Linda Burfield Hazzard

Obviously I am a bit obsessed with true crimes.  I watch all the shows and read all the books that I can.  I especially like the stories that occurred in the early 1900's and prior.  The only problem with them however, is that the facts are often distorted by legend and sometimes it takes a bit to muddle through everything and try to determine exactly what happened.  In the end these stories are usually riddled with questions as well as what seems like confusing information, but I try the best that I can.

This story I discovered when I started reading Gregg Olsen's book "Starvation Heights" (I am still reading actually).  Upon my research I found that there have been a few crime shows that have shared the story and I find it interesting that I do not recall the story from an episode of "Deadly Women."  I thought I had seen every episode, and maybe I have but this story obviously did not stand out for me.

Crimes of intentional murder almost always in some form have the same motives.  Money is always the big one as we know. We hear way more often than we should about one spouse killing another for life insurance money, but then again, it is not always a spouse.  Another motive that is popular among murderers is the fear that their reputation would be tainted.  Think of the crimes where a business partner kills another (although money is often still a motive there too) or where a pregnant mistress is murdered.  I think Linda Burfield Hazzard knew she would be investigated eventually but I think she had her defense ready.  She was ready to claim she was persecuted because she was a successful and forceful woman who practiced an unconventional type of medicine.  Many believe her defense worked.

Linda Burfield was born in 1867 in the mid-west.  From most accounts it seems that Burfield was not the name she was born with but the name of the man to whom her mother later married and raised her as his own.  Barely out of her teen years Linda married and soon had two children, a boy and a girl. A few years later, around 1898, the marriage crumbled and not appearing to really be the motherly type, Linda sent her children to live with her mother and took off in pursuit of her dreams.  Apparently she wanted to become a doctor.  Accounts vary as to whether she ever truly had a degree (not necessarily a requirement in those days) in medicine.  She did study under a doctor named Edward Hooker Dewey.  He is considered to be one of the pioneer's in the idea behind fasting cures. While he did appear to do much research and study, I found little controversy behind his theories or methods, aside from conventional doctors calling his theory a "quack method."  I am unsure just how far he took his research and found nothing really controversial with him like we later find with Linda.

Several years into her studies Linda met up with Samuel Christian Hazzard.  By this time Linda had already began practicing her fasting treatments and had already lost a few patients.  This had stirred up a little controversy and questions were asked but it seems that she basically was able to talk herself out of them.  Samuel, on the other hand, had a few issues of his own.  When he met Linda he was actually married, although under another name.  Linda was technically his third marriage and it is unconfirmed that he divorced any of his wives.  However, his second marriage was to the daughter of a wealthy politician and charges of bigamy were brought against him.  This is when it was discovered that the name change likely happened in order to run from charges of "misappropriation of funds" when he worked in the Army.  Eventually Samuel served a few years in prison to "fix" all of this.  While he was in prison he had indicated that he was no longer involved with Linda.  I get the distinct impression that this was done so that the second wife would continue to support him during his prison term, to which she did.  Upon his release however around 1906, while wife number two is bubbling with excitement of being reunited with the man she loves, he found Linda and they ran off together. 

Linda and Samuel eventually settled first in the Seattle area and then to Olalla, Washington, just across the bay from Seattle.  Once in Seattle Linda started up her fasting business again and it appears was licensed in the state of Washington. There was some sort of law at the time that while a degree was not necessarily for what was considered "unconventional" medicine she did need to be and was entitled to be licensed by the state.  She went on to write books on the "Fasting Cure" that were widely published and often believed.  Linda's theory, or that in which she proclaimed, was that fasting cured everything from the common cold to cancer.  The idea was that to live for days, weeks, or months (Linda determined the length of time) on nothing but watered down tomato or asparagus soup (some reports say only a few teaspoons a day, some say up to 8 ounces a day) to "remove evils and toxins" from the body and that by doing this the patient would be completely cured and better than ever!

