In the annals of serial killers, Linda Burfield Hazzard ranks among the most successful and sadistic. Conservative estimates tally her victims as at least 18, although this number is likely far greater. Despite her well-publicized activities, the notoriety of her victims, and overwhelming evidence against her, Hazzard was only ever convicted of one case of manslaughter, for which she served two years in Walla Walla State Penitentiary.
To understand why she was able to kill with impunity, let’s start at the beginning. Linda Burfield was born in Minnesota in 1867, was married at 18, and had two children. In 1898 she divorced her husband, left her children, and moved to Minneapolis. Around this time, she married grifter and conman Samuel Hazzard. Unfortunately, Hazzard was married to two other women at the time. This resulted in a highly publicized scandal, and Hazzard would serve two years in prison for bigamy before their marriage was validated.
In the meantime, Linda Hazzard, unhindered by a lack of medical knowledge or any credentials whatsoever, opened a medical practice. It is important to note that the latter 19th and early 20th centuries were rife with various forms of alternative medicine. Medical quackery and new age Spiritualism were extremely common. It was in this lane that she operated, developing the pathology of her crimes.
Her typical treatment consisted of fasting, massage, and enemas, which on the surface, was no stranger than many of her contemporaries. However, in practice, her regimen was brutal. The diet consisted of about a cup of vegetable broth daily for months. Enemas were regularly administered, sometimes for hours, utilizing upwards of 12 quarts of water. Vigorous massage therapy was also prescribed, taking the form of a violent pummeling during which Hazzard would scream things like “Be gone!” or “Eliminate!” as if she were exorcising demons.
In 1902 Linda Hazzard claimed her first victim. Authorities determined that the woman under her care had died of starvation. When the police questioned Linda about why she possessed the victim’s rings and other valuables, she became very evasive. The case was widely publicized, though ultimately, criminal charges were not made because Linda was not a licensed doctor, and her patient willingly submitted to her care. However, this incident and her husband’s now infamous bigamy scandal inspired the couple to pack up and move to Seattle.
Due to a loophole in Washington State Law, Linda Hazzard was allowed to acquire a medical license without a degree, and she immediately began taking patients in the Seattle area. In 1908 she published her first book, Fasting for the Cure of Disease. Soon, people were coming from all over the world to receive treatment.
They purchased a 40-acre tract of land in Olalla, Washington, and built a wellness retreat called “Wilderness Heights.” Locals would later give it the more ominous moniker of “Starvation Heights.” It was here that Linda Hazzard fully realized her potential for evil. She catered to the wealthy and gullible, advertising her treatment as a panacea for any ailment. Once in her care, she weakened her victims through starvation and physical and mental abuse; all the while, they were paying exorbitantly for the privilege. This process also isolated them from their friends and family, ensuring the torture would continue uninterrupted. Eventually, when the victim was sufficiently weakened, she would convince them to sign power of attorney, include her in their last will, or otherwise bilk them of their wealth and valuables. The final stage was death, which she would invariably blame on some undiagnosed condition or other unforeseen problem. Sometimes, she would perform the autopsy herself.
Daisy Maud Haglund was the first recorded victim in 1908. Her husband, Johan Haglund, did not believe Hazzard to be responsible. In fact, he supported her and her program so faithfully that he allowed Hazzard to treat their 3-year-old son, Ivar Haglund (of Ivar’s Fish and Chips fame), to her care! Later an autopsy would reveal that Daisy had stomach cancer, which somehow exonerated Hazzard in the court of public opinion.
More victims followed. Ida Wilcox fell victim to forced starvation in 1908, followed by Blanche Tindall and Viola Heaton in 1909. Then came the unexplained and highly suspicious death of Eugene Wakelin. Wakelin, the son of a British lord, had been receiving treatment at the Olalla property for some time and had already signed power of attorney to Hazzard. His decomposing body was found in the woods near the retreat with a bullet hole in his head. The details of the case are murky, though suicide was the final ruling. The British ambassador had no qualms about naming Hazzard as the murderer, citing that she attempted to leverage money from Wakelin’s estate for funeral expenses, becoming enraged upon discovering that although he was of noble birth, he was broke.
Although there are many well-documented deaths of patients in her care, it is reasonable to assume that the number was much greater. Most of Hazzard’s victims, particularly before her retreat was completed, were seen in their own homes, hotel rooms, rented cabins, etc. It would be easy for these crimes to go undetected, especially if there were no surviving family or friends to argue.
Despite damning headlines in the Seattle PI, such as “Woman MD Kills Again,” Hazzard continued practicing “medicine” unabated. In 1912 she took on her highest profile clients yet, sisters Dorothea and Claire Williamson, heiresses to a vast fortune worth million. The sisters were known hypochondriacs; thus, when they chanced upon Hazzard’s book, they read it and were intrigued. The two, who were vacationing in nearby British Colombia, abandoned their vacation plans and remitted themselves to the care of Linda Hazzard.
The sisters kept their plans secret from their friends and family, who already disapproved of their belief in alternative medicines. This was a mistake. After several months within the emaciating confines of Starvation Heights, the sisters were skeletal husks of their former selves. Eventually, Dorothea was able to sneak a message out to their trusted childhood nanny, begging to be rescued. When the nanny, Margaret Conway, arrived, she was bluntly told that Claire was dead and Dorothea had gone insane. Conway immediately declared that she was taking Dorothea. Hazzard refused, citing that Dorothea had given her power of attorney and that she would be spending the rest of her life there. Eventually, a fee of $2,000 was paid, about $50,000 in today’s money, and Dorothea was allowed to leave.
The Sister’s family immediately went to the authorities with allegations of murder and abuse. Much of what we know about Hazzard’s methods and motives comes from the ensuing trial. Hazzard was found to have forged bank and legal documents, stolen cash and property, and illegally represented herself as having power of attorney over the sisters. Despite clients such as Johan Haglund testifying in her defense, Linda Hazzard was convicted of manslaughter. However, several more of her patients died before she could be sentenced.
Hazzard was sentenced to 2 to 20 years but served only two years before being inexplicably pardoned by Governor Ernest Lister. His pardon came with the caveat that she left the country, so in 1915 she and her husband Samuel set up shop in New Zealand. It did not take long for trouble to find her. In 1917 she was convicted of practicing without a license and ordered to pay a litany of fines. Whether her murderous ways continued, there is a matter of speculation. However, in 1920, the Hazzards seemed to have worn out their welcome, and they returned to their property in Olalla, Washington.
With her medical license revoked, she could no longer practice medicine in Washington, so instead, she opened up her “School of Health” and built a new facility on their land. There she practiced her insidious brand of starvation for another 15 years before the school at Starvation Heights burned to the ground in 1935. It is unknown how many deaths occurred there after her return. One can only believe that she learned from her mistakes and either stopped killing or adapted from her mistakes.
In 1938 Linda Hazzard died of starvation, ironically following her own treatment. She was 70 years old.