The untold truth of Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes joined Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as one of the most famous college dropouts in history, but her fame was for all the wrong reasons. Holmes left Stanford University in 2003 and founded Theranos when she was just 19, touting it as a cheaper, faster alternative to traditional blood testing for everything from diabetes to H.I.V. She told press that her invention, dubbed the Edison, could perform hundreds of tests with just a drop of blood from a finger prick. She boasted a board of directors that included former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Secretaries of Defense Gen. James Mattis and William Perry, and investors such as Rupert Murdoch, Betsy DeVos, and Robert Kraft. Theranos was once valued at $9 billion.

The problem? Her blood testing machines didn't live up to the hype. A series of exposés published by The Wall Street Journal revealed that her business was allegedly more "con" than Silicon. According to ABC News, the Securities and Exchanges Commission charged Holmes with an "elaborate, years long fraud." She was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine and return her $18.9 million of Theranos stock, and she can't serve as a director or officer at any publicly traded company for a decade. She was indicted on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in June 2018, and in September of that year, Theranos announced it was shutting down. This is the untold truth of Elizabeth Holmes.

A former friend calls her 'more con than substance'

Richard Fuisz is reportedly a former family friend of Elizabeth Holmes who knew her since childhood, but they've since had a big falling out. Theranos reportedly sued Fuiz and his son, Joseph, in 2011, accusing them of "stealing documents" related to a patent, according to Above The Law. "After spending $5 million defending the lawsuit, Fuisz settled in 2014 in what he called a 'kill the dog' agreement in which neither party received anything from the patent," reported Forbes.

Fuisz still has, er, bad blood with Holmes. He alleged to Forbes that Holmes' mother "programmed Elizabeth to be like me, invent and learn a language." Holmes' father reportedly worked at Enron, and Fuisz claims the Holmes family lived in his home rent-free after the energy and commodities giant collapsed. Fuisz has dished plenty of dirt on Holmes and her family. According to Forbes, he alleges her parents used backdoor tactics to get her into Stanford University and pressured her to study Mandarin in Beijing, even though he claims she was miserable doing so. He also claims Holmes is "not very intelligent. She is more con than substance." Of course, considering Fuisz's long-standing beef with Holmes, take all of that with a grain of salt.

Her signature voice may not be genuine

Elizabeth Holmes' deep voice became one of her trademarks after she delivered a talk at TEDMED 2014 that went viral, but there's a lot of speculation that she may be faking her baritone voice. Several former Theranos staffers claim to have heard her slip out of the guttural tone to a higher, more natural-sounding pitch. "It was maybe at one of the company parties, and maybe she had too much to drink or what not, but she fell out of character and exposed that that was not necessarily her true voice," said Ana Arriola, a former Theranos employee, on The Dropout podcast (ABC News). "Maybe she needed to be more convincing to project a persona within a room among male VCs [venture capitalists]. I'm not really quite sure."

When asked if Holmes' deep voice was feigned, Bad Blood author John Carreyrou told CBS This Morning, "According to my sources, it was. An employee who joined the company in 2011 had a meeting with her shortly after he joined, and it was late in the day and they were finishing up the meeting and she sort of expressed her excitement that he had recently joined — and as she got up, she forgot to put on the baritone and slipped back into a more natural sounding young woman's voice."

There's also a video circulating on YouTube that claims to capture Holmes' "real" voice, which you can listen to here.

She had a big obsession with Steve Jobs

Elizabeth Holmes was so obsessed with Steve Jobs that she was accused of modeling her entire life and career after the late Apple CEO. In Bad Blood, John Carreyrou asserts that the day after Jobs' death in October 2011, Holmes and former Theranos President Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani tried to find an Apple flag to fly at half-mast outside of their office building. Employees claimed she believed Jobs was an "all seeing, all knowing being" with whom she shared a personal connection. Her code name for the Theranos miniLab was "4S," after the then-newly unveiled iPhone model. Staff also alleged that while reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, she altered her behavior to match the innovator's — to the point that her employees were supposedly able to tell what chapter she was currently reading based on how she behaved.

Carreyrou told Geek Wire that Holmes had a "contrived persona" and wore black turtlenecks, just like Jobs. However, she insisted to Glamour in 2015 that she'd been sporting that style since she was a child. "My mom had me in black turtlenecks when I was, like, eight. I probably have 150 of these. [It's] my uniform," she said. "It makes it easy, because every day you put on the same thing and don't have to think about it — one less thing in your life. All my focus is on the work. I take it so seriously; I'm sure that translates into how I dress."

She's accused of being secretive and paranoid

Author John Carreyrou alleges in Bad Blood that Elizabeth Holmes kept tabs on everyone involved with Theranos. Employees believed the company's IT team was "suspiciously friendly" in what they assumed were attempts to extract gossip from staffers. Holmes' administrative assistants reportedly friended Theranos employees on Facebook and told Holmes what they were posting. It was alleged that Holmes' surveillance was used to make dossiers on employees "to use for leverage," and anyone who entered the building was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Carreyrou also claimed employees were told to "appear busy and not make eye contact with the board members" when they convened at Theranos headquarters.

