Podcast Episode 331: The Starvation Doctor


In 1911 English sisters Claire and Dora Williamson began consulting a Seattle “fasting specialist” named Linda Burfield Hazzard. As they underwent her brutal treatments, the sisters found themselves caught in a web of manipulation and deceit. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Williamsons’ ordeal and the scheme it brought to light.

We’ll also catch a criminal by the ear and puzzle over a prohibited pig.


During World War II, the United States circulated specially printed currency in Hawaii.

Reversing an artwork in a mirror alters its aesthetic effect.

Sources for our feature on Linda Burfield Hazzard:

Gregg Olsen, Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest, 1997.

Linda Burfield Hazzard, Fasting for the Cure of Disease, 1908.

Linda Burfield Hazzard, Scientific Fasting: The Ancient and Modern Key to Health, 1927.

Steven Chermak and Frankie Y. Bailey, Crimes of the Centuries: Notorious Crimes, Criminals, and Criminal Trials in American History, 2016.

Teresa Nordheim, Murder & Mayhem in Seattle, 2016.

Bess Lovejoy, “The Doctor Who Starved Her Patients to Death,” smithsonianmag.com, Oct. 28, 2014.

Terence Hines, “A Gripping Story of Quackery and Death,” Skeptical Inquirer 21:6 (November-December 1997), 55.

Dorothy Grant, “Look Back Doctor,” Medical Post 40:16 (April 20, 2004), 28.

“The Hazzard Murder Trial,” Northwest Medicine 4:3 (March 1912), 92.

“Dr. Linda Hazzard Is Given Pardon,” Oregon Daily Journal, June 4, 1916.

“Woman Fast Doctor Released on Parole,” Oakland [Calif.] Tribune, Dec. 21, 1915.

“Glad She Is Going Says Mrs. Linda Hazzard,” Tacoma [Wash.] Times, Jan. 6, 1914.

“Starved to Death,” [Sydney] Globe Pictorial, Feb. 14, 1914.

“Dr. Linda Hazzard Must Serve Term in the Penitentiary,” Seattle Star, Dec. 24, 1913.

“Mrs. Linda Hazzard Must Go to Prison According to Supreme Court Ruling,” Tacoma [Wash.] Times, Aug. 13, 1913.

“Sister Describes Treatment,” Washburn [N.D.] Leader, Jan. 26, 1912.

“‘Starvation Cure’ Victim on the Stand,” Wichita [Kan.] Daily Eagle, Jan. 21, 1912.

“Tells How Mrs. Hazzard Treated Them at Ollala,” Tacoma [Wash.] Times, Jan. 20, 1912.

“Blames Doctors’ Jealousy,” New York Times, Aug. 7, 1911.

“Starvation Cure Fatal,” New York Times, Aug. 6, 1911.

“Investigate Woman Doctor,” New York Times, July 31, 1911.

“The State of Washington, Respondent, v. Linda Burfield Hazzard, Appellant,” Washington Reports, Volume 75: Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of Washington, August 12, 1913 – October 9, 1913, 1914.

“Linda Burfield Hazzard: Healer or Murderess?”, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives (accessed Jan. 24, 2021).

Listener mail:

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, “United States of Climate Change: Missouri Under Water,” Weather Channel, Nov. 9, 2017.

“German Police Identify Burglar by His Earprints,” Spiegel International, April 30, 2012.

“Ear Print Analysis,” Wikipedia, accessed Jan. 28, 2021.

“Ear Print Analysis,” Encyclopedia.com (accessed Jan. 28, 2021).

Ayman Abaza et al., “A Survey on Ear Biometrics,” ACM Computing Surveys, March 2013.

Mit Katwala, “The Bonkers Plan to Foil Password Thieves Using Your Mouth,” Wired, Dec. 13, 2020.

Boxcar Willie, “Luther” (video), Jan. 30, 2012.

“Luther,” International Lyrics Playground (accessed Jan. 31, 2021).

“Boxcar Willie,” Wikipedia (accessed Jan. 31, 2021).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listeners Paul Schoeps and Stuart Baker. Stuart sent this corroborating link, and Sharon found this related, gratuitously horrifying incident.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!