Things You Didn't Know About Serial Killer Linda Hazzard

Though serial killers are more likely to be men than women, the female serial killer is nevertheless just as deadly. Linda Hazzard, known as "the Starvation Doctor," is one such example, responsible for at least 15 deaths in the early 20th century.

Widely considered to be Washington state's first serial killer, Hazzard was not a stereotypical murderer who relied on weapons or poisons. Rather, she managed to gain complete psychological control over her victims. Hazzard accomplished this by using quack science that was popular in the late 19th century to suggest that extreme fasting was a way to cure all ailments. Using a combination of fake science and personal manipulation, the so-called doctor managed to convince her patients to slowly starve themselves to death while they resided at her luxurious retreat. During the fasting period, Hazzard would often gain control of her clients' finances and engage in fraud in what was called "financial starvation" at her murder trial, per Smithsonian

Hazzard was a fake doctor with a sordid personal life

Unsurprisingly, Hazzard had a sordid personal life. After leaving her first husband in 1898, she married her second husband, Sam Hazzard, in 1903 despite his "history of drinking and swindling," according to the Washington State Archives. At the time of the wedding, Sam was still technically married and he later served two years in jail for bigamy.

But worse than Hazzard's romantic life was her professional life. Though Hazzard had a little bit of training as an osteopathic nurse, she did not have a medical degree. However, due to a legal loophole in Washington state law, she was granted the ability to practice medicine due to a clause concerning alternative medicine. The murderess would often use the "doctor" title despite having no formal degree in medicine, likely as a way to continue to fool victims into believing her quack medicine.

"I have told you time and time again, it is Dr. Hazzard. Mrs. Hazzard is my mother-in-law," she once reportedly snapped at a reporter (per History Link).

Hazzard's quack methods had serious consequences

Hazzard's sick philosophy declared that all diseases could be cured by fasting, whether a patient suffered from headaches or infections or even cancer. The quack doctor promoted her theories using vague buzzwords about the digestive system, along with claims that "impaired digestion" caused "impure blood" that led to illnesses, says History Link.

Hazzard was not the only figure at the time to promote fasting at the time. Dr. Edward Hooker Dewey was another proponent of the practice, and Hazzard claimed that she had been one of his pupils. However, Dewey's book The No-Breakfast Plan and the Fasting Cure (posted at Project Gutenberg) promoted an approach where patients skipped breakfast but still ate two meals a day. In contrast, Hazzard encouraged patients to take much more extreme measures, including consuming just one cup of tomato broth a day. Even worse, Hazzard made her patients receive daily enemas that lasted for several hours and required 12 quarts of water. 

But arguably the most terrifying aspect of Hazzard's fasts was the daily "massage" during which Hazzard would reportedly beat her fists against her patients' backs and foreheads all while shouting "Eliminate! Eliminate!"

Though Hazzard began her practice in Minneapolis, she moved to Seattle, Washington in 1907 in the hopes of starting her own sanitarium. Within the year, two of her new Emerald City patients passed away, sparking media attention.

Hazzard continued to promote fasting even after several fatalities

Despite receiving public outcry following the deaths of two patients in the span of 12 months, Hazzard remained defiant. In fact, she released a statement to a newspaper where she admitted to even more fatalities while suggesting that the deaths were caused by other underlying health conditions. She insisted that fasting had prolonged their lives instead of ending them.

"...In each of these cases, it is my absolute conviction that their days were prolonged by the methods employed," she wrote in The Seattle Sunday Times. (posted at the Washington State Archives). Hazzard also bragged that she lost nine patients throughout her 11 years of practice.

"What doctor can show a record such as that?" she claimed. "When a physician administers a drug and his patient dies in twenty minutes nothing is said, but when one of my charges dies there is a great stir. The regular doctors hate me because I have a new method. They abhor anything new," she concluded.

Her public self-defense managed to be convincing to many people, and her practice remained successful. She went on to publish several books on the practice of fasting, with her first publication titled Fasting for the Cure of Disease.

Hazzard swindled her patients while starving them

Many of Hazzard's patients were wealthy individuals who mysteriously managed to lose vast amounts of money during their time with the quack doctor. For example, Ivan Flux was a prosperous Englishman who had been looking to purchase a ranch before falling in with Hazzard. Smithsonian reports he passed away after fasting for 53 days straight. He died with only $70 worth of property — the rest had mysteriously been spent.

Hazzard similarly swindled sisters Claire and Dorothea Williamson. The two women were daughters of a wealthy British officer and approached Hazzard due to their interest in alternative medicine. However, when the girls' former governess decided to visit Washington after receiving a nonsensical telegram, she was told that Claire had died, writes History Link. Though the Hazzards blamed a childhood ailment, the governess was shocked to see that Claire's corpse looked emaciated, and that Dorothea weighed just 50 pounds.

In addition, Hazzard had declared herself the executor of Claire's estate and had taken possession of $6,000 worth of the sisters' jewelry and clothes. Dorothea's uncle, John Herbert, traveled to Washington to rescue his niece after learning that she had given Hazzard both legal guardianship and power of attorney. He had to pay the sham doctor around $1,000 to allow Dorothea to leave.

However, Herbert soon got his revenge after taking Hazzard to court for the death of Claire. Though Hazzard claimed she was the victim of sexism, she was nevertheless found guilty at her trial.

Hazzard's death was a fitting demise

Hazzard appeared to escape justice after she was pardoned by the governor of Washington in 1916 after spending just two years behind bars. The governor was apparently swayed by her popularity in New Zealand following a petition signed by 121 Kiwis demanding her release, says the Washington State Archives. The governor acquiesced to the demands, with the stipulation that she leave the United States and relocated to the small island nation.

Hazzard and her husband moved to New Zealand, where the two continued practicing. Hazzard also published another book, titled Diet in Disease and Systemic Cleansing. Her time in the southern hemisphere was lucrative enough that she was able to return to Washington four years later and build her dream sanitarium, which locals dubbed "Starvation Heights." according to History Link.

Though Hazzard continued to practice, she finally met some karma in 1935 when her dream retreat burned to the ground. In addition, Hazzard began suffering from health issues and embarked on the torturous diet she had promoted. In a fitting twist of fate, she ended up dying of starvation in 1938 on one of her own mandated fasts.

For more on the story, check out Gregg Olsen's book Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest.