The black turtlenecks have disappeared. The voice is gone, too. The convicted Theranos co-founder has taken on a new persona as she awaits her prison sentence: that of a devoted mother.
Credit...Philip Cheung from The New York Times
This article is for you
By Amy Chozick
Amy Chozick reported on this story in San Diego. She was a former writer-at-large for The New York Times.
May 7, 2023
Elizabeth Holmes is dressed in sunglasses and a bucket cap, with her baby strapped on her chest, and wrapped in a Baby Yoda blanket. We pass a family orangutans in cages and discuss how Ms. Holmes prepares to go to jail for one of most notorious corporate fraud cases in recent history.
If you were wondering, Holmes has a very soft voice that is slightly low but not at all resembling the throaty contralto which she used to speak in when she ran her now-defunct company Theranos.
As we stopped to observe a hissing anaconda, Ms. Holmes stated, "I made so many errors and there was so little I knew and understood. I feel that when you make a mistake, you internalize it deeply."
Billy Evans, the partner of Ms. Holmes and father to their two children, pushes the stroller with William, the 20-month old son. William loves to play in the sand and eat dumplings. He also enjoys 'The Little Blue Truck'. William loves the San Diego Zoo. On a recent Thursday, I was in the bizarre situation of trying make sense of Ms. Holmes’s version of the story of her rise and falls, while watching an restless cheetah, and buying a T-shirt with a gorilla on it, at the gift store.
How would you spend your free time if you did not know how much you had left to live? Ms. Holmes spoke, with her impending prison reporting date in mind. Perhaps even more so, given that we were surrounded animals behind bars. It would be what we do now, because it's perfect. Just being together.
Ms. Holmes is not speaking to the media. Her legal team has advised her to keep quiet since 2016. As the old saying goes, "If you don't give the press food, they will feed you." We found a buffet with unlimited food in Elizabeth Holmes. There was everything there: the black turtlenecks and the Kabuki lipstick, the green drinks, the dancing to Lil Wayne. Ms. Holmes said that somewhere along the line, the person (whoever it is) got confused. One time, I told her I had heard that Jennifer Lawrence was no longer portraying her. She said, almost reflectingly, "They're playing me." They are playing a character that I created.
Why did she create this public persona, you ask? 'I thought it would make me look more professional and be taken more seriously, and not as a young girl, or someone who doesn't know how to do things technically,' explained Ms. Holmes who founded Theranos when she was 19. People may have picked up that it was not authentic.
In 2010, Ms. Holmes became the youngest female self-made billionaire in the world, with an estimated value of $4.5 billion. She was also one of the most prominent and celebrated female CEOs, leading a company valued at $9 billion. The Wall Street Journal conducted an investigation in 2015 into Theranos. The Journal questioned whether the company's labs and its technology, a sleek boxy device named the Edison, actually worked. The Edison was designed to test for a variety of diseases using a small amount of blood that is collected by a quick finger prick.
Inspectors from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services discovered 'deficient' practices in a Theranos laboratory that posed a 'immediate danger to patient safety and health'.
This began a long saga which would ultimately lead to Ms. Holmes' conviction for criminal fraud.
The 15-week long trial, which began in 2021, featured extensive testimony regarding troubling practices by Theranos. The jury heard testimony from several patients. One patient claimed that a Theranos test indicated she was miscarrying when in fact she was pregnant. Ms. Holmes wasn't convicted of any charges relating to patients. The testimony served as a reminder of how important it is to choose biotech for your startup.
In January 2022, Ms. Holmes was convicted of four out of eleven charges of defrauding Theranos investors of more than 100 million dollars. Ramesh Baliwani, her top lieutenant and boyfriend at Theranos at the time and a much older man, was found guilty on 10 counts of wire-fraud and two counts conspiracy to commit wire-fraud at Theranos. Last month, he began serving a 13-year sentence. His legal team filed a appeal to the Ninth Circuit on Thursday.
Robert Leach said that this case was about fraud, lying, and cheating. He claimed that Theranos had raised hundreds of millions from investors through misleading them about the capabilities of its blood-testing technologies.
