Paul Holes on his New York Times best-selling book Unmasked and the importance of having honest mental health discussions

    In the latest episode of Heart of the Matter, Elizabeth Vargas is joined by investigator Paul Holes, New York Times bestselling author of Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases. Paul is known for his role in helping to solve high-profile homicide cases, including the notorious Golden State Killer. But his crime fighting success was masked by what was going on with Paul personally. He spent decades with unresolved anxiety and panic attacks, eventually turning to alcohol as a way to cope with the stress.

    Together, Paul and Elizabeth discuss how his own anxiety changed the way he views his cold cases; and his own experiences in the law enforcement community, including how making himself vulnerable is opening the door to more honest mental health discussions.

    Content warning: This episode contains mentions of death, as well as in-depth discussions of substance use. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, please contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at (800) 662-4357. These programs provide free, confidential support 24/7. You are not alone.

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    Episode transcript

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Paul Holes, welcome to Heart of the Matter. It’s so great to have you and congratulations on cracking the New York Times best seller list.

    Paul Holes:

    Well, thank you very much. It’s so nice for you to have me, Elizabeth.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Unmasked is such a phenomenal book. It’s an amazing read on many, many different levels, but I wanted to start by reading to you how you start the book in the prologue.

    “December, 2019, I order another bourbon neat, this is the drink that will flip the switch. I don’t even know how I got here, to this place, to this point, something is happening to me lately. I’m drinking too much. My sheets are soaking wet when I wake up from nightmares of decaying corpses, the dam is breaking, I’m cratering fast. So I end up in a place like this, a bar on Hollywood Boulevard called Jumbo’s Clown Room. Yes, it’s a real place entirely red inside, red walls, red floors, red bar, red lights. I order another drink and swig it, trying to forget about the latest case I can’t shake.” Yeah. So tell me about that night. Tell me why you were trying to forget.

    Paul Holes:

    Well, I didn’t know what was going on to me psychologically. This is actually, after my entire career, I had retired. I had gotten the media notoriety because I was involved in helping solve this Golden State Killer case.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    That’s putting it mildly.

    Paul Holes:

    And the, starting to work on the TV side, I was doing a series of unsolved cases working directly with law enforcement and talking to family members. And for whatever reason, this one case out in Fort Worth, Texas, 17 year old, Carla Walker, really hit me hard. And I really bonded with her family, related to the brother, and just the emotional impact hit me unusually so, and I think it was exacerbated by the alcohol, and this is where how, I didn’t choose to go to this Jumbo’s place, but when I was looking at, they have pole dancers at this place. And I’m… You see everybody and it’s a typical club where you have both men and women in the audience and they’re throwing $1 bills up on stage.

    And then these women would get down on all fours to scoop up the $1 bills. And I was just going, I can’t handle this. I can’t watch this. And one of the girls was so young, and all I’m seeing is her lying in a ditch on the side of the road, because she came across a predator. And that’s when I just, I ended up, which I normally don’t have, I had a hundred dollar bill and I just wrapped it in a one. And I went up to the stage and she did her little sultry crawl over to me thinking I was just this perverted old man wanting to get her close. And she grabbed the money and I told her, take care of yourself. And I literally saw the sultry face turn into the little girl that she was. And I could tell, this wasn’t her choice to be here. The next morning, I wake up and I literally have tears streaming down my face going, what? And I was just like, what is going on? And that’s when I ultimately decided, yeah, I need to seek some help.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    What kind of help did you seek?

    Paul Holes:

    Well, I ended up going into a therapist out here. I live in Colorado Springs, and Colorado Springs is a huge military town. And my wife through her resources at the PD had got the name of this therapist who some of the officers had, had to go see. And she was very good because she, of course, was dealing with the soldiers and special forces guys, but had the experience to recognize trauma. And so I started talking to her about various aspects in my career, including some of the cases and some of the experience that I had that I wrote in the book. And there was times when I’m breaking down in front of her, and she basically told me, you’ve been stuffing this inside without getting help all along. And now, in essence, it’s coming out.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    How common is this for detectives, cold case investigators in your line of work? Because in your new book, Unmasked, you really talk about what that’s like to arrive on a crime scene and process it, and how you’re dealing with things that most of us never deal with. As a news reporter, I’ve seen a lot of things that my kids have never seen, my friends have never, my family’s never seen, but I think you take it even a step further. You really have to examine sometimes horrific scenes, and I’m always wondering, A, how you handle it. And B, how in general homicide detectives or cold case investigators handle it?

