Today we explores the investigative mind of the legendary CSI Paul Holes. In a one-on-one with Detective Dave, we journey back over a career that started in a forensic toxicology lab and led to his groundbreaking cold-case work hunting serial murders like the Golden State Killer. Along the way, Paul reveals how he deals with death, what he means when he says “real crime” instead of true crime, and the impact years of working grisly crime scenes has had on his mental health.Read Transcript
Dan: [00:00:04] In police stations across the country, officers start their shifts in The Briefing Room.
Dave: [00:00:09] It’s a place where law enforcement can speak openly and candidly about safety, training, policy, crime trends, and more.
Dan: [00:00:17] We think it’s time to invite you in.
Dave: [00:00:19] So, pull up a chair.
Dan and Dave: [00:00:21] Welcome to The Briefing Room.[Briefing Room theme playing]
Dave: [00:00:36] Welcome, friends to The Briefing Room. Today, we have a special guest, and we have an open seat at the table. My brother, Detective Dan is actually not with me today. Fear not. If you’re a fan of our sister show, Small Town Dicks, you’ll hear a familiar voice today. But for those who don’t know him, I’m thrilled to introduce my friend, Paul Holes. Paul has had a long and storied career as a forensic investigator. But for law enforcement folks, it’s important to point out how different Paul Holes is as an investigator that he has a wealth of knowledge in the science of evidence and DNA. He has a wealth of knowledge in crime scene investigation. He’s also been an administrator and made policy. Paul has a range and agility that we don’t typically see in law enforcement. He’s got a dog named Cora. Welcome, Paul Holes.
Paul: [00:01:35] [laughs] Hey, Dave. How are you?
Dave: [00:01:37] I’m doing well. It’s good to see you. I appreciate you coming on.
Paul: [00:01:41] Of course.
Dave: [00:01:42] I really wanted to talk to you about, one, over the years, we’ve probably piecemealed your resume together, Paul, but never really gotten into step one. If you would, just walk us through how someone becomes a forensic analyst. I’m probably butchering the term, but entry level all the way up through your last assignment, walk us through your special assignments and what each of those contributed to an investigation.
Paul: [00:02:09] Yeah. I actually was drawn to the field of forensics at an early age. It was from a TV show, Quincy, this pathologist that not only was he doing autopsies, but he was going to the crime scenes, he was interviewing suspects, and I was just so hooked. Of course, that’s not the role of a real pathologist in this day and age. But it really was formative in terms of how I approached my career because I wanted to have the involvement across the spectrum of the cases that I was going to be working. But with the idea that I was going to become a pathologist, I thought, “Well, I’m going to have to go to medical school.”
[00:02:48] So, I ended up attending UC Davis out there near Sacramento, California, and got a degree in biochemistry. And to be frank, my grades weren’t up to snuff to actually get into medical school. I didn’t know what I was going to do after I graduated. But I stumbled across a job posting for Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office for their crime lab.
Dave: [00:03:13] Contra Costa County is in the San Francisco Bay area.
Paul: [00:03:16] Yeah, and it was a position at the time called Forensic Toxicologist. I got hired on as a forensic toxicologist and was doing controlled substance analysis. You get the little dime baggie with white powder. Well, what is that white powder? Is it methamphetamine? Is it cocaine? Is it heroin? Is it salt?
Dave: [00:03:38] It’s important to note that these bags have all kinds of chemicals in them that aren’t a part of the original process.
Paul: [00:03:44] Absolutely. But my role was to identify, is there a controlled substance and what is that controlled substance? And that involved, of course, presumptive tests. At the time, we were doing microcrystalline tests on the common controlled substances such as cocaine and meth, but also instrumental analysis. So, I got very well versed within the science of doing this type of work. Then I was assigned to the alcohol unit and this is where now I’m testing blood and urine samples for alcohol content, percentage of alcohol for typically, DUI cases, but also for cause of death determinations. If we had somebody that had a lot of alcohol in their system in the morgue, as well as maintaining the breath testing instruments throughout the county, and would go in and testify to alcohol impairment. So, I had to become what in California was known as a forensic alcohol supervisor.
[00:04:39] A lot of studying about the biology of alcohol, the metabolism of alcohol, the impairing effects of alcohol. And then even put on an impairment test where I’ve had subjects that I had to dose up to a certain level. Get them to, let’s say, .708, which in California .08 blood alcohol concentration is considered too impaired to drive. And then have CHP officers coming in and do field sobriety tests on these subjects. We had different types of games that they would have to do, and we could see the degradation and the increase in impairment during this.
