What horrors lurk in the past of your sleepy little town?

Today’s blast from the past: I know Olalla! I’ve never been there, but I’ve passed by it and seen the signs.

Today the little town of Olalla, a ferry’s ride across Puget Sound from Seattle, is a mostly forgotten place, the handful of dilapidated buildings a testament to the hardscrabble farmers, loggers and fisherman who once tried to make a living among the blackberry vines and Douglas firs. But in the 1910s, Olalla was briefly on the front page of international newspapers for a murder trial the likes of which the region has never seen before or since.

I don’t know if there is a ferry to Olalla, though…it’s on the other side of Vashon Island, and I’ve only gone by it by looping south around the sound and up towards Bremerton. It’s a sleepy quiet place.

But oh yeah, there was a famous murder there? It was before my time, and I certainly never heard about anything exciting in Olalla.

…Hazzard attracted her fair share of patients. One was Daisey Maud Haglund, a Norwegian immigrant who died in 1908 after fasting for 50 days under Hazzard’s care. Haglund left behind a three-year-old son, Ivar, who would later go on to open the successful Seattle-based seafood restaurant chain that bears his name. But the best-remembered of Hazzard’s patients are a pair of British sisters named Claire and Dorothea (known as Dora) Williamson, the orphaned daughters of a well-to-do English army officer.

Wow, I’ve been to Ivar’s Acres of Clams, and I recall those frequent commercials on TV in my youth. His mother died? How?

It’s a shocking story. “Dr” Linda Hazzard was one of those quacks with a cure-all treatment for all kinds of ailments, and she had a “clinic” where her patients got a really cheaply implemented method: she starved them. No food but a thin vegetable broth, with enemas.

The institute’s countryside setting appealed to the sisters almost as much as the purported medical benefits of Hazzard’s regimen. They dreamed of horses grazing the fields, and vegetable broths made with produce fresh from nearby farms. But when the women reached Seattle in February 1911 after signing up for treatment, they were told the sanitarium in Olalla wasn’t quite ready. Instead, Hazzard set them up in apartment on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, where she began feeding them a broth made from canned tomatoes. A cup of it twice a day, and no more. They were given hours-long enemas in the bathtub, which was covered with canvas supports when the girls started to faint during their treatment.

By the time the Williamsons were transferred to the Hazzard home in Olalla two months later, they weighed about 70 pounds, according to one worried neighbor.

It was a very effective treatment. After the patient was thoroughly debilitated, Hazzard drained their bank accounts until they died. When the law caught up to her over the emaciated corpses of her victims, she was convicted of manslaughter and served a two year sentence, and later built a sanitarium in Olalla.

These kinds of nightmares can be found everywhere, I guess — it’s how Stephen King made a fortune, inventing bizarre histories for normal towns.

Nothing like that could have happened in Morris, Minnesota, could it?

Oh, right. I’m sitting next door to an old Indian school. Worse things probably occurred here than I can imagine.


  1. wzrd1 says

    One of the two sisters survived, rescued by a visiting family member when she weighed 60 pounds.

    Hazzard then moved to New Zealand to ply her practice, as Washington had revoked her medical license and was fined for the equivalent of $462.13, in 2014 dollars. She moved back to Olalla in 1920, opened a new sanitarium, billed as a “school of health”, as she her medical license was revoked, which burned to the ground in 1935.
    Linda Burfield Hazzard died in 1938 while attempting a fasting cure on herself, starving.

  2. says

    I used to live along the Highway of Tears in British Columbia. Since the 1970s, dozens of people – mostly First Nations women – have been murdered along that stretch of highway. Predictably, the Racist Corrupt Misogyinistic Police (RCMP) have done little to investigate, primarily because of who the victims are. The “official” count is less than 20; the names of those missing and unaccounted for is over 40, potentially much higher. In 2015, an uncivil servant was caught deleting government emails related to the crimes. It’s yet another example of police and government indifference to Indigenous peoples.

    Due of poverty (unable to afford vehicles) and lack of public or commercial transportation (Greyhound has cut service in recent years), hitchhiking is the only option for some to travel. The isolated areas, natural scavengers and long winters make it easy for murderers to dump victims and have evidence disappear. There have been at least three serial killers.

    I moved to the area as a 14 year old in the summer of 1981. Not months after I arrived, the name Roswitha Fuchsbichler was in the news, declared missing and later found murdered. I’ve never forgotten her name.


  3. Sean Boyd says

    There’s a ferry to Port Orchard from West Seattle, and Olalla is just a few miles south of Port Orchard. I used to live fairly near to Olalla (out on the Key Peninsula)…it’s still quite rural, although that is changing. That side of the Sound, particularly when one gets nearer to the ferries, is becoming Commuterville for people who don’t want to/can’s afford to live in Seattle, but work there.