    Paul Holes:

    Well, I think for those individuals that do this line of work, that care, it impacts them. And I believe it’s much more common than what is realized. In part, during most of, I would say towards the beginning of my career, it was very male dominated in terms of who is in investigations. And that has really diversified as the years went on. But when you look at individuals that are my age or older, that have gone through this being men, it wasn’t something you could express freely with anybody that you’re working with. And that’s where I think it gets buried. It wasn’t talked about it and there wasn’t that realization, but then I’ve seen, in part, I interviewed Sheriff Dave Reichert, Green River Killer.

    He was somebody, earlier in his career, he was a frontline investigator. He’s helping recover the body. He’s doing death notifications to the family, and as I’m talking to him, and it was over a Zoom, but he choked up and I go, I know exactly what he’s feeling. And then just recently a good friend of mine, who’s in law enforcement on a podcast, Small Town Dicks, Dave Grice. He got an advance copy of my book. And he finished reading that prologue, which you read part of. And he texted me and saying that hit hard. I so relate. And he was an investigator that specialized in child abuse cases. So I believe that it is a common, psychological impact that all people that work this line of work, especially when they care about the cases, they care about the victims, it’s something that we’re experiencing and we cope in different ways. And obviously for me, the alcohol in part is a coping mechanism and-.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Well, that’s very common. The rates of alcohol abuse disorder is very high with police officers.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. And for different reasons. I’m not somebody who ever worked patrol. So now I don’t have the experience of dealing with the citizens on a day in and day out basis, and I haven’t developed that cynicism that a lot of patrol guys develop, or see some of the things that they see, but obviously working homicide cases, focusing in on the serial predator, I see the horrors on those one on one types of tragedies that these monsters are committing. And it is, I think there’s law enforcement, whether you’re a sworn officer or you’re a civilian working in the field, you are building up trauma over the course of your career, and maybe some people deal with it better than others. And I thought I was strong, I never really had, I knew I was sensitive to the cases, but I never had an experience like I had experienced after I retired.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Funny you were, somehow it all comes crashing down.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    It’s like your defense was finally lowered. And I don’t know. You write in the book, and I know that you and I, when we worked together on America’s Most Wanted, talked about this briefly, but you and I are both military brats. I’m an army brat, you’re an Air Force brat. And both of us since a very young age had panic attacks. How old were you when you first had your panic attack?

    Paul Holes:

    Well, the first real panic attack, I was 13. And I knew I had some, when I think back, this is the nerd in me, I got into read, I really liked from a young age, the original Star Trek series. And-.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Me too. I loved it.

    Paul Holes:

    Okay. And I gravitated towards the Spock character because of the lack of emotion. It was like, oh, that’d be so nice not to have to experience all these butterflies that are inside of me. So for a period of time, I would say from age, really from about age 10, that was when that whole stoicism type of personality of it was like, okay, I can protect myself by really trying to limit the emotions that I would experience, but then puberty hits. And then I’m… The first panic attack I had is when two cute girls walk by me and say, hi, and I just had no idea what was happening. I thought I was going to die ,because I just went into a panic mode. And then it just started spiraling out of control after that, throughout high school and early into my twenties.

    And then I was starting, and it morphed in terms of what would set off the panic attacks. Initially it was a relationship with the girls in high school, but then I internalized it to where it was my health, oh, I’ve taken too much allergy meds, or my heart just did a funny beat. And the next thing I know, I’m just cratering. And a lot of time it’d be in the middle of the night, it’s that nighttime anxiety. And then I would wake up and start, oh, I’d check my pulse, am I doing okay? And next thing I know I’m in a full blown panic attack while, like with my first marriage, my wife could sleep through a hurricane. She had no idea I’m literally sweating and pacing and going down to basically a fetal position on the floor, thinking this is it, I’m done.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Did you tell anybody that this was happening to you? I know that I was very ashamed of my anxiety and my own panic attacks, so I kept them hidden for… Nobody helped me as a kid. And I internalized that must mean there’s something’s wrong with me, and I’ve got to keep it hidden. So I didn’t tell anybody. And that made it actually worse.

