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Starvation Heights

A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest
Written by: Gregg Olsen
Narrated by: Jennifer Van Dyck
Length: 13 hrs and 50 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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.

What the critics say

“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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • bebe
  • 2010-12-27

Very Intersting

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Alan
  • 2011-12-27

A Very Detailed Oriented Book

Where does Starvation Heights rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

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...

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • ilene
  • 2017-10-23

Frustrating

Started out very interesting and couldn’t put it down- which is unusual for a non-fiction story . But, after a few hours it became very repetitive and drawn out to the point I had to skip over some . These poor women starved by a “doctor” and finally when one of them is rescued there’s not one word about her finally having something to eat- which is what I as the reader was waiting and hoping for , so this was a bit of a let down - you assumed she was finally allowed to eat but couldn’t participate in the feeling. The narration was excellent but with 7 hours to go, I had to stop.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Crystal D. Jones
  • 2016-06-11

Interesting

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!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2016-02-18

great story

This surprised me it turned out to be a good book. Greg Olsen best maybe.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Beege
  • 2016-01-31

Starvation Heights

The book was captivating,, will probably listen again. The narrator was perfect for the story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Shawn
  • 2010-12-23

Compelling narration + story, too much information

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.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michelle in New York City
  • 2016-02-01

Fascinating story about a so-called "Doctor"

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

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.

Who was your favorite character and why?

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.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

"Starvation Heights: The Deadly Tale of a Snake Oil doctor "

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Jess
  • 2015-12-07

Fabulous Reading! Chilling Story!

Would you listen to Starvation Heights again? Why?

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jane/Neal
  • 2015-01-15

Strange story early 20th century Pacific Northwest

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful