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When Dorothea and Claire Williamson arrived in Seattle, Washington on February 27, 1911, they were eager to begin a radical new treatment program that would help them both overcome assorted "female troubles". They had no idea that the "treatment" would result in one of them dying a gruesome death and propel them both to the centre of a bizarre medical scandal that would generate international outrage.
Born and raised in England, the sisters had inherited a fortune from their Scottish grandfather. Being independently wealthy, they used their money to fund a long odyssey to various medical clinics around the world as they searched for a cure to assorted medical complaints. Although the complaints were largely minor (and possibly imaginary), they could afford the best care and try any fad cure that happened to be in vogue at the time.
In the course of their travels, they came across a new book, Fasting For The Cure of Disease, which argued that many diseases were due to the eating of meat and assorted nutritional problems that could be cured by fasting. The author, Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard, was one of the few women doctors of that era which made her seem even more remarkable to the Williamson sisters. After Claire Williamson wrote to Dr. Hazzard, both sisters received a brochure describing how well-to-do patients under her care could undergo the radical fasting cure and receive the full benefits offered in her book.
From the very beginning, there were warning signs which the Williamson sisters chose to ignore. Though Linda Hazzard freely used the "Doctor" title, she did not actually have a medical degree. She was allowed to practice medicine in the state of Washington because of a legal loophole in the licensing law "grandfathering" practitioners of alternative medicine (she was actually trained as an osteopath). Despite her questionable credentials, Linda Hazzard was able to launch her own medical practice in Seattle beginning in 1907, She then established herself as a "fasting specialist" offering medical treatment following the principles laid down by fasting pioneers Edward Hooker Dewey and Henry S.. Tanner. Dewey (under whom Hazzard reportedly trained) became famous for his "No Breakfast Plan" while Tanner was notorious for his forty-two-day fast at New York's Clarendon Hall.
Expanding on the therapeutic fasting principles laid down by her predecessors, Linda Hazzard proclaimed in her assorted books and pamphlets that fasting could cure anything from cancer to hysteria. That her medical colleagues were condemning her as a quack hardly deterred patients traveling from across the United States and even as far as Europe to try the fasting cure for themselves. Linda Hazzard enjoyed the notoriety and wrote pamphlets describing the "organized persecution from newspaper and physicians". She even claimed to be the victim of a colossal conspiracy by medical doctors trying to suppress the truth (sound familiar?). Prospective patients heard nothing about the various deaths that had already been attributed to her since 1903 when she first began starving her patients.
Not that the adverse publicity did anything to deter people desperate for a miracle. In fact, the demand became so great that Linda Hazzard gave up her Seattle office and established a larger clinic in nearby Olalla, Washington. There, the new clinic which Hazzard named "Wilderness Heights" could provide the fasting cure to patients to purge their body of "toxins".
It was about this time that Linda Hazzard first took on the Williamson sisters as patients. When they arrived in Seattle on February 27, 1911, they went straight to Hazzard's Seattle office where the treatment was explained to them. Dorathea and Claire both enthusiastically agreed to to begin the treatments which would involve systematic fasting, enemas, baths, and vigorous massages. At first, their treatment was at the Seattle location while they stayed in a nearby apartment and saw Linda Hazzard five times a week.
Despite the adverse symptoms that developed, including their growing steadily weaker and light-headed (which they attributed to "euphoria"), the Williamson sisters continued with their treatments and were even among the first patients at the new Olalla clinic when it opened soon afterward. Their faith in Linda Hazzard was unshakeable, even when both Williamsons became so emaciated that they could barely walk. A full-time nurse was hired to care for them both but that was not enough for Linda Hazzard.
While they were still living in Seattle, Hazzard's control over the sisters became tighter than ever. She even convinced them to grant her control over their sizeable estate during their "recovery." Though their nurse was alarmed enough at what was happening to go to another doctor for help, there was nothing anyone could do without having the sisters declared incompetent. By mid-April, Hazzard had moved the Williamsons to her newly-built clinic in Olalla and her power over them became absolute. Since both sisters were completely bedridden by this point, Hazzard arranged for their transfer to Olalla in a special ambulance.
Once there, Dora and Claire were moved to a private cabin to join all the other patients at Wilderness Heights. From the outside, it appeared to be a palatial spa where well-off patients could enjoy the expensive treatment they were receiving. Inside, the reality was very different. Patients at the clinic were kept on a restricted diet of tomatoes, oranges, and asparagus juice which continued for months. They also had daily enemas and vigorous massages to accelerate the process. Due to the odd stories about the type of treatment patients there received, local residents of Olalla gave the clinic the nickname of "Starvation Heights."
Linda Hazzard and her husband had total control over all communications between the patients and the outside world, including their mail. She also made it standard practice to persuade patients to grant her control over their assets (in order to "protect their property" while the patients were convalescing). Both Hazzards even managed to convince patients to change their wills making the doctor their beneficiary.
Perhaps sensing that she was on the verge of death, Claire Williamson managed to crawl off the property with a message asking for help which she gave to a local village boy. The message was to a family nurse, Margaret Convey, who was in Australia at the time. Delivered by telegram, the message said "Come SS Marama May 8th, first class. Claire." Though there were no other details, Convey set sail for Vancouver, Washington and arrived on June 1. It was Sam Hazzard who met her when the ship arrived telling her that Claire had died and that Dora was "hopelessly insane."
Convey was immediately suspicious and those suspicions seemed confirmed when she met Linda Hazzard (who happened to be wearing one of Claire Williamson's dresses at the time). When she insisted on seeing Dora, she found her reduced to skin and bones, pleading with Convey to take her away.
What followed was a bizarre battle of wills with Linda Hazzard refusing to release Dora whom she insisted was insane. She also claimed power of attorney over the Williamson sisters' assets and she was demanding payment for the medical bills both sisters had racked up at her clinic. As for Claire's death, Hazzard maintained that the death was the result of the treatment Claire had received before becoming her patient.
To be continues
To be continued
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