[00:05:18] My party trick is, is you tell me what your body weight is and how many drinks you’ve had and how long you’ve been drinking, and I can give a pretty good estimate as to what your blood alcohol concentration is. [laughs]
Dave: [00:05:29] Okay. And were you happy to move on from the alcohol supervisor position or–?
Paul: [00:05:36] Oh, God, yeah. [laughs] I was bored out of my skull. I was stuck in the lab learning the subject matter. Developing the expertise was interesting, but once you get into just testing stuff over and over and over again in the lab, thousands of samples over the course of a year, it’s mundane work. I get bored. I don’t do bored well. With my crime lab, there was a different facility where the criminalist worked. These were the individuals that would go out to crime scenes, as well as working at the time in the serology unit, ABO testing, enzyme testing, firearms, trace, and were the ones that were getting involved with doing what I really wanted to do.
[00:06:26] So, I applied to become a criminalist. My agency was the last agency in the entire state of California that required criminalists to be sworn officers. So, I got hired and I was sent out to the police academy. [laughs]
Dave: [00:06:42] Cop camp.
Paul: [00:06:42] Cop camp.
Dave: [00:06:43] How long was the academy back then? We’re talking like the 1940s or 1950s, right?
Paul: [00:06:47] Oh, good God. [laughs] I’m not quite that old. No, this would have been 1994 and it was five months long, which at the time that was lengthy, but then people would criticize the length of the police academy saying, “It’s not long enough. If you want to become, what is it, a barber, [laughs] you have to spend so much more time than what the academy is.” But it was absolutely invaluable experience in terms of– I never worked patrol, but I got exposed to patrol aspects. You start learning case law, of course, all the various defensive tactics, use of force scenarios and going through that. So, that gave me an advantage over, let’s say, a civilian forensic scientist who is never exposed to something like that. And so, it’s a foreign world more to them than what it is to me.
Dave: [00:07:52] Understood. Yeah, you don’t have the experience until you get out there on the streets. Really, for me, it was eye opening. Dan made this statement the other day on a podcast we appeared, he said, “You know, you can go to the academy for four months, five months, six months, however long it is. You learn more in a week on the streets than you do in months in the academy.” It’s just because there’s no way to expose people to– The things that we see on the street cannot be simulated in an academy scenario.
Paul: [00:08:26] Yeah, I can completely appreciate that. I know part of what was a benefit of becoming a sworn officer is because now I was going out into the field, out to the crime scenes, I’m showing up with a badge and gun. The investigators who may not know me, at least I was seen as one of them versus here’s somebody who doesn’t have the same set of experiences, if you will.
Dave: [00:08:58] Right.
Paul: [00:08:58] So, that always was helpful. But after graduating the academy, I was over in the criminalistics unit. I was assigned to the serology unit as well as the CSI unit. And so, I was doing screening for physiological fluids, typically blood, semen, saliva, though we also looked for other types of tissues, as well as at the time was doing ABO testing and the various protein tests in order to try to show, yes, let’s say, a bloodstain found at a crime scene has the same biological markers as the suspect that has been arrested. At the time, we were also just starting out the DNA discipline. And so, I got on board in doing forensic DNA testing from pretty much the very beginning of forensic DNA technology.
Dave: [00:09:50] Is that because you’ve recognized the utility of it?
Paul: [00:09:52] Well, of course, the people working in the lab had recognized it. And then that was the direction that forensics was going across the nation. I just happened to be hired on right when it was starting, just being developed within the laboratories. This is not the old technology. This is now the very beginning of this PCR-based technology that really increased sensitivity of the DNA testing. It’s the reason why we can go after such small samples today. So, I got the exposure of doing all of this biological testing, as well as going out to crime scenes.
[00:10:30] Criminalists, we were the sledgehammer. When we are being called out in my county, we are going out to homicides, officer involved shootings, the most complicated cases out there. Having both the in-lab experience dealing with physical evidence as well as seeing the physical evidence in situ out there at the crime scene. There’s nothing that really can compare to that type of experience, because I can bring my scientific expertise out into the field and know how I need to document and collect a certain item of evidence, because I know how it’s going to be examined in the lab. That’s part of the advantage of this type of model versus having forensic scientists who do good work inside the lab, but they never have been out in the field or you have CSIs who have never done the actual testing in the lab. So, that’s where I developed both the field expertise, as well as the in-lab expertise. It just was absolutely critical.