  4. Jeremy Shaffer says

    A recent episode of the podcast Lore talked about Hazzard. One of the problems they had with bringing her to justice is that her “treatments”- not to mention theft- made her rather wealthy, which made authorities hesitant to go after her despite an abundance of evidence and testimony against her.

  5. Bruce H says

    I’m from the Clear Lake area south of Houston, Texas. We have quite a few skeletons in our closet.

    I went to Clear Lake High school during a particularly tragic string of suicides. This is the same high school in which several children watched their parents die in the space shuttle Challenger explosion, live on TV in their classrooms. I was in school that day, but was fortunate enough not to have been watching.

    During that same period, a man was bringing young gay men from Houston to his mansion in Seabrook (the specific town I’m from) and murdering them in gruesome fashion.

    This area is also home to the Texas Killing Fields.

    Not far away, a young man recently murdered several of his fellow students at the local high school.

    And yet, we think we live in a nice, peaceful area.

  6. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Seriously, what is it with quack medicine and enemas? Even today, the top tier quacks seem to all suggest enemas with whatever fluid (or reasonable facsimile) they’re promoting at the time.

  7. says

    I bet this stuff is related to anorexia, kind of remotely, but there. There is a vast complex suite of disorders hinging on modifying ones body through exercise or diet. It’s a poorly studied area because a lot of the research has been hijacked / bought out / whatever by the diet industry, that profits from our lack of knowledge.

    I can imagine this woman’s mind. She is given an eating disorder of her own through some combination of unfortunate factors in her youth, manifesting as an undue interest in people losing &/or gaining weight. In modern times one of the most popular internet fetishes is weight gain, which is the inevitable weird goblin baby of a society fucking itself to death with diet culture. You also see the inverse, though it’s more rare: fetishizing weight loss. The non-sexualized, strictly morbid / death-obsessed version of that exists in “thinspo” and “pro-ana” internet content.

    It’s in the thinspo community where you see the modern version of Hazzard medicine. People with anorexia making it a social experience, posting pictures of emaciated people and sometimes literal skeletons, poetry about eliminating one’s flesh. Posting pictures of fat people with hateful comments, encouraging suicide.

    The fatphobic ideas that fuel this stuff have been around for a pretty long time, even if they’ve reached a fever pitch in this particular part of history. So the idea someone could have independently developed those “thinspo” feelings at the dawn of the 20th century isn’t unlikely. And with the association between diet obsession, orthorexia, health food, medical woo, and even stuff universally regarded as good, like fitness and athleticism – I think I see where that creep was coming from.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    New weird murders or anything like that in my home town of Muskego. However, we did have a Nike missile launch site during the Cold War. Since Milwaukee was back then a major industrial city, that made it a military target. So, they set up batteries of nuclear-armed anti-aircraft missile throughout the metropolitan area. I live less than a mile from the ruins of one of these launch sites.

  9. vucodlak says

    @ ck, the Irate Lump, #6
    They’re unpleasant, and in ‘Merica suffering builds character. Medicines must taste terrible to be effective, treatments must hurt or the medical professional isn’t doing their job, and the more humiliating and uncomfortable something is the better it must be for the patient.

    No, I don’t really know what it means to “build character,” how suffering is supposed to accomplish this, or what building character has to do with healing. What I do know is that I’ve encountered medical professionals who believe that if a treatment isn’t literally traumatizing to the patient, then the treatment is wrong.

  10. laurian says

    Washington State is chock full of eldritch horrors and High Weirdness. 20 miles south of Olympia is the Black river swamp, a place where every decade of so some poor soul disappears into it for days to a week then return with no memory of their experience. There are stories dating back to the 1850’s told by some of the area’s 1st European settlers.

    And don’t forget Sasquatch. And yes, Skunk Apes were a real thing.

  11. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 Intransitive
    I used to live along the Highway of Tears in British Columbia

    One of our most shameful things but we get some really nasty stuff in other provinces too. Saskatchewan is bad and Thunder Bay is really, really, nasty.

    At least, Thunder Bay seems to, finally, have some kind of inquiry in place though who knows what it will do?

  12. chris says

    #4: “A recent episode of the podcast Lore talked about Hazzard.”

    This is an even more entertaining podcast on the wee bit of history: http://theseattlefiles.com/2016/01/05/episode-10-starvation-heights/

    That short lived podcast was full of interesting bits of Northwest history. It even includes one about Ivar Haglund, who, as noted before, lost his mother to that woman. There is even a Sasquatch episode. (#12 laurian, you might like it)

    #7: “I bet this stuff is related to anorexia, kind of remotely, but there.”

    I would not be surprised. Except for the bit where she managed to snag most of her patients’ money. In my sophomore year in college I had a shocking exposure to bulimia nervosa, a really scary subset of anorexia. A friend and I exited the dining hall and stopped into the nearby restroom. I opened the stall door to see a bloody horror in the toilet. It looked like bits of bone, blood and whatever. We thought someone had lost a limb or other parts of body (turned out a bit was actually chicken bone). It was that shocking.

