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A 'Big Switch For Me': Golden State Killer Investigator Paul Holes Reveals Why He Trusted Michelle McNamara
When former Contra Costa County investigator Paul Holes began divulging information about the Golden State Killer case to true crime writer Michelle McNamara, he wasn't 100 percent sure he could trust her yet.
When you’re working for the district attorney’s office, feeding information to reporters off the record can be tricky business. It can be even trickier when you’re passing intel to a citizen detective like Michelle McNamara.
McNamara has been credited with helping to catch the Golden State Killer — now known to be ex-cop Joseph DeAngelo, who pleaded guilty to being the serial killer in June.
She became entranced with the then-unknown serial killer around 2011 and began connecting with other so-called citizen detectives on a EAR/ONS cold case message board. (EAR stands for East Area Rapist and ONS stands for the Original Night Stalker, both monikers for the killer before McNamara later bestowed the "The Golden State Killer" name upon him.) She and other citizen detectives on the board shared resources and theories, but McNamara also turned to actual detectives for resources, including Paul Holes.
Holes was working as a cold-case investigator for the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office when McNamara began corresponding with him. During the lead-up to her 2013 piece in Los Angeles Magazine about the Golden State Killer, which made the serial killer a household name, he began sharing information with her — but the upcoming article became a source of anxiety for Holes, as he noted in the new HBO docuseries “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” which is about McNamara's hunt for the Golden State Killer.
“Michelle and I, we were developing this friendly relationship so when her article was released, I was holding my breath,” he told the show’s producers. “And I get to the end of the article and I was like, oh thank god, she kept her word. I could trust her.”
Holes told Oxygen.com that he had been feeding her the names of individuals he was investigating as she was working on that Los Angeles Magazine story.
“At that point I was divulging suspect name, information, sometimes criminal history information,” he said.
Holes explained that he was specifically concerned about her leaking information about one high-profile suspect out of Stockton. He said that if that name slipped out to the public, he would have gotten in trouble at work and his reputation would have been tarnished. Furthermore, he could have been liable.
“If all of a sudden I put his name, through Michelle, out there as being a suspect for what was known as the East Area Rapist case, am I now going to be sued?” he said. “It was layered in terms of my concerns.”
Even though he had asked McNamara not to divulge certain information, he told Oxygen.com that he was still nervous.
“I was worried that she was going to think, ‘I should put this in the article and push it out there,' but she didn’t,” he said. “I thought, I can trust her and that really was a big switch for me. [...] We had communicated enough to where I wanted to help her out but I didn't know enough about her to know if she is somebody who is going to keep to her word and then she kept her word.”
From there forward, their professional relationship blossomed and they worked together to catch the serial rapist and killer. When McNamara began working on her book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” — which was published in 2018, two years after McNamara’s sudden death in 2016 — she mined Holes for deeper information.
“And that’s when I started to see a shift from being a storyteller to now she wanted to solve the case,” Holes told Oxygen.com. “It was during that time that we’d go back and forth and bond over our suspects as they would get eliminated. We both really became really invested. She was case-centered. She became an investigator in this series.”
Holes said in the docuseries that after proving herself to him through keeping his intel safe with that article, he then allowed himself to be “wide open in terms of this is where I’m going with my investigation” with her.
Even though Holes contributed greatly to McNamara’s book, he told Oxygen.com that he hasn’t been able to read it yet, nor watch the new docuseries, in part because he is still emotional over the loss of McNamara.
Holes retired in 2018 but he has been active in the Golden State Killer public dialogue leading up to and following the arrest of DeAngelo. He was also present last month when DeAngelo took responsibility for murdering 13 people, raping dozens of women, and terrorizing California in the 1970s and 1980s.