Dave: [00:11:34] You’re kind of an alien in our world. [Paul laughs] We don’t get that kind of scope of knowledge. Most people get in one discipline and stay in that lane until it’s retirement time, a few special assignments in between. But most people don’t have quite the experience you do. So, I think it’s worth noting. Do you remember one of your first really bad crime scenes, when you’re bright eyed and optimistic and had no ounce of skepticism or cynicism?
Paul: [00:12:05] Yeah, I’ll say my first case that I went out on, it was a homicide case. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but of course, it’s the first time I’m being exposed to a homicide. It was a shooting in the backyard on the west end of our county. When I got out there, the victim’s body had already been removed. Paramedics had transported him, but half of his brain was still in the backyard. I’m looking at this going, there’s no way this guy should have– He was dead. There was that much brain matter that was just laying there. But he had been living in a trailer in this backyard. This is somewhat of a very impoverished area. On the stove was a pot that was filled with, at this time, solid wax.
[00:12:55] This was an interesting thing where in the lab, before I moved over to working these cases, I was seeing this bunk dope come in. It was wax that had been mixed with laundry detergent and made to look like crack cocaine. The laundry detergent somewhat mildly reacts with the presumptive test for cocaine. So, if somebody on the street were to try to do a little test, they go, “Oh, it is cocaine,” and then they buy it, right? Well, this guy was the source of this bunk dope. There is a reason he got killed. This is part of the street’s way of quality control. If you are going to sell bunk dope, eventually you are going to die. And so, that was seeing that play out from, both in the lab as well as out in the field.
[00:13:51] But then I go and this is my first autopsy, I go to his autopsy the next day and dealing with a dead body. He’s rigored up. And so, now I’m fascinated. But of course, it’s still that first experience. And so, it is surreal going, “This is a person that’s laying dead in front of me.” But after the autopsy, I was interested in the trajectory of the bullet that went into his skull. During autopsy, of course, the brain is removed and then all the organs are put into a bag and they’re put into the abdominal cavity and the body is sewn up. But I’m now taking a metal rod, trajectory rod, and I’m playing around with the entry hole. To this day, I can remember, because he had no brain inside his skull, when I would hit that rod on the other side of the back of his skull because he got shot in the right temple, there was this weird echo coming from inside his head. This is just part of that organic experience that as I’m now going out into the field and dealing with all sorts of situations with victims, that’s just part of the unnatural exposure that we get in the law enforcement world.
Paul: [00:15:27] So, now I’m hired, I’m going out doing crime scenes, doing homicides officer involved shootings, doing a lot of the meth labs that were going on. I’m in the lab assigned to the serology unit, and then had the fortune as part of my training to be assigned to different forensic disciplines. So, I got training in latent prints, training in trace, in firearms. I was going out with our CSI to property crimes. So, I got to see the spectrum of your burglaries. Over the course of time in working in this field, I found that the CSI work was really– I love that much more than the in-the-lab type of work. But I also found that I was drawn to wanting to do more for the case. This is in part where I’m doing the CSI work, crime scene investigation. I took that as, “Okay, I’m not just merely here to document and collect evidence.” I’m not a technician. I’m a high-level expert after a few years of doing this. But I want to do more. I want to be involved in the case. I want to work side by side with the homicide investigators, and that’s what I ultimately did.
[00:16:40] This is part of now for those CSIs that are listening, really take a look at what are you contributing to the case. You have high levels of expertise in what the evidence is saying about what happened, but are you conveying that to the investigators early on? Is there a collaboration? There should be a collaboration as they’re talking to witnesses, as they’re talking to suspects, they need to know what the crime scene is saying. That is a must. Don’t be a technician. And then I took it a step further, and that’s when I for the unsolved older cases, I decided, “You know what? I’m going to start investigating those cases.” I was fortunate that I, through casework, had become tight with a couple of outstanding homicide investigators, John Conaty and Raymond Giacomelli.
