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The Hungry Ghosts of Starvation Heights

The community of Olalla is just across the Puget Sound from Seattle. “Olalla” means “berry” in local tribal jargon, and the area is well known for its strawberries, which are celebrated in festivals where people surely overindulge in berry-laden cuisine. Strange that this same community was also once the place where people came to starve their way to health—and sometimes to death. All with the help of a self-proclaimed doctor named Linda Burfield Hazzard, whose starvation cure may have been most effective in producing a ghost or two.

Hazzard turned her Olalla cottage into the Wilderness Heights Sanitarium, and from the 1890s until 1912 she rented the attic to patients who had come to experience her cure. She was not a medical doctor, but practiced a form of homeopathy. She wrote a book entitled Fasting for the Cure of Disease, in which she proclaimed her treatment could cure everything from cancer to constipation. The cure? Patients ate one small bowl of tomato or asparagus soup daily, for over 40 days. Long walks, enemas and vigorous massages were also required one or more times a day.

Any patient could have left Wilderness Heights if they wanted, but Dr. Hazzard and the Cure held a strange power over them. Local farmers watched as the patients took daily walks from the cottage to the store and back. These walks soon became daily “crawls” as the patients’ energy dissipated and they slowly grew thinner and thinner.

There were patients who survived and left Olalla, but many died. How many is not known: estimates range from two dozen to over 40, possibly higher. Hazzard acted as the attending physician for her patients, personally performing autopsies on those who died by laying their bodies on an ironing board she placed over the bathtub in the cottage. She seldom filed death certificates with the authorities, and had a special arrangement with a discrete funeral home in Seattle for burials. And conveniently, most of the patients who died left all of their property to Hazzard. Few knew her husband Sam had been cashiered out of the United States Army for forgery and embezzlement.

In 1911, British heiresses Claire and Dora Williamson came to Wilderness Heights to follow the Cure. Both lost more than 50 percent of their body weight and while Dora barely survived, Claire died. It seems someone had also embezzled money from the sisters’ bank accounts. The British Consulate went after Hazzard, and she was found guilty of manslaughter in 1913. She spent less than two years in prison and then traveled to New Zealand, where she continued practicing homeopathy. She returned to Olalla in 1920 and built a large sanitarium and nursing home. This time, however, local authorities made sure none of her patients experienced the same fate as the Williamsons.

It is hard to tell whether Linda Hazzard planned to murder her patients. When rich patients (with no connections) began to sicken from the treatment, Sam and Linda may have decided it was best for business to take over their dying patient's estates. She may not have understood the reality of her actions, making her more of a mass murderer than a serial killer. She firmly believed in her fasting cure, and that people died because they were beyond help. The proof? Hazzard became ill in the 1940s and died while taking her own cure.

Starvation Heights author Gregg Olsen researched the full story of Linda Burfield Hazzard and her sanitarium in Olalla. In the 1990s, he took Weird Washington author Jeff Davis on a visit to its former location. At that time, a family with two children lived in the house, which had not changed very much from the time when Hazzard and her husband lived there.

The family experienced some ghostly phenomena over the years. On one occasion, the woman who lived in the house was in the kitchen cooking dinner. She was facing the stove, which was against one wall, and the bathroom door was behind her. She moved back and forth between a counter on her left and the stove for several minutes. When she turned around, she saw that every chair in the kitchen, and a few from the room next door, had been piled up against the bathroom door.

The woman had been alone in the house at the time, and it’s doubtful that someone else would have taken the time to sneak in and silently pile all the chairs up against the door while the she made dinner. Gregg Olsen was skeptical, but suggested that if there were any ghosts, the owners might want to close off the bathroom where people once experienced enemas and hard massages, or if they died, were autopsied by Hazzard. Some people say the bathtub in the bathroom is the original, others that it is a replacement made after she died.

In the attic were several low “ledges” where the family stored small items. A psychic once said she saw the spirits of many of Hazzard’s victims sitting on the ledges, too afraid to move even in death. The psychic burst into tears several times over the anguish she felt saturated the walls of the little house.

Washington State Paranormal Investigations and Research (WSPIR) visited Starvation Heights three times during 2005-2006, and Weird Washington spoke to their President, Darren Thompson, about some of their experiences there.

The first time, they divided into three teams, each of which had a psychic. To keep the destination a secret, they blindfolded the psychics and put them in separate cars. During the drive, technicians sat next to psychics and recorded every action and statement made with a video camera. Along the way, two psychics felt they were going to a large institution having something to do with medicine. When they arrived at the cottage, the teams removed the blindfolds from the psychics and kept them from communicating with each other. Each psychic was to go through the house alone.

WSPIR investigators Jill and Darren went inside with a psychic named Merlyn. As Merlyn walked up the stairs she saw a book, which she picked up. Upon reading the title, she said, “Oh no!” and threw it down. It was a copy of Fasting for the Cure of Disease. Merlyn was disappointed because this knowledge tainted her impressions.

Darren asked the owners about the book, and they admitted they owned a copy, but had hidden it away so that no one would see it. They did not know how it had gotten there.

The investigators also got some evidence on video and audio tape. One team recorded a video that starts inside their car, then pans outside, where the microphone recorded a muffled statement made by a team member. The video then pans back inside the car, where one can hear a strange, breathy voice, saying “Help me!” The voice could only have come from the inside of the car, and was not made by team members either inside or outside of the car.

Another WSPIR team recorded pictures and audio outside of the house while walking toward a ravine where Hazzard may have hidden victim’s bodies. Their audio recorder taped a voice that said, “Are you talking about me now?” The team members did not hear the voice at the time, and continued their conversation. Another voice seemed to say, “Take us up” or “Dig us up.”

During the second investigation, WSPIR learned that the cottage would be torn down once the owners put a new house up on a different part of the property. They quickly organized a third investigation, during which several members spent the night.

One man tried relaxing in the Hazzards’ former room: the room in which Linda died. The man never had any psychic experiences before, but he felt like something spiritual was in touch with him. He went into a trance and answered simple questions with rumbles of “yes” or “no” from deep in his chest. It seemed he was in communication with Linda Hazzard, who was still in the house. She refused to leave, and refused to let anyone demolish it. Her spirit was wrong, however. The family moved and the cottage was pulled down. Was this last communication the result of overactive imaginations or a final attempt to interact with the other side?

There are many more legends surrounding Starvation Heights, some of which are easily debunked. According to one, for every person that Linda Hazzard killed, she planted a tree. Some distance away from the cabin, there is a stand of nearly 100 large trees, which people believed represented her victims. In reality, the trees were on a different lot and planted by a local landowner, not Hazzard. Other people believe Hazzard killed several patients during the 1920s, when she ran her larger sanitarium. All that is left of this sanitarium is a concrete foundation and a rusting trash incinerator. It was rumored that she burned bodies in the incinerator, but given the close watch the authorities kept on her and her patients, this is not likely.

The cottage that was once Starvation Heights is now gone, but it isn’t known if the spirits detected there, whether they are those of Dr. Hazzard or her unlucky patients, left with its demolition. It seems that we’ll remain hungry for an answer.

Weird Washington


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