Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard was an infamous fraud and a crook. She was known for her starvation “cure.” Dr. Hazzard purported fasting was the only cure for disease under the theory all illnesses were borne of impaired digestion.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of Hazzard’s patients died slow, miserable deaths. These patients also had a weird habit of signing over their estates to Dr. Hazzard shortly before dying. What’s even more surprising? The ill continued to undergo fasting treatment despite her fairly well-known pattern.
Hazzard abandoned her children when her first husband disappeared at a young age. She then married Sam Hazzard, who eventually spent a couple years in prison for bigamy because he also abandoned his family, but didn’t bother to file for divorce. Yes, we’re dealing with a couple real winners here.
Hazzard studied with Dr. Edward Hooker Dewey, who pioneered starvation therapy. She opened her first starvation clinic in Minneapolis in 1902. She started fast. After catching wind of a suspicious death, the coroner asked the county prosecutor to bring charges against Hazzard. Since she was not a licensed practitioner at the time, she was not held accountable.
Following at least nine deaths and Sam’s prison release in 1907, the couple moved to Washington. They settled in Kitsap County on a large property in the town of Olalla, where she dreamed of building a sanitarium.
Through a ridiculous loophole in the system that grandfathered in alternative-medicine providers without scrutiny, the state of Washington issued Hazzard a license to practice medicine, so she was officially a doctor despite a relative lack of medical training and no medical degree.
Since building a sanitarium would take years and lots of money, she “treated” patients in the many cabins on her property. In addition to starvation, she gave patients enemas that lasted for hours and a notoriously rough massage treatment, which could probably be more accurately described as boxing. After many weeks, this regimen guided people into insanity. Along the way, they would either insist on continuing, assumedly out of desperation, or they would attempt escape—and usually fail.
She also did business in Seattle, commuting to the city and seeing patients for whom she did not have room on her property. She put them in hotels and went through the same routine as the cabin cases.
In 1908, Daisey Haglund died after a 50-day fast. She left behind a three-year-old son, Ivar Haglund, who went on to found Seattle’s famous Ivar’s restaurants.
Hazzard conducted her own autopsies most of the time. She never reported the cause of death as starvation; it was always something else. Whenever another doctor was able to handle the autopsy, the cause of death was indeed determined to be starvation. Shocking.
Seattle’s health director said he could not intervene. Hazzard was a licensed doctor and her patients sought her treatment willingly. Never mind that the estates of the deceased always mysteriously wound up under Hazzard’s power of attorney.
Finally, Hazzard messed with the wrong family.
In 1911, two rich, dim-witted and hypochondriac sisters thought starvation therapy sounded fun, so they subscribed to the treatment. Once they realized this was a bad idea, they tried to duck out. They were talked out of it, then they changed their mind, then they were physically prevented from leaving. Physically restraining someone who hasn’t eaten in weeks is not difficult. The kicker: They never told any family members they were entering treatment because they knew their family would try to talk them out of it.
The girls’ childhood nanny received a telegram in Sydney, Australia advising her to visit the sisters. Five weeks later, the nanny showed up, not knowing much about what was going on. One of the sisters was dead by this time, and the surviving sister weighed less than 70 pounds. Hazzard refused to release her patient, as she was now the legal guardian and had power of attorney over her estate. The nanny summoned the girls’ uncle from Portland, who came at once and negotiated a ransom.
This family went on to fund Hazzard’s prosecution after Kitsap County cited lack of funds when asked to go after her. She was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two to 20 years in prison. There was a surprising public backlash demanding her release, claiming her incarceration was a great loss to the medical field. A group in New Zealand petitioned for her release, and in 1915 — after serving only two years — Governor Lister pardoned her on the condition she move to New Zealand.
Hazzard found wild success in New Zealand. Patients died left and right, and estate after estate was inherited by the Hazzards. Eventually she made so much money, she went back to Kitsap County, where she built the sanitarium she always wanted. She was no longer allowed to practice medicine, so she called the sanitarium the “School of Health.”
Her facility received an unreal amount of business. The school lasted way too many years before it poetically burned down in 1935. Nobody has any idea how many people starved to death under Hazzard’s supervision. Some believe the grounds where it stood still contain remains.
In 1938, Linda Burfield Hazzard died. Want to guess how? She underwent her own treatment and starved to death.
Discover more of Washington’s fascinating history at the Washington State Archives.