[00:17:36] In many ways, I learned the trade from these guys that knew their shit, and I applied their expertise, and what I learned from them to the cases that I was looking at. That’s how I transitioned. Even though I was a forensic scientist and a CSI, I transitioned into an investigative capacity, but my department didn’t know I was doing that.[laughter]
Dave: [00:18:03] It’s no policy violation. Now, you’re retired, right? So, you don’t have to worry about anything?
Paul: [00:18:08] [chuckles] I don’t have to worry about a thing. It’s out there. [laughs]
Dave: [00:18:11] I think it’s worked out all right for you. Going back to those first few grisly crime scenes and trying to explain what your body’s feeling. I remember the first deceased body I saw as a patrol officer and it was someone who was on hospice care at their house. Typically, we wouldn’t go to those, but they sent me because I was brand new baby cop. I remember going out there and just feeling this heavy weight on me like, “Don’t screw this up. This is the family’s last memory of this person. Make sure you do everything properly.” There was nothing to prepare me for the gravity of that situation. This was an expected death. Nothing like a violent, unexpected death to put a Paul over a scene and over family members who are outside the tape waiting for news. How do you handle that?
Paul: [00:19:15] I think part of handling death, as I was going through and getting my degree at UC Davis, I was spending a lot of time at the medical library looking at the pathology books and seeing the imagery of death in all of its forms. Just seeing the imagery is shocking. Especially, as a young man, now I’m really confronting my own mortality as I’m looking at how people die, what it looks like, what the death process is like. But seeing it on in a picture versus seeing it out in the field is very different, because now you have three dimensions, now you have smells, now you have emotional situations, you have a gunshot victim in the middle of the street, crime scene tape up, and then mom comes up to the crime scene, and is wailing. You’re recognizing, this is a real person.
[00:20:11] There are loved ones that are impacted by the violence that occurred. And then horrible situations involving innocent victims inside their own homes, and you see the violence that they suffered, but you also see the photos hanging up on the wall of them alive. And that to this day has an impact, because I would spend hours with the victim’s bodies documenting, looking at them, collecting evidence, but going through their house and seeing how they lived and correlating looking at the person laying on the ground dead and seeing them smiling and laughing in a family photo, it screws with you. The way to deal with it, the way I dealt with it is typical, is you compartmentalize. You shut that emotion off and go, “I’m here to do a job.”
[00:21:07] That’s where we’ve had many discussions about you do this over and over, where you just shove that emotional and psychological state into your brain, and then never let it out again. You just keep shoving more and more in there until eventually, it’s going to come out, whether you like it or not.
Dave: [00:21:26] Well, yeah, [chuckles] it happens. I think back to your comment about seeing someone who’s deceased on the floor and looking up at a family photo where everything is fine and everyone’s happy. I used to feel the gravity of those situations. I’d say, “Man, an hour ago this guy was alive.” For me, personally, I felt very humble in those situations. I felt like I was trespassing a lot of times, because this person’s family had no idea there was going to be a team of cops and investigators in their house hours later that night when they woke up. Those scenes, just the gravity. There’s a lot of emotion at those scenes, even when there’s not family around. I’m rethinking, “What did this person go through in their last moments? What were they thinking? When was the last good day they had?” I think about all those things and I’m an overthinker, but all that stuff goes in the box too.
Paul: [00:22:22] It does. There is a component of rage how could somebody do this to the victim. Like, one case, which is a tough one, was a murder suicide. Father walked into his 15-year-old daughter’s room, gave her a hug, and while he’s hugging her, he blew her brains out with the .357. Then he walks out into the hallway and kills himself. And so, now I’m in the daughter’s room. You got the posters of the boy bands on the wall, and the unicorns, and all of that. Processing, going through this pelo, looking for the bullet that exited out of her head, but also reading as high schoolers do, the notes that she had written to a girlfriend or had received from a girlfriend, talking about a boy. All the excitement that this girl was going to experience in her life and her dad took it away from her. I was like, “Why?”
[00:23:24] He had some mental issues. He left a taped suicide on VHS tape, and basically, God was calling him home and he felt that, “Well, if God wants me, my daughter has to come with me.” It’s just so tragic. If I start drinking, I’ll rage. It’s not a good look, but that’s where everything starts to come out. I think for people who are wanting to get into the field, and I’ve sat people down and talked to them. It’s very rewarding. The work is great, but you will see the worst that people intentionally do to each other, and it will have an impact on you as a person. So, you have to dig down, do some soul searching to figure out, “Do you want to have that kind of negative consequence on your view of the world?” I have had people who thought about it and they said, “No, I think I’m going to go a different direction with my career.”
