Starvation Heights–Gregg Olsen

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This is a true crime book but it’s not gory, so if you’re interested in true crime but are squeamish, this might be the ideal choice for you.

The case is actually a fairly famous one in true crime circles. It’s a historical case, turn of the last century, and it involves a quack of a doctor starving her patients to death.

But only the rich ones with minimal relatives. Let’s not get crazy about this. If you were poor or had relatives checking on you a lot, you were fairly likely to walk away without problem from the facility.

Basically, it went like this: a woman named Linda Hazzard, who attended no medical school of any type managed to get herself licensed by some grandfather clause for people who were practicing before 1909? But the upshot is she was a completely untrained person practicing as a doctor.

Her idea was that fasting would cure EVERYTHING. You have arthritis? Fasting. Cancer? Fasting. Migraines? FASTING. Oh and enemas. Super intense enemas.

Claire and Dora Williamson were rich sisters that were mostly alone in the world. They had extended family but no one really close to them. They had a lot of money and property and were always interested in alternative treatments. They didn’t really have a lot of issues, but Claire did have some digestive or uterine issues, but nothing serious, nothing that kept them from travel, which, again, travel in the freaking early 1900s was not easy or super comfortable, even for the rich.

They started by renting an apartment in Seattle, where they started the fast. All they had was vegetable broth and water, plus the enemas and “vigorous massages” every day. They got so thin, so fast that the neighbors were alarmed. By the time the facility in the woods was ready for them, they couldn’t walk alone because of the weakness and had to be carried down to the ferry.

When they got to the facility, they were put in the attic, separated by a curtain so they couldn’t see and barely speak to each other. Claire managed to get a note out to their childhood nurse in Australia before she died of starvation. By the time the nurse came, Claire was dead and Dora weighed less than 60 pounds. Somehow, Hazzard had managed to get herself appointed the guardian of Dora and it took quite some time for Dora to be extracted, and she made a full recovery.

Prosecution was a problem. The place where Claire died was in the woods, in a small county, not the bigger Seattle one. The county didn’t have a lot of money and didn’t want to prosecute. But Claire and Dora were actually British citizens and local British authority pushed and got them to prosecute her.

She was sentenced to a short prison sentence and reopened her business. It’s crazy.

This is a great good, well researched, beautifully written, very educational.

 

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