A Conversation with Golden State Killer Detective Paul Holes

Detective Paul Holes has had one whirlwind of a year. With the help of his team, he solved one of the nation’s coldest cases in a revolutionary technique involving DNA and genealogy. Shortly after the break in the case was announced to the public, Paul Holes became a household name in the true crime community. He’s been featured on several true crime podcasts for his work on the Golden State Killer case and even on the Oxygen special Golden State Killer: Main Suspect in August. Holes is certainly not done with his work in the true crime world with his upcoming book Evil Has a Name and his recent deal with Oxygen to help with programming true crime content. Despite gaining a behemoth amount of attention for doing his job, Paul Holes is still extremely modest about the cases he has solved during his career. When talking with him, it was clear he is passionate about what he does, but never wants to make the conversation about himself. We caught up with him in the Watergate Hotel during the True Crime Festival in D.C. November 3rd and you can read the interview below.

How are you dealing with all the newfound attention and what do you plan to do with it?

You know, it’s been a whirlwind. I had no idea any of this was going to happen. We had the press conference back in April about how we caught DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer. I just so happened to sign up a month prior for Crime Con in Nashville and I go there not expecting to be on stage and speak. Then, all the sudden people are recognizing me and cheering if I’m up on stage. It was neat, but I kept thinking, “What is going on here?” My life has been a whirlwind ever since. Not only am I doing a lot of interviews for the Golden State Killer case, but then companies are interested in seeing if they can use me in shows or on podcasts. I’m exploring those opportunities, but it’s odd for me. I’ve never had social media accounts and now I have a Twitter account. It’s just against my nature to put something out about myself. I’ve always been lurking in the shadows investigating people. In many ways right now, I’m excited about the opportunities, but I’m always trying to figure out how I’m going to survive this. What I do is just put a blindfold on it. I don’t watch anything that I’m in on TV, I don’t listen to myself, I don’t read about myself. Whatever project I do, I do it and then I move onto the next thing and try to stay as oblivious as possible to everything out there.

Photo by Clarissa Villondo & Brightest Young Things

Is that similar to how you dealt with police work when you were doing it or is it different?

It’s different. It’s very different because in many ways it’s outside my natural element. I want to do this, but at the same time, I don’t want to be completely engrossed in it. It’s that separation that I just need to have. I’m naturally just an introverted person, so doing that meet and greet last night was a lot of fun, meeting these true crime fans. At the same time, I’m just exhausted by the end of it.

I think that’s why people connect with you so well because true crime fans are the similar personality as you are. A lot of other entertainers in true crime are very extroverted and like to talk and you’re the opposite.

Yeah, I could definitely see how they would be connecting that way.

So, how do you think the Golden State Killer case will change investigating outside of just DNA?

Over the decades, it’s been a case that has had an impact on how investigations are run. Very early on, when the guy was attacking in Sacramento. The city of Sacramento had to figure out a way to address this huge volume of crimes coming in and that’s when they formed a task force and came up with some standardized responses, investigative responses, and crime lab responses. Then he moved into the Bay Area and the Contra Costa County officials modeled themselves after that. So, this was a kind of novel approach to dealing with an active serial investigation. Once the case went cold, then the technology started to kick into play. In California, we, of course, had DNA, but we didn’t have a very large DNA database. So, the brother of one of his homicide victims funded what was called Prop 69, which expanded the DNA database in order to solve this case. It didn’t in the end, but it solved many other cases. So, this case had an influence on that. Most recently with the next revolution in DNA with the genealogy side, now you see these other horrific cases across the nation that have been unsolved for so long starting to get solved. It has most certainly had an impact investigative wise and technology wise. The multi-jurisdiction aspect is a big thing because we are talking about a guy that attacked in 15 different jurisdictions, so you’re dealing with all these different people with different mindsets, and different level of resources. Then you bring in the FBI as well. It’s something I think people will study the investigation. Law enforcement agencies have called me in to talk about the genealogy side. I will most definitely be talking about what we did that worked over the course of decades and what didn’t. There’s going to be a learning from it, not only studying him [Deangelo] as a predator but study how law enforcement dealt with this case. Could we have done something earlier that could have solved this case? What can we take that we learned from it and apply that to other cases that are out there?

Do you think now knowing who he was that we will be able to look for other predators like him, or do you think he was unique?

We’ve seen other cases in which law enforcement have turned out to be the guys that have committed these crimes. In some ways when I’ve gone back and reread these cases that he’s been identified in and there are some things that stand out and are a beacon that says, “I’m a cop.” I know before he had been identified, I saw all the same things and I took the route of thinking that this is just the way someone who is intelligent would naturally do. He would learn these tactics because he doesn’t want to get caught. I think that was a bonafide way of looking at it when it’s a who-done-it. Now we can look at it and think that we could’ve put more emphasis on looking at the possibility that he was a law enforcement agent. We did investigate officers over the years. We got DNA from some officers over the years, but it’s just a learning experience. It’s hard to say because everything is so obvious to us now, but at the time it wasn’t.

What made you want to speak at this True Crime Festival?

I had never heard of this until it was brought to my attention. In some ways, what sold it for me was that John Douglas was going to be here. What got me into gravitating towards working serial predator type cases was a book that he co-authored, Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives. Ultimately, his Mindhunter show is based on that. So when they have him involved, they have a bonafide expert and a big name in the field talking here. Then, of course, Joe Kenda was also going to be here. Here’s a true homicide detective that has also gone into the media realm. That excited me, like wow they’ve got some really notable individuals that have worked in law enforcement as I did. I love to be a part of that.

That’s definitely what’s great about this festival is that you’ve got the entertainers, but also the experts.

Yeah, it’s definitely a marriage. You’ve got the media side, but then you’ve got the law enforcement side and we’re kind of coming together and talking about cases, talking about investigative strategies. It’s a neat concept that they came up with.

Are there any other cases that have stuck with you that you think you’ll end up speaking about later?

I’ve got many cases that have stuck with me, cases that I went out on, active cases that I went out on as a crime scene investigator or to support the investigative process and cold cases that I’ve dug up that are still unsolved. Absolutely I’ll be talking about other cases. Some cases I don’t want to undermine the state of the investigation. I have to conscious of that, but some of the cases I’ve been involved with are fascinating. They make fascinating stories and I hope someday to be able to tell those stories. Well before DeAngelo I had started my own creative story and it was like, “Well, am I trying to write a screenplay or am I trying to write a novel?” and it was sort of both. Recently, I decided I need to finish that, so I’m trying now to morphe it into a screenplay. It’s based on real cases as I said I’ve got this whole reservoir of cases to pull from to tell stories, both in a true crime sense, but also from a creative sense.

You can listen to Evil Has a Name as an audiobook on Audible November 15th.

Emily Kubincanek: @emilykub_ Broke writer in the making.