Dave: [00:24:43] Tell me how that felt. While you’re out there, the first time you see somebody’s brain sitting beside them, you’re like, “I should never see that body part.” That doesn’t make sense and you’re sitting there trying to figure out this Rubik’s Cube of emotions going, “How do I deal with what I’m seeing right now?” It’s really important for us to highlight that cops are just like everyone else that this stuff does affect us. We just have really strong boxes, but every once in a while, the seams burst.
Paul: [00:25:13] For sure. I think getting back to the coping mechanisms. When you see officers out at the crime scene and maybe they’re not primary investigators or the CSIs, but they are perimeter security and they’re talking about something else, that in many ways is them shutting the door about what they are seeing out there. They’re seeing that victim laying out there and it’s like, “Nope, I am going to direct my attention to something completely different. Hey, we’re going to go fishing.” And so, they completely shut the door on what they are experiencing by diverting to something else.
Dave: [00:25:53] Yeah. I’ve seen it. Especially on kid cases that there are certain cops that do not want to deal with kid cases. They will drive the opposite direction to avoid getting sent to a call involving children. So, we’re human just like everyone else. Some people don’t have a tolerance for a certain type of crime. I always understood that A, as a patrol cop, then a detective, then a sergeant, I understand some things are outside of people’s comfort zones. If I can keep that person in their comfort zone by avoiding them having to go to something that I know they’re not good with, I’m going to try to do that, or at least if they get sent to that, I’m going to relieve them as soon as I can.
[00:26:35] It’s realizing you’ve got humans out there wearing guns and badges and going out, having to do things that everybody watches or hears about on TV the next day that these cops are right in the middle of it, and they’re having to adjust, and be versatile with how they deal with this kind of stress.
Paul: [00:26:54] Well, and different people have different capabilities to deal with the various situations. I know we made it a practice. If we had a child that was going to be autopsied, I would try to assign somebody who didn’t have kids themselves, because now you have that personal association. If you’re watching a child being autopsied, you can’t help, but think about your own child laying there on the morgue table. I have personal experience of– It was a hostage situation, and a father held his two little girls hostage before he blew their brains out and then he killed himself.
[00:27:34] Working that scene, they were at the same age as my kids roughly at that time, and seeing the same shoes that my son had at home that one of the girls had, or seeing a baby bottle that had brain and blood matter on it going, “This isn’t right.” Because I had kids of the same age, there is that emotional connection. So, when I’m going home and I’m seeing those same shoes, I’m flashing back to the scene of what I was experiencing there. And of course, that impacts me at home and as a person.
Dave: [00:28:08] Yeah, “What’s your problem tonight, dad?” “Well, I saw some shit today that I’m not going to ever tell you about.”
Paul: [00:28:15] Yeah. And for sure, I didn’t have anybody at that point in my life that I could ever talk to about what I had just gone through. It just got bottled up. If I had shut down, sometimes the relationship struggles increased because I was not engaging. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but now I recognize, well, that is part of the impact of dealing with all these different cases is that it impacts you as a person. It impacts your quality of life. No question about it.
Dave: [00:28:47] We all understand it. I have never faulted people for getting into the job and then realizing, this is not what I thought it was going to be. More power to you. It’s the folks who never consider what they might experience. They’re like, “I didn’t think I was going to have to deal with dead bodies.” It’s like, “Well, I don’t know what to tell you, but you probably shouldn’t be a first responder.” If you don’t want to deal with people in tragedy, go do something else. Keeping that in mind, we talk about the true crime genre, and I hear that a lot, true crime. You’ve done something that I really like and you’ve characterized what folks who acutely experience crime as being more of a real crime rather than true crime genre. Can you get into that?
Paul: [00:29:34] Yeah, this was something– because of course, I’ve got a lot of public notoriety in the true crime genre and going through working on the TV side, doing the podcasting, going to the true crime conferences, one of the things that really started to stand out to me is that people who are consuming this content, oftentimes, they’re consuming content from other people who are really just like them. They’ve never experienced the realities that you and I have gone through. I started thinking about it going, yes, I very much am in the true crime genre, but I come out of real crime. I recognize that these are real cases that are being talked about. Typically, in true crime, it’s a homicide case. A victim has had their life taken and oftentimes, in a horrific manner.
