I was eating a bowl of chowder inside Ivar's Salmon House on Lake Union, and things were not going well. It was an unusually sunny October day, and sitting across from me was Seattle Times columnist Paul Dorpat. He was eating a salmon sandwich, occasionally letting me know how good the sandwich was and how he would soon be on a diet that wouldn't allow such luxuries.
We were having lunch because I wanted information about Ivar Haglund, the kooky restaurateur behind the seafood empire that bears his name. Dorpat is something of an expert on him. The bearded 80-year-old spent hundreds of hours with Ivar before his death in 1985, but Dorpat was proving to be less helpful than I had hoped, because he had never asked Ivar the question I was dying to know the answer to: How did it feel to be connected to one of Seattle's most infamous serial killers?
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Ivar is regarded as a hometown hero, thanks to his folksy antics—like the time in 1940 when he pushed a young seal in a baby carriage to visit a department-store Santa as a way to advertise his downtown aquarium. He's also known as the sponsor of Seattle's Fourth of July fireworks show. And of course he's known for his high-quality fish and chips—you can choose from pollock, halibut, cod, or salmon.
I certainly thought I knew all about Ivar's, having grown up in Mukilteo where one of the company's flagship restaurants is. I even worked for the company for a brief spell. But I had never heard about Ivar's origins in West Seattle, which is the creepiest Ivar story of them all.
Dorpat's biography of Ivar Haglund on HistoryLink.org doesn't even mention it, but Ivar's life was once closely intertwined with Linda "the Starvation Doctor" Hazzard, who killed at least 18 people in the Seattle area a century ago. Hazzard's first known kill in Washington was Daisy Haglund, Ivar's mother. Ivar himself was one of Hazzard's patients.
Hazzard is one of our state's strangest serial killers. She didn't silently bludgeon her victims to death like Ted Bundy, or hunt vulnerable sex workers like "Green River Killer" Gary Ridgway. Hazzard preyed on the wealthiest people she could find—she had a habit of getting victims to sign over all of their worldly possessions before they died—and rather than getting her hands dirty killing people, she convinced people to kill themselves.
Hazzard didn't have a medical degree, but she was an osteopath and the author of a 1908 book called Fasting for the Cure of Disease, which argued that diseases could be cured through a strange mix of brutal massages, constant enemas, and starvation diets.
Hazzard convinced Daisy Haglund to go 50 days without food until she died on February 26, 1908, when Ivar was only 3 years old. Daisy's death made the front page of the Seattle Daily Times that same day, with an above-the-fold headline proclaiming: "DR. HAZZARD'S PATIENT DIES."
Daisy's friends had pleaded with her to eat, but she refused until she "appeared to be a living skeleton," according to the Times. King County's coroner told the newspaper that "he could see no legal grounds for the prosecution of Dr. Hazzard, although he was convinced that the patient would have lived had she been given nourishment when she needed it."
A day later, the Times was forced to print another story—which appeared to clear Hazzard's name—after an autopsy showed Ivar's mother had stomach cancer. Johan Haglund, Ivar's father, even jumped to Hazzard's defense and "expressed full confidence" in the fake doctor.
Hazzard was only emboldened following the death of Ivar's mom. In fact, the story of the stomach cancer provided cover for Hazzard to kill again. It also explains why Daisy Haglund went to see Hazzard in the first place. Hazzard's entire con was built on exploiting the weaknesses of sick people (or rich hypochondriacs) who felt traditional medicine had failed them. Modern medicine was still in its infancy, but her quack treatments offered emphatic promises and a health regimen that seemed comprehensible to the average person.
In an era when scientific literacy was low among the general public, it's not hard to see why someone could be convinced that food is poison. The necessity of vitamins to human health was only discovered in 1906, a few years before Hazzard started killing. And even now, fasting remains a popular fad; humans clearly have an affinity for being convinced that we need to starve ourselves.
On March 29, 1910, Hazzard appeared to be in trouble again. She was the subject of another dour headline on the front page of the Times. "MAN STARVED TO DEATH BY HIS DOCTOR," the paper proclaimed, over a story that described the death of Earl Edward Erdman, a 26-year-old civil engineer for the City of Seattle. The man's diary, uncovered a year later, showed he ate essentially only an orange and a "mashed soup" or a "strained tomato soup" every day for two months until he died.
Just like with Ivar's mom, the authorities said Hazzard could not be charged with a crime because the man had voluntarily starved himself. The authorities weren't motivated to go after Hazzard until the death of a third person, Claire Williamson, a wealthy British woman whose family paid the county's prosecuting attorney to take on the case.