Lance Wade, an attorney for Ms. Holmes said that her client "made mistakes but mistakes aren't crimes."
When I first met Ms. Holmes, she and Mr. Evans were already counting down the days to April 27, the date on which she was required to report to Federal Prison Camp Bryan, Texas for 11,25 years. (Ms. Holmes requested to be released pending an appeal shortly before her due date for prison. This automatically delayed the report date.
Day 44: The afternoon we ordered Mexican food in their charming rental home near Pacific.
Day 43: The morning we went to breakfast, Ms. Holmes breastfed Invicta, her baby (Latin means "invincible") and sang along with Ace of Base's "All That She Wants" on the loudspeakers. ').
Day 42 was the day we ate croissants and berries, Mr. Evans brewed coffee, and Teddy, the 150-pound Great Dane/mastiff mix of the Evans couple, was walked on the beach.
I was asked by Mr. Evans on the second day that we were together what I found most surprising about spending so much time in the company of Ms. Holmes. I told him that it was the fact that I did not expect her to behave so...normally?
You might not even notice her if you don't know that she is Elizabeth, who launched a cottage-industry of podcasts and TV shows as well as Halloween costumes, groupies, and blonde wigs for sale outside her trial.
Billy uses his deep voice. The guttural voice that was heard by the world in Ms. Holmes TED Talks, CNBC appearances, and Amanda Seyfried’s Emmy Award-winning performance as Ms. Holmes on Hulu’s 'The Dropout'.
If you dislike Elizabeth Holmes, then you might think that her faked perma hoarseness is part of a scheme to scam investors. If you're sympathetic towards Ms. Holmes then the James Earl Jones accent was an indication of the impossible gymnastics female founders have to perform in order to be taken seriously. You might think, like I did, that it was both, just as many other things about Elizabeth Holmes. Even Mr. Evans admits that the voice was really weird.
He was driving his family's Tesla. It would be crazy if she answered and said "Hello" when she opened the door. I'm Elizabeth Holmes', Mr. Evans imitated the voice. Ms. Holmes giggled a little bit from the backseat.
I realized I was writing a story essentially about two people. Elizabeth was hailed in the media for her brilliance, which dazzled rich men. Her criminal trial also captured the attention of the world. There is also 'Liz', as Mr. Evans calls her, the mother of two, who has been volunteering at a rape hotline for the last year. Who cannot stomach R-rated films and who ran after me with a piece of paper to clean sand from my shoe and her dog slobber.
I'm not smarter or a better observer of human behaviour than Murdoch, George Shultz (the former secretary of State who helped end Cold War), or James Mattis (retired four-star Marine Corps General and former Defense Secretary), both of whom are Theranos investors and board members. How could I know that Liz was not another character created by Ms. Holmes?
Liz was a person who I found to be genuine and sympathetic. She is gentle and charming in a quiet manner. When I told my editor about these impressions, he laughed and said (and I'm quoting) "Amy Chozick you got rolled!" I strongly disagreed! You don't really know her as well as I do. Then, something strange happened. I contacted all of Ms. Holmes’s family members, friends and supporters who had been in touch with her for many years, as suggested by both she and Mr. Evans. One of the friends told me that Ms. Holmes was sincere in her intentions when she founded Theranos, and did not deserve a long prison sentence. This person then requested anonymity in order to warn me not to trust everything Ms. Holmes claims.
The warning I received was a wake-up call to something that has been bothering me ever since my first encounter with Ms. Holmes. How can you be honest with someone whose fraud case has been so publicized? I asked Ms. Holmes directly. How can I trust you when you have been convicted for (basically) lying. How could I ask a woman who was nursing an 11-day old baby on a sofa in white, two feet from me if she had been conned?
Evans would often intervene in these awkward exchanges. Your question is: 'How can you say anything if everything you say will be questioned?' He said, 'You just have to say what you want.
Just to be clear, Ms. Holmes is aware of your thoughts about her trial and her births.
