ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota woman was infamous ‘starvation doctor’ whose brutal fasting methods may have killed 14

Some of Linda Burfield Hazzard's patients described her as a gifted and intelligent healer who helped them overcome all sorts of maladies. Others considered her a serial killer.

121022.F.FF.StarvationWEB.jpg
Linda Burfield Hazzard (left) became notorious for prescribing a fasting "cure" so severe that it’s believed at least 14 people died from it. Her patients included L.E. Rader (top right), a former Washington state legislator who died from Hazzard's fasting methods, and Dora Williamson, a wealthy British citizen who wasted down to 50 pounds under Hazzard's care. Dora's sister, Claire, died from the fast. Although Hazzard served a year and a half in prison, she went on to open an even larger "School of Health" (pictured) in Washington.
Photo illustration by Troy Becker/ The Forum
We are part of The Trust Project.

Editor's note: This is part one in a two-part series. Read part two here.

Linda Hazzard was a force of nature.

She stood nearly as tall as her 6-foot husband, although some wondered if her personality was so imposing that she simply seemed larger than she actually was.

A formidable figure with sharp cheekbones, a resolute chin and an unflinching gaze, everything about Hazzard exuded authority. She spoke with unwavering assurance — as if she were absolutely right and anyone who disagreed with her was a fool. While studying osteopathy in her quest to be a nurse, she became convinced that drastic fasting — ingesting only thin vegetable broths for weeks or even months — was the key to healing all disease.

Part 1: The Starvation Doctor
Thu Jan 05 14:17:00 EST 2023
Linda Hazzard was a force of nature.

She stood nearly as tall as her 6-foot husband, although some wondered if her personality was so imposing that she simply seemed larger than she actually was.

A formidable figure with sharp cheekbones, a resolute chin and an unflinching gaze, everything about Hazzard exuded authority. She spoke with unwavering assurance — as if she were absolutely right and anyone who disagreed with her was a fool. While studying osteopathy in her quest to be a nurse, she became convinced that drastic fasting — ingesting only thin vegetable broths for weeks or even months — was the key to healing all disease.

Hazzard’s followers, who included prominent intellectuals and politicians, swore by her methods and proclaimed her a "gifted and intelligent" healer.

Others considered her a serial killer.

Written by Tammy Swift 

https://www.inforum.com/news/the-vault/minnesota-woman-linda-hazzard-was-infamous-starvation-doctor-whose-brutal-fasting-methods-may-have-killed-14

Hazzard’s followers, who included prominent intellectuals and politicians, swore by her methods and proclaimed her a "gifted and intelligent" healer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Others considered her a serial killer.

121022.N.FF.STARVATIONDOC.jpg
This photo of Linda Hazzard was believed to be taken shortly before she entered the penitentiary in Walla Walla, Wash., for the starvation death of Claire Williamson.
Contributed / Seattle Historical Photograph Collection

From 1907 to 1913, at least 14 Washington residents under her care died of starvation, according to Washington State Archives. That death count doesn’t include the number of patients who died in Minnesota.

Even more suspiciously, some of her patients turned over property, money, guardianship and power of attorney to Hazzard and her husband, Samuel, before they died.

Hazzard seemed to possess some unseen hold over her patients, which was so powerful that they would turn over possessions and refuse to eat — even in the most advanced stages of starvation.

“She seemed to hypnotize them with her booming voice and flashing dark eyes,” writes Bess Joy in Smithsonian Magazine. “Some wondered if Hazzard’s interest in spiritualism, theosophy and the occult had given her strange abilities; perhaps she hypnotized people into starving themselves to death?”

Hazzard would grow so notorious that the primitive sanitarium she built in Olalla, Washington, became known by locals as “Starvation Heights.” In fact, “Starvation Heights” became the title of a book on Hazzard by Gregg Olsen, a true-crime author who lives in Olalla.

Even more surprising is that Hazzard’s life started out in such a unremarkable way. She wasn’t the child of itinerant snake oil salesmen or soothsayers, but a Minnesota-reared farm girl.

A sickly beginning

Hazzard was born in 1867 in Minnesota’s Carver County to Susan Neal Burfield and Montgomery Burfield, a former corporal in the Ninth Minnesota Infantry during the Civil War, according to Olsen. The family headed west to homestead at Star Lake Township in Otter Tail County 10 years later, where Montgomery ran a log mill.

ADVERTISEMENT

Linda, also called “Lana,” was the oldest of seven children. Even early on, she had no shortage of confidence and was known as an outgoing tomboy who was her father’s favorite.

