Jennifer Van Dyck’s enthusiastic reading of Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen will cause listeners to turn on all the lights in whatever room they are enjoying the audiobook or seek out a public place with lots of other people around. So realistic is Van Dyck’s characterization of the malicious Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard that anyone listening will be able to imagine vividly the murderous “fasting doctor” directing her horrific tirades at them.
Starvation Heights is the story of Dr. Hazzard, who was convicted in 1912 of the murder of a young English heiress under her care. Hazzard ran The Wilderness Heights Institute of Natural Therapeutics in Olalla, WA, a secluded mountain area near Tacoma. A self-proclaimed expert in fasting, Dr. Hazzard’s patients existed on two cups of watery broth per day, daily enemas, and “osteopathic massage”, vigorous physical pummeling by the doctor to beat toxins literally out of weakened patients’ bodies. It was not until the death of 33-year-old Claire Williamson in 1911 and the near death of her older sister, Dorothea, that Dr. Hazzard’s treatments gained international attention. It seems that while the starving women were incapable of making rational decisions, the good doctor took legal control of the Williamson sisters’ generous funds and helped herself to their jewelry, clothing, and anything else of value they had brought with them to the Pacific Northwest. Soon it became clear that Claire Williamson was not the first wealthy patient to expire under Dr. Hazzard’s care.
Van Dyck captures convincingly the capricious Williamson sisters’ gullibility as they focus on Hazzard’s radical fasting treatments for the alleviation of their most likely non-existent afflictions. The upper-crust English accents of Claire and Dorothea convey not only their excitement to begin this latest “cure”, but also their total trust as they put their lives into Hazzard’s conniving hands.
Through Van Dyck, Hazzard is presented first as a terse, no-nonsense doctor outlining her radical treatments to new patients. Once fully into the fasting treatment and with her ulterior motives proceeding, Dr. Hazzard becomes a maniacal harpy using psychological terror to bilk weak, wealthy patients out of their fortunes. Hazzard is evil yet sickeningly sweet as she tries to cajole the barely alive Dorothea Williamson to end her own life after her beloved sister, Claire, has died. Hazzard’s belittling of employees and hectoring of patients keeps all those at Wilderness Heights living in fear of crossing the doctor.
Van Dyck adds color and depth to Starvation Heights with the dialogue of folks who tried to help or who had observed the mysterious comings and goings at the “sanitarium”. Working-class Margaret Conway, maidservant and former nurse to the Williamson sisters, grows from meekly-voiced, concerned servant to the confident and adamant advocate for Dorothea’s care and Claire’s memory. Dorothea’s description of Claire’s death reveals a brilliant performance as Van Dyck builds tension, fear, and horror through the raspy, tortured voice of the once vibrant woman. That the Williamson case proceeded at all is testament to the unequivocal outrage of the British vice consul for Tacoma, Lucien Agassiz. His aristocratic voice portrays a sense of obvious superiority to perceived backwater American justice. As the arrest of Dr. Hazzard and the trial commences, oily scandal sheet reporters pick and poke through the doctor’s shady past much to her vocalized outrage.
Jennifer Van Dyck smoothly transitions between all the personalities, allowing Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen to become an audiobook addiction that none will forget. Carole Chouinard
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 Hazzards 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.
©2005 Gregg Olsen (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
“A fascinating turn-of-the-century story of medical malpractice and murder. If you liked The Alienist, you'll find Starvation Heights all the more gripping because this story is true.” (Michael Connelly)
Attorney - love to listen to audio books
A fascinating account of a couple of eccentric ladies with too much money and time, and an evil woman willing to take everything they have. It is a sad story in many respects but also has satisfying moments. It is almost a five star in my estimation, but not quite.
Starvation Heights is a very detailed oriented book that I found very interesting but not overly fascinating. The book covers the death of Claire Williamson in great detail. The trial of Dr. Linda Hazzard and her way of think is done in exact detail. However, I found that some parts were very dry and not really worthy of inclusion in this book such as the great details about the lifes of the Williamson sisters before the starvation treatment. While other subjects such as why Dr. Hazzard was granted a medical license is not covered at all...
I think that the most striking aspect of this audiobook is the narrator, Jennifer Van Dyck. She did an excellent job of illustrating the personalities of those involved in this story, which is compelling. However, I think it would have been much more compelling than it turned out to be if it hadn't been so overwrought with details. I kept waiting and waiting for the point where this doctor's work starts to unravel but it never came. I stopped listening half way through.
A bit long winded, and the narrator took a while to get used to. (I found myself spacing in my work and not hearing a word) However, it was overall a great story! Recommend to my peeps who enjoy the mysteries & true crimes!
Yes, This story was quite interesting. The fact that, in that era, a person did not need to attend medical school or even college ,in order to give medical advice and/or medical treatment was quite surprising to me. I found it completely flabbergasting that "Dr" Hazard had starved quite a few people to death before her "practice" was finally exposed and she was brought to trial.
My favorite person in this story is The Nanny/nurse who, ultimately, saved one of the sisters and stood up to this quack.
I could not help to think that , even though the nanny was nervous about confronting Mrs/dr Hazard about her treatment of Dory (because of her own lack of medical raining), the nanny was probably just as qualified to be considered a doctor as Mrs. Hazard.
"Starvation Heights: The Deadly Tale of a Snake Oil doctor "
Great for readers of true crime, although I think quite a few of the details were not what I'd call "non-fiction". It was chilling and I found the entire thing extremely entertaining and interesting.
Got a bit tedious, but worth listening to, if only to be reminded how gullible and easily duped some people--even intelligent ones--can be.
The author seems obsessed with the sisters alleged female health problems. There are somethings that can be condensed and summarized without impacting the narrative. Menstruation troubles and malformed Utri are some of those things.
"A chilling true story told very well"
This audio book gripped me from the start, based on a true story and incredibly well researched, this is an oftentimes chilling tale but in no way sensationalised. The narration is unobtrusive, not in the least bit annoying or over-dramatic (as some can be). I highly recommend this audio book.
"Really good, fascinating historical true crime"
Don't know, only have experience of the audio version
The scene where Dora crawls from her bedroom to Claire's and is so emaciated her knees bleed.
She performed all the characters well, but my favourite was Linda Burfield Hazzard, because I really got the sense of her dominating controlling character.
I felt very sad for the sisters that they could be so easily misled. They seemed to be very vulnerable, although both in their 30's when they had the misfortune to come across Linda Burfield, they were dangerously naive
This is a fascinating story and demonstrates what a person can get away with when they have a cunning nature, false title and a complete lack of compassion. I think over time Linda Burfield actually believed her own spin. I find it absolutely incredible that this women managed to hoodwink so many and operate as a 'doctor' over such a long period.
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