Williamson had traveled to Seattle with her sister Dorothea specifically to undergo Hazzard's treatment, after the two young women had read about the fake doctor. The Williamsons were noted hypochondriacs, according to their family, but they were convinced Hazzard would cure them of their ills.
Hazzard set up lodging for the two sisters at the Buena Vista apartments on Capitol Hill, where they immediately started the starvation diet, eating only a cup of tomato or asparagus broth a day and receiving hours-long enema sessions. After two months, the women weighed only 70 pounds each. They were transferred by ambulance to the town of Olalla on the Kitsap Peninsula, where Hazzard had built her own sanatorium.
Hazzard named her sanatorium "Wilderness Heights," but the locals deemed it "Starvation Heights" because of the torture that took place there. By the time the Williamson sisters got to the sanatorium, they could hardly walk and were having vision issues. But Hazzard kept telling them "they could expect to wake up any morning feeling perfectly well and entirely recovered," the Times recounted.
While the women were wasting away, Hazzard started her secondary practice: stealing from the starving.
Hazzard had a knack for enchanting people (a later Times headline read, "DR. HAZZARD, PSYCHIC FREAK, SAY OBSERVERS"), and she convinced the women to appoint her as the executor of their estates and empty their overseas bank accounts into hers. And then (as their conditions worsened) she started draining their funds further. Just before Claire Williamson died, Hazzard forged a "last wishes" entry into her diary that read "my diamonds... I wish to give to Doctor Hazzard. She can never be repaid for love and tenderness and care."
Claire died in Olalla on May 19, 1911. After her sister's death, Dorothea, still living in the sanatorium, was able to sneak a message past Hazzard alerting her family to come rescue her. When her uncle arrived, he found Dorothea with "her skin drawn back over her teeth and the hair on her skull so thin that the bones could be seen underneath." Hazzard refused to release the woman until the uncle paid her $700 (worth more than $18,000 today).
Hazzard was eventually charged with murder for Claire's death. In January of 1912, the trial caught international attention, and the Seattle Daily Times proclaimed, "It is expected a sordid picture will be painted."
The facts were bad for Hazzard. She had been seen wearing Claire's clothes. Experts proved that Hazzard had faked Claire's will. And numerous witnesses said the sisters were in fine health before Hazzard's treatment.
But Hazzard did have one key witness: Johan Haglund.
Ivar's father told the courtroom that he not only continued to trust Hazzard following his wife's death, but that his son Ivar, who was 7 years old at the time of the trial, was still receiving regular treatment from Hazzard. Ivar himself was apparently being starved—and he was being used by his dad to defend what Hazzard was doing to others.
Was there any lingering tension after that between Ivar and his father? Paul Dorpat didn't think so. "He loved his dad, and his dad loved him, and they got along very well."
Dorpat also never asked Ivar about the death of his mother. "I never thought it would be something really revealing."
As for whether Ivar's seafood restaurant empire was built on the emotional trauma of his starvation experiences with Dr. Hazzard, Dorpat said it was probably futile to try to find a factual answer. "I think you have a job that's almost impossible to fulfill, to try to speculate on his mother's death," he said.
Still, these events must have left an impression on Ivar. How confusing might it be to a young person to see their father defend a "doctor" that many people in town thought was a murderer directly responsible for their own mother's death?
When I first set out to discover if Ivar's life's work—feeding fried fish and chowder to millions of people—was in some way a response to his mother's death by starvation and his early treatment at the hands of Hazzard, I reached out to Bob Donegan, the president of Ivar's. Donegan was full of colorful anecdotes about Ivar (there are so many more than I have room to describe), but he said he had never personally met Ivar and that Dorpat was the guy to talk to.
In any case, back in 1912, Ivar's father's defense of Hazzard didn't convince the jury of Hazzard's innocence, and she was sentenced to jail for manslaughter. The Times said she faced her sentence like "a hunted animal—not one at bay, but more one that has run its last race and fought its last fight and awaits destruction."
Hazzard, however, wasn't finished. She served only two years at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla before she was released and moved to New Zealand, where she continued to write health books, promote her starvation diets, and make more money. She returned to Olalla in 1920 to build a new sanatorium. The complex burned down 1935, according to an article in the Smithsonian magazine.
It's not clear exactly how many people Hazzard killed, but local author Gregg Olsen attributed at least 18 deaths to Hazzard in his book Starvation Heights. As for Hazzard's own death, she fell ill in her 70s and embarked on her own fast. The fast eventually killed her in 1938, the same year Ivar opened Seattle's first aquarium with a small fish-and-chips counter outside.