Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases @PaulHoles @CeladonBooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan’s Review

True crime is having a moment, but I’ve been a true crime fan since my teenage years. My interest is not in rubbernecking or a voyeuristic desire to peek into other people’s misery. I don’t think it is for anyone who works in the field, or for those who read about it. It’s driven by empathy for the victims, a desire for justice, and how that justice came about. It’s delving into the psychology of a person who is far removed from what we think of as being human, and the investigative techniques used in solving the mystery. This book delivers all that and more.

Many people live with the pain and horror of not only losing a loved one to murder, but of knowing the killer is still out there. Cases grow cold, and law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed. Luckily, there are people like Paul Holes who never give up.

Many of us know Paul Holes as the investigator who was instrumental in catching the elusive Golden State killer (GSK), AKA ‘Night Stalker’ and ‘East Area Rapist (EAR)’, the monster who raped, terrorized, and murdered throughout the state of California between 1974 and 1986.  Paul also worked with Michelle McNamara, who wrote the book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (also excellent). It took more than 20 years, but just days from his retirement, the monster was caught using DNA technology. It was fascinating to read how it all came together. Despite having read McNamara’s book and watching the documentary I learned new things.

Paul’s career and successes reach far beyond the most well-known cases, bringing some measure of peace and resolution to many families. He obtained a college degree in biochemistry and began his career in a crime lab, but ultimately his career path led him to work on the investigative side of things. He blew the dust off of old case files and worked to solve them, often in his free time.  The EAR (GSK) in particular became an obsession. His talent, keen insight, and background in science was invaluable.

This well-written book is part true-crime, and part memoir. Paul details some of the cases he has worked on. No one LIKES to read grisly details of crimes, knowing they were real people who lived and whose lives were cut short, but I did like hearing how he and the other investigators work a case, the methods they use, as well as the science behind it, both behavioral and hard science. Paul details how DNA is a game changer and, from his explanations, it is clearly not as simple as it sounds, or as clear cut as it is depicted on TV. Paul makes a complicated subject easy to understand.

Paul doesn’t shy away from the toll his career has taken on his mental health and his relationships. To cope, he exercises, spends time outdoors, and enjoys an occasional bourbon. Still, he suffers from nightmares and the occasional panic attack. He lifts the veil and tells it like it is. The job is not as romanticized as we see on TV. It is not easy to immerse oneself daily into depravity, but we, as a society, owe him and others in the field a debt of gratitude for their dogged determination to let no case go unsolved, and no murderer go unpunished.

The most touching moment in the book was when a woman who was a victim of the GSK called Paul to ask if the news of his arrest was true. She cried tears of relief after spending 40 years living in terror that he would come back for her. It must be moments like these that make it all worthwhile.

Paul retired in 2018, but as he is still a relatively young man, he continues to use his investigative skills throughout the country, and he co-hosts the excellent podcast, The Murder Squad, with Billy Jensen, an investigative reporter.  His goal continues to be solving cold cases, not exploiting victims. One of the things I admire the most about Paul Holes, is the utmost respect and empathy he has for victims and their loved ones.

* Published 4/26/2022 by Celedon books
* this was buddy read with Marialyce and Dorie. Do check out their reviews!
* I received a digital copy for review vis NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Marialyce’s Review

Many thanks to Celadon Books for sending me an advanced copy of this story.

Obsession is considered a word that has many bad connotations, and yet many people carry out behavior that is obsessive. For Paul Holes finding cold case murderers is his obsession. It takes over everything in his life, his marriage, his children, his very soul. And yet, he can’t stop searching, researching and giving families some closure and perhaps peace. It is through this obsession that Paul Holes exists and determines the fate of his life.

He is haunted by the images he has seen and yet he is able to place them into compartments in his mind and ever endeavors to find the Golden Gate Killer, a vile man who proceeds from raping, terrorizing and tying up his victims to murder. Paul spent twenty years of his life searching for this predator. He became well known not only for finding GGK, but also for solving the case of Laci Petersen Jaycee Dugard, and the Pittsburgh killers. He has spent a lifetime chasing evil and because of his utter commitment has lost many of the delights of family and friends. However, Paul is a man on a mission to right the wrongs of men who take a sadistic, psychopathic road to destruction. Paul is often sought out for his expertise in this field and has become a person to go to when many are stumped by the rigors of a case. Using the more modern techniques of DNA, he is dogged in his pursuit leaving no stone unturned, no clue unnoticed.

This is a terrifying book, one that some will find hard to read, but without the determination and the strength of Paul Holes, these killers would have lived free in a world they had taken from their victims. It certainly was not a pleasant life, but as Paul’s obsession grew, he lost what is part of being happy, a home, a family, and perhaps pieces of his own life. This story is often gruesome, but then again, the manner in which lives were taken as they were, fills the reader with shock and horror. If not for Paul staying on target and getting the job done, the peace he gave the families was something they might never have had without him.

The book moves at an incredible pace, not a moment do you feel bored or anxious for the book to end. It is an incredible tribute not only to Paul but also to the men and women of law enforcement who endeavored to keep us safe from the predators that walk among us. I know that Paul is courageous with a tenacity that few have experienced, and I am grateful to him and others that endanger themselves in order to ferret out the truth.

Throughout my reading, I often wondered what about the victims who survived, the families confronted with the heinous way in which their loved ones perished? Would they ever be able to move ahead, putting one foot in front of another, feel happiness? My hope is that with Paul’s work, these folks were able to grab at a slice of peace and contented that these monsters had been caught and will never see beyond the bars of prison.

Definitely recommend this book to those who like an excellent nonfiction that will keep you wondering the why and how of human deviant psyche. The writing was tight, full of empathy, and kept me interested from page one to the end.

This was a book read by Dorie, Jan, and I and we had our reactions to the catastrophe and harm, misery and suffering that was inflicted by these monsters.
This book will be published on April 26, 2022. Don’t miss it if you love true crime stories.
Joseph James DeAngelo
Laci and Scott Peterson
Jacycee Dugard held for 18 years

12 thoughts on “Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases @PaulHoles @CeladonBooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

  1. Fabulous post Marialyce! Thanks for the background and the pics. What a talent, and what an illustrious career Paul Holes has had. So glad we read this together!

    Liked by 1 person

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