Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Doctors

The Deadly Result

Dora Williamson
Dora Williamson

Claire and Dora Williamson had received a copy of Fasting for the Cure of Disease, Hazzard's publication. It purported to have resulted in remarkable recoveries for people who had found little help elsewhere. Hazzard was a natural salesperson who had spread her ideas to an international audience. She had published testimonials from success stories, and the sisters were impressed. A fan of natural cures, they checked in for the treatment on February 27, 1911.

They did not realize that, once there, they would not be able to just leave. In fact, they would be too weak to do so. They agreed to undergo the rigorous fasting, shedding weight to the point where they were nearly mere skeletons. As they grew weaker, Olson points out, they became more committed to the therapy. Suffering was a sign, they were told, that the treatment was working. Even when they became bedridden after two months, the doctor would not allow them to eat. At the same time, she secured their jewelry and land deeds, to "prevent others" from coming into their apartment to rob them. Then she moved them to her newly completed sanitarium, where they could communicate with no one. At that time, they weighed around 75 pounds each and were often delirious.

Claire managed to secretly find someone to send a telegram, but she eventually died, even as Margaret Convey, a faithful nanny, rushed there from Australia. Convey rescued Dora, now said to be insane, before she met the same fate. Dora had been on the treatment for four months, but with Convey's help, she regained her health and proved to be an effective witness—especially photos of her during the latter stage of the fasting cure--when the case came to trial in 1912—as murder. Hazzard was found guilty of manslaughter. The medical establishment removed her license during the legal proceedings, and she claimed that the verdict was just part of the persecution she had suffered all along. The Town Crier wrote that her gender had saved her from the verdict of murder.

During her appeal, two women and two babies died at her center. She spent only two years in prison, and in exchange for her leaving the country, the governor granted a pardon. She went to New Zealand, but eventually returned to Olalla, writes Iserson, and resumed her treatments. Arrested again when another man died, she was fined for violating medical practice. Since she kept no records, the number of people who died (or were intentionally starved to death) under her "care" cannot be estimated.

Oddly enough, Dr. Hazzard's book is available today on several Webs sites that tout her treatment as scientific and effective, but the Skeptical Inquirer assures readers that the claims Hazzard made for its health benefits are both vacuous and bogus.

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