Starvation Heights : A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest
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.
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May 02, 2005
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Excerpt from Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen
It was a world both bustling and tranquil; a musky sweet-smelling blend of extremes. As hotel clerks, waiters, doormen, and gardeners went about their myriad duties, ladies in heavy, ankle-length satin dresses and mile-high hats of twisted taffeta and rosette-coiled velvet gossiped while demurely fanning themselves under the sparkle of a great glass dome amid enormous oriental urns planted with palms. Their chatter was frivolous and cheerful, like the chirping of songbirds gathering to feed on millet sprays and the dried discs of sunflowers.
The front desk calendar was inscribed: September 1910.
Across the lobby, Dorothea and Claire Williamson, splendidly attired in dresses pulled from one of the fourteen trunks that accompanied them around the world, gazed out a window. The evidence fall was lapping toward winter was everywhere on the grounds of the two-year-old Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. Small clusters of leaves had fallen in the cool, moist air, their bronze and gold remnants raked into ruffly heaps. New shrubbery framed the expansive lawns of the Canadian Pacific Railway-built hotel; ivy began its creep upward on the magnificently towering brick edifice. Plantings were crisp from the precise trim of a gardener's shears. There could be no disputing that the view of the green, well-tended grounds and the blue waters of the Inner Harbour was a soothing tonic for weary eyes.
Orphaned daughters of a well-to-do English officer in the Imperial Army Medical Service, Dorothea was born in Trichinopoli, India, Claire in London. And though schooled in Switzerland, England, and France and well traveled, the sisters, especially Claire, exhibited a childlike naivete and innocence that sometimes left them a target of manipulation by those with dubious intentions. Hardly a week went by when there wasn't a banker or an investment expert with phony assurances that he had a plan for their money. Encounters with those who would do them financial harm only served to draw them closer to each other.
Suitors, however, were another matter. Neither sister had found a man that would make a husband worth leaving her sister all alone. And though Claire and Dorothea were unwed and beyond the age of thirty, neither quite considered herself a spinster. Yet, among the ladies in the lobby, they did not court the attentions of gentlemen. It was true they had had their admirers. But they were indifferent to such advances, and certainly they had no regard for the conventions of courtship.
Claire and Dora, as her sister called her, were likely the only women in the hotel with waists not bound and compressed like the bunched-up necks of cloth sacks. Corsets, they told each other, were the devil's invention, cutting off circulation and choking digestive tracts. They preferred looser, one-piece undergarments. Clothing, they insisted, that wouldn't choke the very life out of them. To be fair, neither really had any need of corsets. Their figures were trim and youthful.