True Crime Book Review: Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen

It was 1911 and wealthy spinster sisters (in their 30s!), Dora and Claire Williamson had arrived on holiday in the United States from Britain. The sisters were free-spirited heiresses with delicate constitutions. They fretted over their health and frequently sought cures for their ailments. In fact, they had been in correspondence with Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard and were excited to undergo her revolutionary fasting treatment. The sisters were disappointed that her sanatorium in the forest in Olalla, Washington was not ready for patients, but the doctor insisted they not delay their treatment. So the anxious and excited sisters rented an apartment in Seattle near Dr. Hazzard’s office and began following the prescribed regimen. The sisters were finally able to move to the new facility, but by then it was too late. Linda Hazzard had control over the Williamson’s finances as well as their minds and bodies. They were separated from each other, subjected to painful and unnecessary procedures, and they were starving. In a moment of weakness, her faith in the treatment waivered, and she reached out to their former nanny and beloved friend in Australia. Of course she dropped everything and immediately booked passage to Washington, unsure if she would arrive in time.

Deadly doctors are not a new phenomenon. Linda Hazzard was not the first medical professional to exploit her patients for her own personal gain and Dora and Claire Williamson were not her first victims. Dora and Claire were independent, intelligent women in their 30s, who if they lived today, would no doubt enjoy all of our juice bars and fad diets.

If you liked the podcast Dr. Death or The Opportunist, you will probably enjoy Starvation Heights. If you want to discuss the case with us, feel free to join us in person next week for Riverinos! We will be in the Community Room at 7pm.

True Crime Book Review: The Man From the Train by Bill James

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery
Get a copy here

On June 9, 1912 in the town of Villisca, Iowa, all six members of the Moore family and two house guests were bludgeoned to death with an axe. An investigation yielded a number of suspects, one of whom was actually charged with the murders. But two trials later, the case remained unsolved. Bill James, a statistician, baseball analyst, and crime writer, set out to connect the Villisca Axe Murders to a single, prolific, and heretofore unnamed killer.

Between 1898 and 1912 dozens of families were bludgeoned to death in their sleep. These victims were in Nova Scotia, Florida, Oregon, Kansas, and Arkansas among other locations. During this time local police assumed most murders were committed by someone known to the victims. When they could not find a suspect, the cases went cold. James’ theory was the killer was an itinerant worker who used the railroad system to move about, slipping in and out of night under the cover of night. James believes he has correctly identified the man who murdered at least 59 people and could be responsible for another 94 deaths.

This is a meticulously researched book and the authors present a cogent argument against the The Man from the Train. His case is plausible and compelling, offering a fresh look at a number of 100 year old cold cases.

This was one of the first cases we discussed in Riverinos and it remains a group favorite. Feel free to join us Wednesday, January 19th at 7:00pm, when we talk about Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Register here and we’ll send you the Zoom link.