    Paul Holes:

    In high school, my parents ended up taking me in to see a mental health professional on the base, and then she ended up treating me, it was like a self-instruction, hooking me up to this biofeedback machine and learning how to relax. And to this day that skill of learning how to relax by going, oh, now I can sense the tension at least in my body, was something that was very positive. My first wife, during our dating relationship literally saw me go into a panic attack. So she was aware that I had those, but I never did talk to her about it. And I would hide the fact that I had had the panic attack the night before. And, of course, nobody at work knew anything about it.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah. That would be the… One of the things I remember a therapist asking me once was, “Given the fact that you’re so prone to anxiety and panic attacks, why on earth would you pick a career in live television?”

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I’m going to ask you the same question. Given that you were prone to anxiety and panic attacks, why would you pick a career as a homicide investigator? I mean, a crime scene specialist who, most people would describe every single day of your work as a trauma of a certain type.

    Paul Holes:

    But I think when I was going into the career, I wasn’t looking at the cases as being something that would influence me. To be frank, when I first started out as a forensic scientist and when I was civilian forensic scientist, I was a drug analyst and alcohol analyst. And I testified all the time, within three years I had testified a 150 times.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    In court-.

    Paul Holes:

    In court, in court.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    In trials.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. And this is where, that was my biggest concern with the anxiety is, first there is a public speaking component, but it’s also adversarial, it’s not just everybody wanting to listen to Paul talk. It’s now attorneys that are grilling me and trying to discredit me. So it’s a very intense type of speaking that you have to do, especially as an expert. And that was my biggest concern, is that I would have a panic attack on the stand and it would just literally ruin me. I didn’t think anything about the possibility that once I got working violent crimes, that there would be an impact on me with my anxiety. But, of course, as time went on, both working those cases and then the pressures of what my bosses expected of me, there was a couple times I ended up in the emergency room because of panic attacks. And I-.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Really?

    Paul Holes:

    … I called my commander, and I’m not telling him I’m having a panic attack, I’m telling him I think I’ve got a heart-.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    A heart attack.

    Paul Holes:

    … cardiac issue. Yeah, yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah.

    Paul Holes:

    And so I still was hiding it. And that’s where I literally was driving around, working a case and it was like, boom, panic attack hit. And I just drive myself straight to the emergency room. And then I have to come up with an excuse as to why I’m at the ER to my commander.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I don’t know about you, but I felt very lonely hiding all of that. Did you feel the same way?

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. I think the panic attacks is, for me, definitely it’s something that I don’t think I would ever really open up to when I was younger, but I think the anxiety aspect and how it impacted me, I kind of kept people at a distance. And I didn’t open up even with my wife, in terms of here’s what I am dealing with. And so, yes, there is a lonely aspect to it, because I didn’t have somebody that I felt I could share it with.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    It’s interesting. I always felt that as an army brat, growing up, nobody ever got to know me well enough to see my panic and anxiety, because we moved every couple of years. And there’s a part of your book where you’re talking about you and your first wife going to see a marriage counselor. And both of you reveal that you are both military brats and the marriage counselor says, “Oh, well, there’s the problem right there. We have two people who are unable to bond.”

    Paul Holes:

    Yes. Yeah. And it’s so true. And that’s where, as I talked to that particular counselor, it’s like, Paul, you never learned how to maintain a long relationship, which is so true because I just kept getting ripped away from anybody that I developed a friendship with as a young kid.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Either you move every year, or they all move every year.

    Paul Holes:

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah.