A Fergus Falls Daily Journal article of 1931 ran a pretty unsparing, yet completely unattributed, portrait of Hazzard, even as a young girl: “She was a strange child and her parents were told she would do weird things and lead an unusual life. From the first it was evident she was different from other children. She was inclined to be haughty, high strung and visionary. Linda spent many hours communing with herself instead of joining with the others in their childish activities.”

The Burfields did have some unusual inclinations for that time and place. Olsen wrote they maintained a “mostly vegetarian” diet, at a time when standard Midwestern farm fare was meat and potatoes.

Although no one in the Burfield clan was sickly, Montgomery Burfield decided his children needed to see a “real” doctor, Olsen wrote. During a house call, a local physician convinced Linda’s parents that the children all had potentially deadly intestinal parasites.

He prescribed “blue mass” pills, which were administered for several years and induced bouts of severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Hazzard would one day condemn the treatment for causing “irreparable injury to her intestines,” Olsen wrote. She was underweight, tired and could barely keep down food. The doctors prescribed a purgative called calomel to address her stomach ailments, which she later blamed for causing the loss of many of her upper teeth.

This early health scare sparked her interest in finding alternative health treatments.

By age 18, Linda married Erwin Perry, who was 14 years her senior. They moved to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, where Perry owned a livery business. They had two children: Rollin in 1889 and Nina Floy in 1891.

ADVERTISEMENT

Linda’s interest in the marriage soon faded, as she felt she was destined for something greater, Olsen wrote. The 1931 Daily News article reported that Linda “immediately became socially ambitious, demanded the best clothes, the smartest turnouts from her husband’s stables and made a determined effort to associate with the better class of people.”

The article reported that “her desire for making a show” got the Perrys into financial difficulties. In 1898, Linda claimed that Erwin abandoned her, although Olsen wrote that those who knew Linda best believed otherwise. Eventually, she shipped off her children to her mother, Susan, in Star Lake. “Linda’s ambitions as a fasting specialist had usurped her desire for motherhood,” Olsen wrote. “She simply couldn’t be bothered with it.”

Also in 1898, Linda discovered fasting by reading “The Gospel of Health,” written by Dr. Edward Hooker Dewey . In it, Dewey praised the restorative power of fasting.

“Every disease that afflicts mankind (develops from) more or less habitual eating in excess of the supply of gastric juices,” Dewey wrote. He believed the path to health was to let the digestive system rest so the body could rid itself of toxins which caused imbalances in the body.

Linda believed Dewey's system restored her health. The ambitious young woman moved to Minneapolis where she could work as an osteopath and spread her own, more extreme version of Dewey's methods.

121022.F.FF.starvationdoc-ad.jpg
An early ad promoting Linda Hazzard's Minneapolis practice, which had some success but was also linked to several suspicious deaths.
Contributed / Minnesota Historical Society

She claimed her fasting regimen could cure everything from toothaches and constipation to Bright’s disease and syphilis.

A golden age for alternative therapies

Burfield entered the health game at a time when more Americans were exploring alternative therapies, according to the medical journal The Lancet. One of the best-known of those was John Harvey Kellogg, the American physician/cornflakes king who, in 1876, opened a sanitarium which offered hydrotherapy, light therapy, sexual abstinence and yogurt enemas.

Burfield’s methods were more sadistic. She prescribed a Draconian regimen of marathon fasts, brutal massages (some likened them more to “beatings”), vigorous walks, hours-long enemas and nearly scalding baths to treat people’s ills.

Some of Burfield’s patients actually did improve and her Minneapolis practice enjoyed some success.

But others couldn’t survive Burfield’s harsh protocol. Gertrude Young, 41, was paralyzed on her right side due to a stroke. The Minneapolis woman had sought help from a number of doctors, but still struggled with basic tasks such as dressing herself, according to Olsen.

Upon hearing of Burfield, she hoped for a miracle cure. Young began the doctor’s fasting regimen in mid-October 1902. Three weeks later, the patient woke to “violent fits of vomiting of a dark, acrid-smelling gruel,” Olsen wrote.

The nurse tending Young grew so concerned that she contacted another doctor, U.G. Williams, who was also Hennepin County’s coroner. Alarmed by Young’s yellowish pallor and sunken physique, Williams urged the woman to immediately break the fast.

By then, some of Young’s friends/fasting proponents had gathered in Young’s bedroom to protest Williams’ recommendation. Young, along with the Burfield groupies, vehemently insisted that the fast could only be broken on the 40th day.

Young never got to see that day. She died on Nov. 18, the 39th day of her fast. Burfield attributed the cause of death to “paralysis.”

Thank God, I have no license to kill!
Linda Burfield Hazzard, when asked if she had a medical license.

The outraged coroner ordered an inquest. A postmortem was held at the University of Minnesota, where scientists reported the cause of death as starvation. The woman had wasted down to 105 pounds and, strangely enough, had virtually no blood left in her body.