By 1911, when two sisters from Britain, Claire and Dorothea Williamson, met Linda Hazzard there were already many questions and rumors about her going around the area.  A wealthy patient had died and in some manner, most believe in a shady one, Linda had obtained some property in Olalla that had belonged to him. It was here where she was to build her "sanitarium" that she named Wilderness Heights.  The locals called it "Starvation Heights."  I am unsure just at what point the sanitarium started operation.  It seems that it simply consisted of a house in which Linda, Sam and later her son resided in but was surrounded by little shacks for patients.  It appears that despite it being in operation, she would tell the patients that it was still being built and would first start caring for them in Seattle near her local office.  Then it seems that they were transferred out to Olalla once they became weak and often delirious.  While the patients were still in Seattle and just starting out with her treatment she was close by and seemed to visit often.  Then she transferred them to Olalla where she had employed a few more nurses but where she was only there in the evenings.  By the time the patients made it to Olalla they were too weak to really do anything for the most part and many believe she had also brainwashed them into continuing the fast when many wanted to stop.  Not only were the patients extremely weak, but Wilderness Heights was much more isolated than the Seattle area they started in so even if they did get out and wander (as some neighbor saw) they often did not get far. Although phones were available at that time, Wilderness Heights did not have one and Linda and Samuel eventually even controlled the mail so the patients had little to no way of contacting anyone. By the time the Williamson sisters arrived there had already been several suspicious deaths involving Linda but the county seemed to do little about.  First, the county was a rather poor one and it appeared that Linda had money, so much like today when prosecutors are met with a more well to do client they knew to prosecute her would take a lot.  Secondly, these deaths had been looked into as well as the reports of patients who nearly looked like skeleton's roaming the area but it seems that by the time patients that were alive, or their family members were questioned, many believed in her methods so the county felt there was little they could do as it appeared that the patients were consenting adults.  It appears that with the first few deaths in that area or in cases where patients had gotten away and later died that another doctor did the autopsy and almost always stated the cause of death was starvation.  However, when every she could, and later it seemed like it was every time, Linda performed the autopsy (some claim in the tub of her home at Wilderness Heights) the cause was either cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, but never starvation.  

So in 1911 Claire and Dorothea Williamson, who were in their early 30's,  were traveling through North America visiting relatives and seeing the sites.  At some point they had come across Linda's book called Fasting for the Cure of Disease.  They had read it to each other and then began contacting Linda Hazzard through letters and arranging a visit.  The sisters did not share this with any friends or extended family (their parents had died years ago) because they were often chastised for their unconventional ways. Many felt that the women were hypochondriacs.  It seems that there were possibly a few aches and pains here and there that were legitimate but in overall their health was basically fine when they reached Seattle in February of 1911.  They immediately sought out Linda Hazzard and within a few days the fasting treatment began while the women stayed in a hotel near Linda's office.  It seems she visited every day giving them the portion of the broth she prepared, administering enema's on a regular basis and following that with a painful massage.  She convinced them that they would feel weak at first but that they much continue walking and exercising and that their energy would return.  If either of them questioned the methods or indicated that they thought the fasting should discontinue she would convince them that they were not cured yet.  Then of course as the fasting brought on more ailments for whatever reason it seems that they became convinced they needed to continue treatment to cure those ailments.  Somehow they did not seem to consider that the new ailments were brought on by the lack of food.  During this time not only did their bodies but also their minds became weak.  