[00:30:33] Loved ones are impacted and there’re a lot of emotions that are involved, and sensitivities that need to be considered as the true crime story is being told about that case. And so, I came up with that differentiating term just to let the consumer know, number one, to give a level of authenticity to what I am involved with, but also to underscore, it’s okay to watch and listen to these stories. But consider– You always have to consider, real people have lost their lives and are still being impacted by it.
Dave: [00:31:17] I want to shift gears a little bit and get into some of the cold case work that you’ve done, both professionally and then now as a consultant as you’ve moved on from getting paid by your county. I would say that the work that was done on the Golden State Killer case, and we talk about genealogy, has revolutionized and really buoyed hope for a lot of people who are waiting for answers with their loved one’s death from decades ago. I was hoping you walk us through, your love of cold cases or dislike? What draws you to cold cases and what keeps you going? After disappointment, after disappointment to keep forging ahead, that kind of persistence is fairly rare in law enforcement that most people don’t stick with it.
Paul: [00:32:07] These cold cases, I did very early on. I just became fascinated with what is the answer. I was looking at cases 30 years old, 40 years old. When I first started doing cold cases, I was looking at cases as far back as the early 1960s. What drew me to the cold cases, to be frank, in part was ego. I was like, “Okay, they couldn’t solve it. I think I can solve it.”
Dave: [00:32:36] I’ll figure it out. Yeah.
Paul: [00:32:38] I’ll figure it out, right? Quite frankly, these cases are very humbling. I’ve had the big success with Golden State Killer. That was a team effort, but I was a primary component of why that case was solved. That success is something I’m very proud of and I’ve had other successes. But I have failed more often than I’ve succeeded. That’s the humbling aspect. After I’ve gone through this, I’m now recognizing, “Oh, yeah, I shouldn’t be critical of the original investigators because I failed just like they did.” There’s the ego side, there’s the solving the puzzle. This is where working cases is very complex. Human dynamics are at play. The inter individual variability, the behaviors, the interpretation of physical evidence, the applying of new technology to evidence that is degraded over time, there’re so many complexities there. I like that challenge. So, that’s also part of it.
[00:33:38] The cases that I go after are generally the whodunits. There often is no association between the offender and the victim. Traditional investigations, you work the victim’s social circles. You work with who’s closest to the victims and start working out from there and then find, “Oh, yeah, the killer is somebody the victim knew.” Those are relatively easy to solve. You hear some of these investigators, got 100% solve rate. I guarantee what they’re working domestic violence, and they’re working gang bang homicides. [laughs]
Dave: [00:34:14] I have always remarked about that. I’m like, “Wow.” To have that kind of clearance rate is, to me, a practitioner, shocking. I live in a small town of 60,000 plus people. I call that a small town. And in my short career, I’ve got a couple of homicides that I want answers on. I don’t know if I’m going to get them because of what we did or didn’t get at our first shot at the crime scene. So, the frustration level that I have on those talk to me in about 30 years and I’ll probably still be frustrated. That kind of payoff coming decades later has to be frustrating for you and for the families going, “This is never going to get solved.”
Paul: [00:35:00] Yeah. And that’s the big realization. When I first started getting into cold cases, there was a selfish component. Again, ego the challenge, let’s see what I can do. But with these cases, as I started investigating them, I’m getting out in the field, I’m knocking on doors, I’m talking to victim’s loved ones, the family members, mothers who lost their daughters or daughters are missing and have never been found. Even after 30 years, the family still cares. They want an answer. That really when I started interacting, even in Golden State Killer with either the surviving victims of sexual assault or family members who DeAngelo killed, they needed an answer. Prior to getting an answer, they were still traumatized to this day. They are still traumatized to this day, even knowing who their attacker was or who killed their loved one. That is where it’s for the general public, they look at these old cases as– Well, it’s history. But the families, the loved ones, it doesn’t matter how old it is. It’s like, it happened yesterday.
Dave: [00:36:16] I was going to say it just happened to them.
Paul: [00:36:18] Yeah. I even had one analyst. I got word that one of my analysts who was responsible for assigning DNA case workout was not assigning the requests on these older cases. Her response was, “The family’s waited this long. They can wait longer.” It’s just like, “No, that’s somebody who is too detached from the reality of what these cases mean to the families.”