Criminal charges were considered but never brought.

Young’s family, meanwhile, wondered what had happened to the deceased woman’s jewelry, which included valuable rings. Burfield scoffed at the notion she would steal anything. She insisted Young had given the rings to a nurse, although that nurse was never found.

In efforts at damage control, Burfield summoned a reporter. When he asked if she had a medical license, Burfield dramatically declared: “Thank God, I have no license to kill!”

She also claimed that, due to the fasting, Young had regained "free use" of her right arm and foot, but refused to let Burfield examine her. When Burfield persisted in examining her, the patient confessed that not only had she failed to follow Burfield’s instructions to the letter, but that she had been diagnosed with an “incurable disease” by another doctor.

It became a popular Burfield defense: When a patient died, she insisted they already had some serious disease or underlying condition which had progressed too far for fasting to cure.

Husband trouble

While in Minneapolis, Burfield also met the love of her life. Samuel Hazzard was a tall, handsome man with coal-black hair, a dashing black mustache and a ramrod-straight posture that belied his West Point roots. A former Army lieutenant, Hazzard dressed impeccably and made a gentlemanly first impression, Olsen wrote.

sam hazzard.jpg
Samuel Hazzard's bigamy case provided plenty of newspaper copy for Minneapolis/St. Paul newspapers in 1904. Here is Hazzard as pictured in a Jan. 7, 1904 issue of the Minneapolis Tribune.
Contributed / Minnesota Historical Society

But anyone who looked beyond Samuel’s tailored facade learned he was neither military hero nor gentleman. He destroyed his promising military career by racking up unpaid bills around New York, forging documents, lying about family emergencies to get leave from his superiors and misappropriating Army funds. He also abandoned his first wife and their children.

Samuel rarely bothered with details such as divorce before romancing and marrying other women. Perhaps that's why he sometimes used the name, “Hargrave,” on his marriage licenses. The Minneapolis papers breathlessly covered a scandalous trial when he was tried for bigamy for being married to both Linda Burfield and an Iowa woman named Viva Fitchpatrick at the same time.

In February of 1904, Samuel was sent off to the state prison in Stillwater for bigamy.

Fitchpatrick wrote letters to the warden asking how she could make Samuel’s time in prison easier and paid for a gold tooth when he needed dentalwork. Yet when he was released, he went straight home to Hazzard. Once again, through sheer force of will, Linda Burfield Hazzard had triumphed.

121022.N.FF.starvationdoc-sam.png
Linda Hazzard's husband, Samuel Hargrave Hazzard, earned his own notoriety when it was discovered he was married to two women — one being Linda — at the same time. The Minneapolis papers breathlessly covered his bigamy trial, with the Minneapolis Journal even including a caricature of Samuel and his "other wife," Viva Fitchpatrick, on Feb. 8, 1904.
Contributed / Minnesota Historical Society

Over time, man and wife both might wonder if it was a victory. Samuel would become so dominated by his wife that he learned to simply parrot whatever she said. And Samuel, the cheater, also became Samuel, the tippler, who hid his alcoholism by drinking bottles of vanilla extract, Olsen wrote.

By 1907, the Hazzards had bid farewell to the Twin Cities and headed to Washington state, according to Washington State Archives. Although Linda Hazzard was not a medical doctor, she was able to get a license to practice medicine through a loophole that grandfathered in some practitioners of alternative medicine without degrees. Dr. Hazzard could now pursue her dream of building a renowned health institute where patients from near and far could fast their troubles away.

Editor's note: This is part one in a two-part series. Read part two here.

UNLOCK MORE STORIES FROM THE VAULT
A bill being fast-tracked by Democrats through the Legislature would require Minnesota utilities to have carbon-free electricity generation. It now awaits a vote of the full Senate.
A 50-year-old Red Wing woman has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder related to leaving her new born infant boy in the Lake Pepin as part of a plea deal.
The CROWN Act adds natural hairstyles and textures to the definition of race in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Also: A bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday now awaits a vote in the House.
The Minnesota Legislature failed to pass a significant public infrastructure borrowing bill during the last session, leaving many local projects on hold.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
What To Read Next
The Minneapolis-based utility says the technology will allow it to add more renewable energy to its system and maintain reliability
Crisis pregnancy centers received almost $3 million in taxpayer funds in 2022. Soon, sharing only medically accurate information could be a prerequisite for funding.
13-year-old Evan Peloquin's collection of character dispensers ranges from Papa Smurf to Darth Vader, even though he admits "I dislike the flavors" of the candy.
Faculty members said she supported accusations of Islamophobia against the professor and denied her due process.