• Starvation Heights

  • A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest
  • By: Gregg Olsen
  • Narrated by: Jennifer Van Dyck
  • Length: 13 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 30-04-10
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.3 (25 ratings)

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
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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.
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Critic reviews

“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)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Anne on 20-11-10

A chilling true story told very well

This audio book gripped me from the start, based on a true story and incredibly well researched, this is an oftentimes chilling tale but in no way sensationalised. The narration is unobtrusive, not in the least bit annoying or over-dramatic (as some can be). I highly recommend this audio book.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Suzy on 06-06-15

Really good, fascinating historical true crime

Would you consider the audio edition of Starvation Heights to be better than the print version?

Don't know, only have experience of the audio version

What was one of the most memorable moments of Starvation Heights?

The scene where Dora crawls from her bedroom to Claire's and is so emaciated her knees bleed.

Which character – as performed by Jennifer Van Dyck – was your favourite?

She performed all the characters well, but my favourite was Linda Burfield Hazzard, because I really got the sense of her dominating controlling character.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I felt very sad for the sisters that they could be so easily misled. They seemed to be very vulnerable, although both in their 30's when they had the misfortune to come across Linda Burfield, they were dangerously naive

Any additional comments?

This is a fascinating story and demonstrates what a person can get away with when they have a cunning nature, false title and a complete lack of compassion. I think over time Linda Burfield actually believed her own spin. I find it absolutely incredible that this women managed to hoodwink so many and operate as a 'doctor' over such a long period.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By ilene on 23-10-17


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.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By bebe on 27-12-10

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.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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