    Paul Holes:

    That’s just it. And, but the positive, if you want to call it the positive, I got very good at integrating in with new people and different people and very diverse sets of people. So that ultimately, I believe, helped me in my career. But to this day, I still have a tendency to keep people at arms length and am very poor at trying to put the effort in to maintain a relationship, or a friendship.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Do you think that your sensitivity, whether the sensitivity that you have that makes you prone to anxiety helped you in your career? You had an incredible career as a cold case investigator, and as a homicide investigator, you got the Golden State Killer, and in this book you really talk a lot about how, when you get to a crime scene, you would stand back. And while everybody else is in and out, and oh, let’s go follow this lead. You actually, you talk about how you would step back and put yourself first in the victim’s position, like why, in this one case I’m thinking about from the book, why did she fight, there’s signs of a struggle. So clearly this person didn’t come into this small trailer and overpower her immediately. So she was able to fight, there’s signs of a struggle. There’s this on her body, there’s that, she’s lying this way.

    And then you would also do the same thing and put yourself in the killer’s perspective, that takes a certain gift. And I’m curious as to whether or not you think that gift of empathetic personalization, putting yourself in the victim’s place, and then in the killer’s place, is related somehow, or is developed somehow because of that heightened sensitivity that you have being as anxious as you are.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. And I think you’ll relate to this, because when I go back to having to reintegrate into a new classroom, or another, a group or whatever, and I don’t know the kids, of course there’s the anxiousness, but then there’s also the, to protect myself, I’m not just walking right into this group.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    You’re reading the room.

    Paul Holes:

    I’m reading the room, I’m seeing, I’m starting to evaluate. And as a young kid, it’s not a conscious decision, it’s more of a, you sit back. And I end up being able to see, okay, here’s the kids that I’m most comfortable initially, being able to go out and recess with or whatever. And so there is that almost a learned, sensitive approach to getting into this environment as a form of self-protection.

    And I think that, that particular skillset translates into what I’m writing about when I’m taking a look at the scene, because even though I’m not, in fact, I’ve been told that I’ve got a very, what my wife calls my scene ‘tude, when I walk up on a homicide scene, I’m very confident, I know what I’m doing, but I take my time and that’s that what I learned as a child, that’s I think integrates into where now I’m reading the room. It’s just that it’s not a room full of kids, it’s a room full of evidence. It’s a room full of violence. The victim is there, and then it’s, well, okay, now what is going to be the particular chain of events that I need to discern that led to this condition? And I asked-.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Well, like why did she do that? Why is she lying this way? What was she doing when that happened to her? What was he doing to her? Why would he do? That’s what, I guess what I’m trying to get at is, the way you approached a crime scene and what made you so successful was that you were really able to figure out what was in their heads that was leading, that created that terrible scene in front of you.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. And in part that it is that childhood skillset, and in part, I believe it is just being empathetic, and almost to a fault, because that’s where when I’m looking at 17 year old, Carla Walker and the photos of her laying in that Cal culvert, and then seeing what was done to her, the injuries, the way her dress was torn, and really feeling this is what this young girl experienced the last moments of her life. And then the disturbing part is getting into the mind of her killer.

    And this is what he is after, the frenzy, the sexual frenzy and what he’s going after. It is, I think the way that the anxiety has shaped me and the empathetic aspect that I have really plays into how I’m able to do this, I recognized I have to do this in order to do the job well, in order to be able to find the evidence, or the behaviors of the offender will give me motivations that might limit a suspect pool. But at the same time, it’s that taking that step is where now the emotional impact of the case hits me, and that’s that emotional impact that I just kept burying through the course of my career.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    The case you keep referring to is the case of Carla Walker, who was murdered in 1974 in Fort Worth, Texas, she was a young teenager. And you open the book with that having just spoken to her brother, and you close the book coming back full circle to the Carla Walker case.

    And you write, “The collateral damage of Carla’s murder was vast and unrelenting, from her parents to her siblings, to her boyfriend and the entire Fort Worth community. So many had suffered, so many were trapped in that sad past. The person who had taken so much just walked away. I was flooded by feelings leaving Fort Worth, grief over the tragic loss of a young girl’s life, horror over what she had experienced during her last moments, desperation to solve her case so that I wouldn’t let her family down. Sitting behind the steering wheel of my car, I sobbed. I had always been able to tuck my feelings away after each case, when they did escape, it was usually in the form of a middle of the night panic attack. The last one had been so severe I fainted on the bedroom floor. Now my emotions spilled over. I buried my face in my hands. I wondered if I would ever stop crying.” That’s really quite powerful.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. And that was really a tough, tough time for me, and this is where, again, relating to Carla’s family, in particular, her brother, Jim, who was younger, he was five years younger, 12 at the time that she was killed. And then when Jim, when he was old enough to drive himself a few years later, he’s relating to me how he would drive himself in the middle of the night to that Cal culvert, where his sister had been left. And literally stay in that culvert all night, hoping the killer would show up.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Really?