In April of 1911 the women were moved out to Olalla.  They had to be taken to the ferry by ambulance as they were much too weak to make the trip.  Once in Olalla they lived inside the Hazzard home for a bit, still receiving treatment and at some point were moved into a "cabin" on the property.  It was here, sometime soon after that Claire in some way (it has never been determined how) got a telegram to Australia where the girls' childhood nanny resided simply asking her to visit.  Margaret Conway who had basically raised the girls did what she could to gain way to Washington State in the United States but being how things were at the time it took while to get passage on a ship and arrive.  By the time she arrived on June 1, 1911 she discovered that Claire had died on May 19, 1911 and was informed that Dorothea was "insane."  She was taken to what she was told was Claire's body but she did not recognize her.  An uncle had also viewed the body and he too claimed, although he had seen her all but just prior to her arrival in Seattle, not to recognize her.  Upon my research I tried to rectify this situation.  It was indicated that the corpse was not actually Claire's that they were shown for a few reasons.  It appears that everything that I found surrounding this issue never seemed to clear things up as to if the body shown to Margaret Conway or Claire's uncle actually belonged to her or what for sure ever truly happened to her body because almost immediately after Margaret's arrival things started to whirlwind.  

Margaret was taken out to Olalla where she met up with Dorothea who now weighed less than 60 lbs.  Pictures have circulated of Dorothea just after she left Wilderness Heights and while the quality is not good it is obvious that she was near starvation.  Although Dorothea seemed to at one point beg Margaret to take her from the sanitarium and then the next proclaim that the fast was still working to Margaret she did not seem to be "insane" as she had been told by Linda.  Margaret also started noticing other things, such as seeing Linda wearing clothing she knew had belonged to Claire and finding that most of the valuables the girls had were not in their possession.  Little by little Margaret tried sneaking things like rice in the daily broth that Dorothea  received in attempts not only to save her life but allow her to become strong enough to leave Olalla.  During a Forth of July celebration Margaret claims that she was approached by other patients begging her to help them leave.  At some point thereafter Margaret had proclaimed to Linda that she intended to take Dorothea away.  Linda informed her that not only had Claire changed her will since arriving in the area, leaving an annual stipend to the sanitarium but that it had been Claire's wish that Dorothea remain living there forever.  And, if that did not work, Linda informed Margaret that she had obtained legal guardianship over Dorothea.  She later all but relented after an argument that she would allow Dorothea to leave only if her "bill" of $2,000 was paid.  In 1911 this was an outrageous amount of money and as we know, in any time period it was all but extortion.  Margaret got word out to the girls' uncle and he negotiated a lower amount in order for Dorothea to leave Olalla.  

Once they were able to get away Margaret and Dorothea contacted authorities as well as the British consulate to seek help.  They had learned that among all the other things that Linda had done, she had somehow gotten control of the girls' money and land deeds leaving Dorothea with nothing.  By this time Dorothea had started to recover in mind and body and realized that she had been brainwashed and nearly killed and that her sister was killed. Piece by piece were place together and it was realized that soon after arriving in Seattle Linda had began asking about their finances and had offered to "hold" their valuables  for safe keeping while they were in treatment.  The British consulate started doing investigating into the matter also.  The county was still claiming they could not afford to prosecute Linda Hazzard and Dorothea offered to pay for the prosecution once her monies were released, which she had when she took Linda to civil court.  Most of the "extortion" monies were returned to her but initially the court withheld $250 because Linda claimed that Claire had signed a will in which this amount was to be given to the sanitarium every year and that matter needed settled elsewhere. As far as personal valuable Linda either claimed that she had not obtained certain items and had not seen them or she claimed that Claire, once again through the questionable will, had given them to her.  

Linda was finally arrested in October of 1911.  She was the type of woman that once she started talking... she never stopped. She proclaimed that she was only being prosecuted because a) she was a woman, b) she was a successful woman and c) because her treatment was considered to be unconventional.  Throughout her trial (and we know trials in those days were swift and quick) she maintained this position but it was discovered (apparently through handwriting experts) that she had forged Claire's diary in order to state gifts were given to her and had coerced her into signing the new will that gave a stipend to the sanitarium and asked for cremation (something that was often looked down on by British people, and no one, including her sister had heard of this desire).  In February of 1912 she was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Claire Williamson and was sentenced to 2 to 20 years in prison.  Immediately it was reported that with all the evidence against her, had she been a man she would have been convicted of murder.  She served her sentence at Walla Walla prison and was released on December 26, 1915, serving just over three years.  The following year the Governor, Earnest Lister gave her a full pardon, however, that apparently did not stop the state from taking her medical license.