Dave: [00:36:48] That same line of thinking is opposite of my thinking. Those types of tragedies don’t leave families. They think about them every day. So, any answer you can give them saves them another day of that torture.
Paul: [00:37:03] Part of what I’ve experienced is many of them just want to know that somebody cares about the case and is working the case. In some situations, they recognize that they’re likely never going to get an answer. But the fact that I would take my time to try to work the case to get them an answer, they often are very appreciative because what generally happens is these older cases, nobody is working them. The family is frustrated and they recognize, “We’ll never get answer. We’ll never get justice for our loved one.
Dave: [00:37:52] When you, Paul Holes, agree to at least give a once-over on a case, how does that happen? Do they send you a case file, they send you all the reports? How do you really get into one of these that you’re consulting on that wasn’t in the files at Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office?
Paul: [00:38:10] It comes to me in many different ways. This is just an example right here. I just literally opened this letter up, handwritten letter that was snail mailed to me, and it’s a homeless woman who is asking for help. I won’t go into the details of her situation. But I do have families, because they’ve either listened to me, they’ve watched me, they’ve read my book, and they think I might be able to do something that the current assigned investigating agency can’t do or bring a different set of expertise or skills that they think would be helpful. I have law enforcement reach out to me, and I do consult with law enforcement on a routine basis, and they’re asking for my insights on cases, usually on the technology side.
[00:39:04] But I just recently did, in essence, a crime scene reconstruction and an investigative overview for a case and gave them some thoughts that they’re going, “Oh, this has just reenergized our investigation.” So, I’ve typically gravitated towards cases that are either serial predator cases or there is that interpersonal aspect to the case between the offender and the victim that escalated up to violence that I can sink my teeth into utilizing my various skill sets. But I got so many requests through social media to take a look at cases, I just had to stop responding. I couldn’t keep up with the volume. I can only do so much.
Dave: [00:39:51] I understand that you get approached a lot, but it’s important for people to understand that you no longer are a credentialed law enforcement officer. You don’t have access to all the databases we had.
Paul: [00:40:04] It’s so frustrating. [laughs]
Dave: [00:40:05] The day we left, we still had logins. Two minutes after we left the building, they were all revoked. If a citizen is wanting to get a case reopened, is there a little basic outline of things that they need to do up front? If they’re going to give the case to a private investigator or a consultant that we at least need the police reports, I need the medical examiner reports, all the paper things we are going to need, because until I get that, I’m really just speculating about everything else.
Paul: [00:40:40] Yeah. For anybody that’s trying to get a case reopened, where I’ve seen that work is first, be the squeaky wheel. Make your presence known to the investigating agency. Find out who the case is assigned to. If it’s an older case likely, there isn’t anybody assigned to it. But if you are persistent in communicating with the agency, there’s a good chance that that case will have an investigator’s name put to it. Just to, “Hey, eyeball this. This family member is just constantly calling in.” Ask for a face-to-face meeting. The higher up the chain of command you can meet with, the greater likelihood something is going to happen. The reality is is that you take a look at when you get to the highest authority within sheriff’s office or police department, the chief, the sheriff, even the DA, they’re politicians.
Dave: [00:41:39] They probably don’t know very much about the case that you’re referencing.
Paul: [00:41:42] They probably have never heard of the case. Even if they have been with that particular department their entire career, they don’t know that case. But if they see where, “Oh, family does care, and if I don’t act, family might go to the public. I now have investigative journalists calling me, TV news stations hitting us up.” They can recognize the liability there. I’ve seen that work for families to get a case, at least eyeballed again. As far as getting access to the case file, that’s hard. If it’s an unsolved case, departments typically will say active investigation. And in many places, just by throwing out that term undercuts the FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act request or the Public Records Act requests. That’s where the family has to go, “Really? Is there an ongoing active investigation or is this case stale? Is nobody doing anything on it?”
[00:42:46] Because typically you submit a FOIA request in writing, and then the department on these unsolved cases. They have their lawyers respond citing these various codes and the reason that they’re not going to provide you the material that you want. That’s where you just need to push back. If they are trying to hide behind, it’s an ongoing, active investigation. Any communications that you’ve had with that department ahead of time, which is showing, oh, the part doesn’t even know about this case, that becomes important. So, I know I get frustrated, because there are cases that whether it be for various true crime shows or I just generally have an interest in thinking I can help out. I don’t get the case files, I don’t get the autopsy photos, the crime scene photos. And it’s like, “Well, I can’t do what I do without that.” I still see myself as being an insider, but I’m not. I know that. That’s what’s frustrating.