The prosecutor called it 'frustrating' when she informed the court, on March 12th, 2021, of her pregnancy with her first baby. The pandemic had already delayed the trial, but it was further pushed back until July 2021, after she had given birth.
She was using a high-tech Elvie pump in the federal courthouse of San Jose, with its glowing aqua nipples. Evans stated that she looked like a Fembot.
She was clearly pregnant when she appeared at her sentencing in November 2022. This baby was born in february. In March, the defense team for Ms. Holmes argued that she should be free to appeal her fraud conviction because of her "two very young children". The Daily Mail referred to the child as a "Last-Ditch Attempt for a New Trial."
As Ms. Holmes explained, it was just bad timing. She's 39. She fell in Love with Mr. Evans back in 2017. They didn't expect that she would be charged. They didn't expect that she would receive a sentence of 11 years. They wanted to have a large family.
Ms. Holmes stated that if we let other people's opinions or impressions of us dictate our lives then we will lose. Finding your person and feeling that love in the middle of hell is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced.
The first time I met Ms. Holmes and Mr. Evans, Ms. Holmes had barely sat in their home when she told me about the work she does at the hotline for rape crises. She had just completed a 12-hour work shift. She does this a few days a week using her phone to answer calls.
She explained to me that, looking back, the rape she survived at a Stanford fraternity in her sophomore year had influenced many of her choices. She keeps returning to this part of her tale. News reports claim that she told it to a jury sympathetic but ultimately unmoved. She wants the public to listen (finally). I later read a 52-page Santa Clara Police report which detailed the details of Ms. Holmes injuries and the alleged sexual abuse. Ms. Holmes didn't press charges.
Ms. Holmes gives the baby to Mr. Evans. She said, 'I will give her to you once we talk about these things.' She said, "I woke up to this guy who was a friend of mine having sex on me and I could not get him off me." Ms. Holmes stated that the attack, which occurred in October 2003 contributed to her decision, several months later, to quit school and start a business.
She turned to Sunny Balwani who she had first met on a trip to China in 2002. Ms. Holmes, then 18, was 18 years old. Ms. Holmes was 18 years old.
Ms. Holmes moved into Mr. Balwani's apartment in March 2004 during her sophomore year at Stanford to help Theranos get off the ground. Mr. Balwani, who joined Theranos in 2009 and guaranteed a loan for Theranos, also became a member of the company. Ms. Holmes stated, "I thought I would be safe." My friends from school and the whole universe didn't exist when I was with her. It was gone.
As Ms. Holmes described it, reiterating a crucial part of her defence strategy, Mr. Balwani maintained close control over every action she took. She described extensive domestic violence and sexual assault. She claimed that Mr. Balwani had forced her to stop talking to her Stanford friends and family, and to adopt a black turtleneck and red lipstick persona.
She said, "He told me that I had to 'kill Elizabeth' in order to become a successful entrepreneur.
Jeffrey Coopersmith denied the accusations. He said that Mr. Balwani was not vindictive, mean-spirited or aggressive.
She followed the entrepreneurial principles that Mr. Balwani had told her to follow to be successful. They included going vegan, not sleeping more than five consecutive hours, and getting to work every day by 5 am.
Ms. Holmes stated that it was only after people began to ask questions about Mr. Balwani's company that she realized that he wasn't who she thought he would be in business. "And that then made me question everything else."
When we last spoke, I asked her to explain what she meant. Wasn't she the CEO? She claimed that Mr. Balwani didn't control every interaction she had or every statement she made at Theranos. However, she did 'defer to him' in areas he supervised because 'I believed he knew more than I did'. This included the problematic lab.
Mr. Coopersmith said that Mr. Balwani was in constant contact with Ms. Holmes regarding any issues at her lab. He added that Sunny helped her to execute her vision.
The story of Ms. Holmes about how she ended up in the house, with the partner who is supportive and two babies feels like someone who has finally left a cult. After the breakup of Theranos and her relationship with Mr. Balwani, Ms. Holmes stated, "I started my life again."
Then I remembered that Ms. Holmes ran the cult.
In person, Ms. Holmes engag