    Paul Holes:

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I don’t think people ever really take that in. We hear these stories of murders happening and that everybody moves on. And I don’t think, five years later that boy, that little brother, is driving to the place where his sister was murdered to sit.

    Paul Holes:

    Well, even before, this is a case that was solved. But before, Jim was calling me and he has been for, since that time, doing his own investigations, and I’ve experienced that over and over again. People think, okay, it’s a cold case. It’s been so long. The loved one’s family, members of the victims, it’s now their callous to that loss. And they’re living their lives normally. No, they don’t, it never leaves them. And it impacts them until forever. I never use the term closure when the case is solved, because these family members, that’s not what they get. When I help identify who took the life of their loved one, or with Golden State Killer’s living victims, who attacked them. They get an answer, but it doesn’t reset their life. It doesn’t bring their loved one back. And they still suffer trauma.

    When I was at, watching the victim impact statements from the Golden State Killer’s victims, some of his victims and Golden State Killer was identified as Joseph DeAngelo. I saw the trauma pour out as they’re talking to this man, in fact, one of the victims after she gave her impact statement, when she walked out into the lobby of the court, she collapsed. It was so hard for her to have to get the courage, the emotion and reexperience that, so she could confront DeAngelo. It was just, it was such a bittersweet moment. Yes, we caught DeAngelo. He is in prison for the rest of his life, but all of these victims are still dealing with this trauma. Yeah. It’s not a time to celebrate. We can be proud that we helped, but when these cases are solved, just like in Carla Walker’s case, the genealogy identified McClury.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Talk about the end of that case and how that killer was caught.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. We ended up, we did an episode. It was a show that I was the host of called DNA of Murder. And we did this episode on the Carla Walker case. And it aired, but we had ongoing testing still going on.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    DNA testing.

    Paul Holes:

    DNA testing. And that takes a long time, and it doesn’t match up with a production cycle. And so the episode aired, and it was still an unsolved case. Carla’s boyfriend, Rodney, was still under suspicion. I still had my concerns about Rodney as possibly being Carla’s killer, but we knew we had a DNA sample, and there were some complexities with the genealogy testing of that sample. But ultimately we were able to get a genealogy type. And the lab that did that work was able to identify this McClury. And when they identified him, he was still a resident of Fort Worth, Texas. And his name was actually in the Carla Walker case file.

    And so he ultimately, he’s an older gentleman. He was in his late seventies, had some health issues when Fort Worth PD confronted him and got a direct sample from him, and it matched the semen off of Carla’s bra strap and dress. And he put himself in the parking lot. He basically said, yeah, I abducted Carla. And his excuse was, it looked like she was having a fight with her boyfriend and I decided to save her. It’s how they excuse their actions, but he obviously did more, he sexually assaulted her and killed her. And that’s where Carla’s family, Jim has an answer, but it doesn’t bring Carla back.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And they know that the person responsible is not on the street. There must be some modicum of comfort in that.

    Paul Holes:

    There is for, yes, for a select individuals, that most certainly is a form of comfort. This is like with, there were several of Golden State Killer’s victims, living victims, who always thought he’s going to come back and get me. Some of them, like one moved down to Mexico for a period of time just to avoid, because she thought that he was out there and we were onto him.

    So, that is a form of cover. But the interesting thing is, is that after DeAngelo was caught as the Golden State Killer, my wife admitted to me, she felt more comfortable because she was scared that she knew I was investigating that case. And there’s another investigator on the case whose wife was also scared about what’s going to happen to us as a family if we get too close to identifying him, but getting into these cases, and just the tragedy is that if you sit in a courtroom, on one side you have the people for the victim’s families and friends, and the other side is typically the family and friends of the defendant of the killer. But you see when somebody’s convicted, there’s no victor in this, the killer’s family is devastated. DeAngelo’s daughters lost their father, find out their father is this horrible serial predator. Again, it’s just, it’s a tragedy, these types of cases are a tragedy that persists forever for these families on both sides.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    So when you went to go see the therapist, finally, after going to Fort Worth and visiting with Carla Walker’s brother, what did she teach you about how to deal with the trauma you encounter every day in your job?