Dave: [00:43:49] It takes a while to come to grips with that. I was like, “Oh, they’re still my friends, but those were my partners. That was my family.” Once you’re outside it, it really does feel like you’re on the other side of the fence watching the concert outside the venue.
Paul: [00:44:02] Yeah, it’s very, very frustrating. But at least, when law enforcement reaches out, there’s already buy in on that level. And so, it’s in those situations where I typically will be able to get access. Even though I’m on the media side, when I consult on a case for law enforcement, that is just like, if I was working the case within law enforcement. I’m never running out and divulging sensitive information about that case or even that I’m involved in that case until, let’s say, the case is solved. It’s a good story and law enforcement goes, “Yeah, well, let’s do a podcast” or something like that.
Dave: [00:44:39] Yeah, absolutely. What does Paul Holes have coming up in his life? What are you working on right now? What are you looking forward to over the next few months?
Paul: [00:44:51] I will be at the CrimeCon, Orlando. I’m doing multiple things, but you’re going to be out there with me, as is Yeardley and Dan.
Dave: [00:44:58] You’re dragging me there kicking and screaming. [Paul laughs] But I’m actually excited. I just don’t know what to expect.
Paul: [00:45:04] Oh, you’ll have a good time and we have to figure out what we’re going to do. But I’m looking forward to that. I’m actually providing training and case consultation to an agency out in Texas. I’ll be out there at that agency for about a week. This was somebody they sent me a case to take a look at, and that’s the case I’ve mentioned before where I’ve reenergized their investigation. And so, I think they’re interested in having me eyeball some of their other unsolved cases. So, I’ll be doing that. There’re some potential TV projects that are in the works. But as I’ve seen on the TV side is there’s a lot of stuff that gets started and it never goes anywhere [Dave laughs] until something is actually in process and it looks like it’s going to be done. I can’t divulge what those TV projects are.
Dave: [00:45:56] Understood. Just going back to the one thing, that Texas case you’re referencing, you get a little bit of that warm, fuzzy back? That’s the stuff that keeps you coming back, right?
Paul: [00:46:07] Yeah. That’s where it’s going to be weird, probably for the listeners to hear this, but for me, reading a case file, a case that I am truly interested in, I get such a dopamine release. It’s more compelling than reading the best novel out there for me. I tunnel vision onto that case. Literally, I am just absorbing all the imagery, all the details of the case, and I’m thinking about that 24/7. It is a passion. And so, that’s where it allows me to experience what I used to experience daily before I retired. And so, yes, it’s like it brings me back. It’s like, “Okay, I’m doing what I love.”
Dave: [00:46:53] You get the taste of all those things you miss.
Paul: [00:46:55] Yep, for sure.
Dave: [00:46:56] Paul, I really appreciate your time. As always, I appreciate you, man.
Paul: [00:47:02] Hey, love you too. This has been great. And of course, you could have me on here anytime.[music]
Dave: [00:47:12] On the next episode of The Briefing Room, do you remember the moment you put the scalpel in for the first time?
Speaker 5: [00:47:19] It was excitement. I’d watched a couple and I just felt like this was where I wanted to be. It just felt so natural that this is where my brain works. I was really thinking about medicine. To me, autopsies was medicine. So, I was thinking, I’m going to help other doctors, I’m going to help families figure out why somebody died. That was my thinking when I went into pathology in the first place.
Dave: [00:47:44] That’s next week on The Briefing Room.
Yeardley: [00:47:50] The Briefing Room is produced by Jessica Halstead and co-produced by Detectives Dan and Dave. Executive producers are Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith. Our production manager is Logan Heftel. Logan also composed theme music. Soren Begin is our senior audio editor. Monika Scott runs our social media, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
[00:48:15] Thank you to SpeechDocs for providing transcripts. To read those transcripts or to hear past episodes, please go to our website at thebriefingroompod.com. The Briefing Room is an Audio 99 production. And I cannot go without saying thank you to you, all of you are fans, you are the best fans in the pod universe. And I can say with complete confidence, nobody is better than you.
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