    We both went to the dorm desk to report that there must be a very sick student because what she had left was horrifying. This turned out to be just the tip of the ice burg. It was a student who purged after gorging in the dining room. It turned out later that someone had mentioned that she was telling others a great way to lose weight. Except her method was disastrous on the plumbing, which she realized caused people to know where she was. So she resorted to purging in the trash bins in the dorm study rooms. The dorm locked them up, and you had to get a key from the front desk to access them.

    I do not know what happened do her, but the view of what was in that toilet almost forty five years ago still haunts me (probably edited by my faulty human brain cells).

  13. tbtabby says

    Makes me glad my old hometown didn’t exist until 1965.There were certainly problems then, but at least they’d stopped with the Indian schools and cut down on quackery.

  14. kaleberg says

    Was she being treated for diabetes? Back then, starvation was the only thing they knew that could prolong life. It was discovered during the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. The whole city was starving, but people with diabetes were improving. For an interesting account of one patient, one that has a happy ending thanks to what would likely be unethical medical experimentation, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/16/magazine/the-way-we-live-now-3-16-03-body-check-the-bittersweet-science.html

    Of course, it is possible that this was just some quack doing nasty cures, but starvation, unlike a lot of the other trash treatments, actually did help somewhat in one particular case.

  15. William George says

    “I’m sitting next door to an old Indian school. Worse things probably occurred here than I can imagine.”

    You mean Canada, right? We’re masters at inflicting terrors upon native children. But we said “Sorry, eh” so I guess it’s all good now.

  16. PaulBC says

    Not quite the same, but it seems like Silicon Valley (specifically Mountain View and Palo Alto) have an inexplicable heritage of eugenicists. They changed the name of two Palo Alto middle schools recently, when it was discovered that both were named after eugenicists. And of there’s semiconductor pioneer William Shockley, who was a notorious scientific racist later in life. There was a small plaque to him in Mountain View but I’m not sure if it’s still there. That area is being redeveloped.

    I can’t think of anything in particular about my actual hometown. It has a longer history going back to colonial times, so I’m sure there’s something.

  17. chrislawson says

    About 30 mins drive from here there is a place called Murdering Creek.

    The story of what happened there still makes me furious — not because I feel any direct personal link to something that happened a century before I was born but because I live in a country where the Prime Minister still gets political traction and positive media play from downplaying the catastrophe of colonial displacement on Aboriginal people.

  18. chrislawson says


    It’s always interesting to look into the rationale for monstrous behaviour, but I can’t see diabetes treatment being the answer.

    Firstly, this was not a dedicated diabetes clinic.

    Secondly, even in the late 19th/early 20th century, most doctors were NOT supportive of starvation diets. For very good reason (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3062586/) — the commonly told story of how insulin saved people from starvation diets derives from the fact that the most famous patient to be given insulin (Elizabeth Hughes) had been a patient of Frederick Allen, an infamously pro-starvation doctor, and she nearly died under his care when her weight dropped to 45 pounds. Her parents convinced Frederick Banting to trial her on their new drug insulin, which saved her life. To put Frederick Allen’s standing in perspective, he was booted from running the Rockefeller Institute’s diabetes clinic because the majority of his colleagues were appalled at the treatments he was forcing on patients.

    Thirdly, even if some of the girls in Olalla had diabetes, treatments such as prolonged enemas and being held up by canvas sheets to keep them from drowning in their own faeces when they fainted was never an accepted medical treatment for anything — it was pure sadism dressed up as medical care.

  19. chrislawson says


    Every Western nation has a lot of eugenicists in the ranks of their historical scientific “heroes” (and sometimes thir legal heroes — looking at you, Oliver Wendell Holmes!). Is the US the worst in the West? I don’t know, but it certainly was the world centre of eugenics until Nazi Germany seized the crown in the 1930s.

  20. PaulBC says

    chrislawson@23 True, but I still found it odd that not just one but two middle schools were named after them. It made me wonder if Palo Alto was a hotbed of eugenics at some point. I haven’t done any research besides following the news stories.

  21. blf says

    In Santa Cruz California there is (a replica of) possibly the most notorious of the conquistador concentration camps, Mission Santa Cruz. The raping children cultists who ran the place enslaved and killed the local peoples at an astonishing rate — estimates are c.90% of each generation would eventually be enslaved, with a life expectancy of about eight years at the concentration camp. Over the years, the whips used became more and more brutal, and at the end had metal spikes at the ends of the straps. That caused a revolt. The place was eventually destroyed by fire and earthquake, and (most of) what is there now is a replica.

    There is a rare first-person account of life as slave in the concentration camp, an interview with survivor Lorenzo Asisara in 1877.