    Paul Holes:

    Well, fundamentally she likened my trauma, I’m not like officers that have been involved in shootings with that acute trauma, or soldiers and what they may experience, it’s very much a chronic form of trauma. And she said, every time you’re working one of these cases, it’s like a nick, and after 30 years of doing this, you have so many nicks, you’re bleeding out. And part of her counseling of me was to, I have to open up and get it out sooner than just put it inside, which I still am not very good at.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Open up, meaning tell people you’re experiencing this?

    Paul Holes:

    Tell people I’m experiencing, going in for therapy. And at least saying, hey, I just worked a horrific case. It’s really bothering me, this is what’s really bothering me about the case, and just get it out versus going home and pouring another glass of bourbon. But part of this therapy was interrupted because it had just happened when I was doing it, right when the pandemic started. And she got crushed with everybody so anxious about the pandemic that I said, okay, I’m good enough. I’ve got a handle on this. I don’t need to keep going to therapy. And so that’s where it stayed. And I think part of writing the book, I’m recognizing, maybe I should go back to it.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Go back.

    Paul Holes:

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Were you surprised at how many other homicide investigators contacted you to say they could relate too, because you might have stopped therapy, but I’ll tell you what, writing the book had to be therapeutic, because you’re very honest about all your anxiety, and you’re very honest about your panic attacks and the toll it took on you.

    Paul Holes:

    Well, very much so. And I think because I was working with a collaborator, Robin, she, in many ways, turned into my therapist. Now I’m talking to her and I’m breaking down as I’m talking to her about the various cases, or experiences. And that’s where this book evolved. And initially it was going to be the deep dive on the Golden State Killer investigation. Then it was going to be all these fascinating cases I worked in my career. But now I think the primary message of this book is really the toll working these types of cases takes. And the message is, if you are in this line of work, it is okay to seek help because and get it earlier than later, or you’ll end up like me, or you’ll be just burying yourself on the bottom of a bottle, or worse with some of the, what some people do to themselves. And so that’s really, I think, the message. And I did the book tour, as you know, you interviewed me to launch the book tour off. And I so appreciate that.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    What an honor, it was so much fun.

    Paul Holes:

    That was awesome. But I had many mental health professionals come up to get their book signed and thank me for being open about this saying this is something that they see day in and day out that people just aren’t talking about.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    No, they’re not, they’re not. And I’m so struck by the fact that you had other homicide investigators reach out to you and say, boom, I relate, that I felt the same way. And all those years you had known each other, neither one of you had said, oh man, I’m feeling really anxious, or I had a panic attack last night, or I had to go to the ER, because I thought I was having a heart attack, but it was just a panic attack.

    Paul Holes:

    Well, and I also think, in part is, as I’ve matured as a man, I’ve gotten older, I’m much more willing to talk about my emotions. Being in my mid thirties, in law enforcement, no way. And that’s where the people who are reaching out to me are in a similar phase of their life. They have all this trauma, and they are now no longer in this alpha male they have to pump up their chest. They’re saying, yes, I’m hurting too. And I think that’s great, and that’s a segment of this population of professionals that I think will be easier to get to talk. It’s going to be the guys that are still on the force, in their mid thirties, or early mid twenties.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    How do you reach them? How do you reach them and tell them, hey, you might be feeling like this? Because you even say, you admit in the book that you didn’t even recognize the trauma that you were feeling and experiencing from these cases.

    Paul Holes:

    I personally think because now we’re seeing more women doing this line of work that you will see, because they will be more open about, and they have to bridge the gap between the male culture, and that’s always the struggle, but in my experience, as I’ve seen women become more ingrained in the investigations of these cases, is that the men that are working side by side with them, they do develop an openness with those women, because they know that, that woman is experiencing what they’re experiencing. And that woman is going to say, hey, I know this is bothering you. And that man will probably talk to her before he goes home and talks to his wife. That’s just the way that, that works. I’m fortunate in some ways, is that my second wife, Sherry, is in the line of work.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Right. She’s in the business.

