Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest—Gregg Olsen

From that moment, he no longer saw the living human skeleton he had first seen at the Tacoma Hotel. Gone were the weeping recessed eyes, the lips that had been stretched over teeth like a taut rubber strip. Gone was the vague acrid odor.
He saw a lovely woman. (275)

I came across the story of Dr. Linda Hazzard, and found it incredibly interesting, as a history nerd and a native Washingtonian. Though we seem to have more than our share of serial killers, I'd never heard anything about this moment in history before.

When I went to find more information, I discovered that this was the only book about Linda Hazzard, and then felt incredibly conflicted as I made my way through it. I find the case so fascinating, but the book was so abysmal, I could barely finish it. Now I want to go back and rewrite it the right way.

Here are some of my thoughts. It's crazy, even removing a bunch of things that really bothered me, this video is still 13.5 minutes long...After the video are some of the things that I didn't have time/space for in the video.

So, here again are my three biggest issues with the book, and a bit more about each of them that I wasn't able to share.


There are no references or "further readings" or annotations of any sort. As a history nerd (and more specifically someone who studied and majored in history at university), this was a red flag for me.

Olsen would often tell us how particular people are feeling. Here's an example:
The next day was enveloped in a fog. It was the kind of day in which time moves achingly in its slowness. Dora Williamson took her internal bath in the morning, dribbled a couple of teaspoons of asparagus broth down her throat, and lay on a table while Dr. Hazzard worked her over with an osteopathic treatment. Little was said. Little could be said. Claire was gone. In her weakness, the world was spinning out of control. Dora wondered how it could have happened. Why it happened. She wished she could flip back the pages of the calendar to that fateful day in Victoria at the Empress Hotel when she and her sister read Fasting for the Cure of Disease. If only she hadn't gushed enthusiasm. If only she hadn't pointed out the advertisement. (113-114)
How do you have any way of knowing what this woman wished?! She survived, sure, but unless this is a direct quote and you can tell me the primary source where you found it, do not speculate.


One of the things that I didn't address in the video was how confusing were the structure of the book and the timeline of events. It jumps back and forth in time depending on the "point of view" of the person who is being focused on at any given moment, rather than just proceeding chronologically, which would make the most sense to me personally. I don't claim to be an expert, or that I always get everything right when it comes to writing, but I know bad writing when I read it.

One of the things that I didn't really have time for in the video was to share some of the descriptions of men other than Sam Hazzard. While none of them are as complimentary as the descriptions of Sam (how could they be?), they do not even compare to the descriptions of the women.

Here's part of a description of Lucien Agassiz, who was the British vice-consul who helped get Linda charged with murder and convicted of manslaughter.
Agassiz's attire was a neat, dark grey suit. That day at the Tacoma Hotel, it bore no traces of the pet hair that usually offered observers the telltale clue that the British vice-consul was a man who adored his orange tabby cat. (140)
The fuck does that have to do with anything? The cat is not relevant to literally anything. We never hear about the damn cat again. We don't get anything near this level of unnecessary detail for the Williamson sisters, who are the victims, or even of Linda Hazzard, the "villain."

On the next page, we get what I think is the first example of negging in this book, in reference to Margaret, the Williamson's old nanny.
Though she was by far more intelligent than those in the class above her would likely give credit, she had not been one to voice an opinion or to ask a question of a professional man or woman. (141)
Beautiful. And another example of that, also about Margaret:
Margaret Conway's story had been well reported.There would be little new told before the jury in Kitsap County Superior Court, yet when the silver-haired family nursemaid with the plain vocabulary and the less-than-refined British accent began her story, the room fell quiet. (324)
Here's a description of John Arthur, one of Linda's former attorneys: 
Linda Hazzard's former lawyer John Arthur was sworn in. At sixty-one, he was an exceedingly pleasant-looking fellow, with a receding hairline that still revealed his hair had been wavy and black. He was a man who carried himself with integrity and certainty. (327)
Compare that, which is not necessarily a completely complimentary description, to this description of Dora Williamson:
Inside the British vice-consul's mind the image of Dora Williamson flickered again and again. Sometimes the image brought on a headache of unbearable intensity. Her eyes were deep and black, her skin protracted as tight as to crack like the dried-out parchment of a lampshade. (162)
I wish that I could share all of the references to Sam Hazzard and how charming and attractive and intelligent he was, but that could be a whole book unto itself. There were at least fifteen points in the book, pontificating on the glory that is Sam, that I wasn't able to share.

This story is so fascinating, but the book is SO poorly written and edited. Not sure how this man is a New York Times bestseller... Anyway, riveting moment in history. "Doctor" Hazzard did not do any exams of her patients, and pretty clearly had devised this whole scheme to steal her victim's money and valuables, but I wonder if she at some point or in some way actually believed in the medical benefits of her "fasting cure" or if she was just a straight-up serial killer with no motivations but greed and power. I wish that Olsen had done more investigating of the possible motives and history of the Hazzards that led them to this point (rather than glossing over a previous bigamy charge for Sam, which was really just used as a vehicle to tell us how charming and attractive Sam is), and also would've loved to see more about the other cases. When I looked at other resources (not full-length books), it seemed as though there's speculation that the Hazzards could have killed hundreds of people, and just thrown their bodies in the valley that was near them. The methods of keeping track of people in the early 1900s were not very efficient, so it's possible that there were hundreds of people who went missing, who may not have had family to notice they were gone, and nobody really knows. Instead, we get the offensive language and "dialogue." Ugh. I've never read a history book that made me so viscerally and uncontrollably angry as this one did.

So, as I said in the video, I wouldn't recommend Starvation Heights, but there are lots of books that I LOVE. Check out my Goodreads, or let me know what kind of book you might be looking for in the comments and I'll give you a suggestion!

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