, the wealth and property of the deceased was “willed” to Dr. Hazzard, so her valuable work could continue.

Among Dr. Hazzard’s victims were two gullible young women from Britain. Dorothea and Claire Williamson were sisters who shared a large fortune and a fascination for fad diets. They arrived at the Sanatorium in the spring of 1911. Less than a month later, Claire was gone. At the time of her death, she weighed less than 50 pounds.

“After the autopsy, Claire’s diamond rings were slipped from her emaciated fingers and put into Linda Hazzard’s jewelry box. Her gowns found their way into the doctor’s wardrobe. The victim’s gold fillings and crowns were pulled from her teeth and sold to a local dentist.” Quote provided by author.

Her older sister, Dora, was rescued days later (near death) by British Consul C. E. Lucien Agassiz. Though the locals had been talking about the strange goings-on up at “Starvation Heights” for some time, it was Agassiz’s anger and outrage that finally sparked an official investigation.

Starvation Heights tells the true story of Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard and her many victims, with special emphasis on the ordeal suffered by Dorothea and Claire Williamson. It’s a tale guaranteed to curl your toes.

New York Times bestselling author Gregg Olsen has written eight nonfiction books and four novels. He currently lives and writes in Olalla, WA.

**Special Note: For news, reviews, and profiles of other Pacific NW authors, please check out my column on the Portland Examiner.

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