    Paul Holes:

    She’s in the business.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Tell us about Sherry. What does she do?

    Paul Holes:

    Well, currently she’s a part-time DNA analyst for Colorado Springs PD, but I met her on the job, and I was the one that was saying, she was an intern and was saying, hey, you need to start getting out to crime scenes. And then pretty soon she got hired doing in the same position that I was. And so she’s doing crime scenes as well as doing the DNA work. So she’s seen horrific things. She understands that, she didn’t get into the investigation side like I did, but she’s somebody who can relate to what I’ve gone through. And so there is at least an outlet that I have that many people don’t have, but that’s where if you do have, that’s where I do think that these younger individuals on the force, there may be greater chances today just to open up with somebody else that they feel comfortable talking to, just because now they have, it’s not just that male dominated alpha dog type of culture. There is going to be a different perspective.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    So, interesting. Finally, I just wanted to get your reaction to, there was a Wall Street Journal article a couple of weeks ago, talking about the fact that anxiety far from being this burden to people could actually be a, as a sort of superpower. The writer of the article quoted some psychiatrists and social scientists who were saying that, actually being anxious all the time means you’re good in a crisis, because basically you spend your entire life living right on the edge of thinking, I’m right on the edge of disaster, and I’ve got to be prepared and ready. And so ironically, when the shit does hit the fan, so to speak, that people who are anxious do better. And I thought that was a really interesting way to look at it. I pray to God it’s true as someone who’s been anxious my entire life, but I’m curious what you think of it, especially because I think your work requires a certain amount of, oh my God, I’m dealing with the absolute, most horrific situation a human being can deal with right now, which is the scene of one human being’s absolute depravity toward another, in this murder.

    Do you buy that supposition, that premise?

    Paul Holes:

    Well, I can speak for situations where when the shit does hit the fan, I’m able to maintain a level of calmness. When I am rolling out to a very high, let’s say a very complex crime scene, a lot of activities going on, I’ve seen coworkers that just crater in terms of how am I going to deal with this? And I very much am very calm in that moment. And then when I’ve had situations, let’s say medical emergency at home, or elsewhere, and everybody’s really in a panic, I’m very calm in those situations. Now, I never correlated it with the anxiety aspect.

    And so that’s an interesting thought for me, because it’s like, yeah, I just go into that instant, okay, it’s almost like that biofeedback where I go, okay. Yeah. A lot of stuff is going on. This is a serious deal, but now I need to focus in order to either do the job, or handle this crisis. And I just have a tendency to be able to do that more so than other people, not ever. I’ve seen other people who can do that, but a lot of people seem to really start to get into that panic set, and then they’re not thinking right.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    No, no, I was just going to pick the exact same word, that ability when everything is going crazy to truly be able to focus like a laser beam-.

    Paul Holes:

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    … on what needs to be done, and to do it.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah. Yes, no, it’s almost, it’s not necessarily a tunnel vision, but it very much is a very focused energy, like laser beam. Sure. Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah.

    Paul Holes:

    It’s like, boom, this is what I have to do. I can’t be sitting here and worrying about anything. I got to do it, and there’s no choice here, and I just got to move forward.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I like the idea that maybe you and I, and others like us who have anxiety, maybe have a secret superpower.

    Paul Holes:

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Paul Holes, it’s been so wonderful to talk to you. Congratulations again, on the success of Unmasked. It’s an amazing book.

    Paul Holes:

    Thank you.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I’m not remotely surprised that you aren’t just getting a bunch of true crime fans lined up waiting to ask you for an autograph of mental health experts too, because you are so honest about your own struggles with anxiety and panic. And I think you’re going to help a lot of people.

    Paul Holes:

    Well, I hope so. And I so appreciate you having me on and talk, being so open and easy to talk to about this subject.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    All right. Thanks, Paul.

    Paul Holes:

    Thank you.

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    Published

    June 2022