Upon her release from prison Linda and Sam relocated to New Zealand where she apparently picked up where she left off, continuing to write books and practice the "fasting cure."  In 1917 authorities there apparently fined her for in essence, practicing with out a license or being registered.  That did not stop her although mysteriously in 1920 Linda and Sam were back in Olalla and opened a new sanitarium.  Since the state would not reissue a license to her technically the sanitarium was called the "School of Health."  Once again apparently she was right back where she was and so was the county.  There were still those that despite all the evidence believed in this "cure" and legally they were considered to be in their right minds (at least when they started the treatment) and authorities claimed there was little to be done. As far as her victim count?  That varies.  The most popular answer is at least a dozen to as many as forty.  In 1935 the "School of Health" apparently mysteriously burned down and was never rebuilt.  In 1938 Linda herself became ill and not one to argue her methods she began practicing her own "fasting cure"... reports vary on how long she practiced this before dying from starvation.

A couple of side notes:

I found it interesting that it appears that with everything that had transpired over the years, involving several different patients (Claire Williamson's case just happened to be the one that brought things to a head) that Linda was the only one ever prosecuted for anything.  Apparently there was ample evidence that Sam Hazzard was also in on things, at least from the financial side.  He was known to have forged papers as well as obtain funds from accounts of patients. There also appeared to be an attorney in the area that helped with things such as the guardianship's and wills. There were even rumors that Linda's son who eventually came to Olalla (apparently her daughter never spoke to her again or forgave her for abandoning her) and that he too was involved in at the very least keeping things so that the "patients" were all but held hostage.

There were also questions surrounding another of her patients.  Of all the patients that died under Linda's care, they all died of starvation (or whatever she claimed) save one.  His name was Eugene Stanley Wakelin and to be truthful I am unsure if he was a patient or a worker on the property.  He also was a British citizen who had come to the United States.  He apparently had indicated correctly that he had regal blood in his veins but by the sounds of things he let people know this to indicate that he was more important and richer than he really was.  In 1909 his body was found on the property of Wilderness Heights decomposing.  It was discovered that there was a bullet wound to his head.  As she apparently later had done with Claire Williamson, Linda had obtained legal rights such as Power of Attorney and wills from Eugene Wakelin.  After his death she started making contacts trying to obtain money from what she assumed would be his estate only to find out that he had nothing.  No-one was ever able to prove that she was involved in his death but of course it was speculated.  

If this scenario was to be played out today I am not sure that much would have changed other than the punishment that Linda received and possibly others being prosecuted.  We still live in a time of authorities not stepping in when they believe consenting adults make choices. The prosecutor in Olalla was keeping an eye on the situation and had stated that if she were to ever care for a child he would step in but I think she was smart enough to know that and despite admissions by at least one man who stated he took his son to Linda (after his wife had died under her care) it seems she never really truly treated a child and there were no reported child deaths.  I do believe that she was able to get off with a light sentence because she was a woman and apparently it was not enough punishment for her to stop her practice.  Then again we do have stricter laws in place today to hopefully prevent this kind of thing.  But as we evolve as a culture we also are seeming to back away from conventional medicines in many ways.  Most people would prefer a "natural therapy," as Linda called the "fasting cure"  to medications being dished out by doctors and pharmacists.  Her "fasting cure" was also what some saw as a last resort and so when they died many were not questioned as it was supposed that the patient was dying before they met Linda Hazzard.  Of course this was not always the case, and in the end what really killed the people was the lack of nutrition.  I do not believe that today she would have been able to all but pick up where she left off before going to prison, if she would have gotten out at all.

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