Vanity Fair reported that under Holmes' direction, no peer-review papers were permitted on its technology. Holmes was fiercely private and sometimes traveled with as many as four security guards (who referred to her as "Eagle 1"). A former employee reportedly wrote about Theranos on their LinkedIn page: "I worked here, but every time I say what I did I get a letter from a lawyer. I probably will get a letter from a lawyer for writing this." The alleged shroud of secrecy extended to Holmes' treatment of the press. After Carreyrou's blockbuster reports, a witness told Vanity Fair that Theranos attorneys stormed the The Wall Street Journal offices, accusing the journalist of possessing trade secrets and proprietary information and threatening to sue.

She kept her love life hidden

Elizabeth Holmes met Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani in the summer of 2002 while studying Mandarin at Beijing University, reported ABC News. She was about 18 to his 37 at the time. In 2009, Balwani gave Theranos an interest-free $13 million personal loan. He was then named Theranos president and COO, despite having no experience in medicine or laboratory testing.

Balwani developed a reputation as a "hothead" and was nicknamed "the enforcer," allegedly often berating Theranos employees. "He would just get so angry and so upset, and also was not very well versed in the medical diagnostic world and wasn't really well versed in the sciences, so [he] would frequently say things that were just inappropriate … he didn't understand really what was going on," former employee Erika Cheung told ABC News. It wasn't until after Theranos folded that many employees learned the truth: Holmes and Balwani were dating and living together.

The couple never told Theranos investors about its romantic relationship, Holmes revealed in a deposition. Bloomberg reported that a former Theranos vice president, Anthony Nugent, knew about the relationship but that as recently as 2015, Holmes' own brother said she was still deliberating on whether to inform the board. The pair has since split.

There was a tragic death in the Theranos ranks

Rochelle Gibbons, the wife of Theranos' former chief scientist Ian Gibbons, told ABC News that he came to realize the Edison's blood test results were faulty. When the biochemist addressed his concerns in confidence to Theranos board member Channing Robertson, Robertson allegedly ratted on him to Elizabeth Holmes, and Ian was fired. (Robertson has "disputed" that story.) Theranos soon rehired but demoted Ian.

In the midst of her husband's turmoil, Rochelle, who is also a scientist and patent attorney, claims the situation at Theranos was intensifying. She said the company was suing over a patent, and the defendant's attorneys subpoenaed Ian. Rochelle claimed Ian was faced with either perjuring himself or revealing that Theranos' technology was faulty. The Telegraph reported that when Theranos was closing in on a deal with Walgreens, Ian stopped going to work. He was eventually summoned to the office for a meeting with Holmes in May 2013. The night before the meeting, Rochelle told ABC News that her husband was distraught. Rochelle said she planned to accompany him to see a doctor the following day to get him treated for depression.

It would be too late. Ian reportedly attempted suicide and died a week later. In response to the news, Rochelle said Theranos sent her two messages. "One was the email demanding all the intellectual property," she told ABC News. "…and then the other one was a letter from their lawyer warning me against telling anyone what happened to Ian."

She went from billionaire to broke

Forbes once estimated Elizabeth Holmes to be worth $4.5 billion, topping the magazine's list of richest self-made women in 2015. She was also deemed the youngest at the time. A year later, that number plummeted to a big, fat zero. The magazine said its initial estimate of Holmes' net worth was based on her 50 percent stake in Theranos, which was valued at $9 billion before fraud allegations took the company down. 

According to Vanity Fair, Holmes spent a ton of the company's money on her own expenses, including paying the rent for her home in Los Altos, Calif. She also reportedly flew on private jets and had a team of drivers, personal security, and assistants, and a $25,0000 monthly retainer for a personal publicist. Former executives told the magazine that the company headquarters "cost $1 million a month to rent. Holmes had also spent $100,000 on a single conference table." As the card castle crumbled, she eventually moved the company's remaining employees to a lab sources described as a "s**thole."

She been called a 'pathological liar' with 'sociopathic tendencies'

Bad Blood author John Carreyrou said in his book that he believes Elizabeth Holmes may have sociopathic tendencies, a sentiment he reiterated in an interview with Vanity Fair when asked about the one-time Silicon Valley unicorn's mental state. "At the end of my book, I say that a sociopath is described as someone with no conscience," Carreyrou said. "I think she absolutely has sociopathic tendencies. One of those tendencies is pathological lying. I believe this is a woman who started telling small lies soon after she dropped out of Stanford, when she founded her company, and the lies became bigger and bigger. I think she's someone that got used to telling lies so often, and the lies got so much bigger, that eventually the line between the lies and reality blurred for her." Carreyrou also said that a former Theranos employee claimed Holmes actually feels like a "Joan of Arc"-style martyr in the midst of the scandal.

Psychology Today explains that sociopaths are manipulative, dishonest, lack empathy, and have a weak conscience — and that those dark traits are often masked with superficial charm in the form of feigned empathy and sincerity. Carreyrou claims Holmes feels little remorse for the lives she's accused of destroying with Theranos. "She has shown zero sign of feeling bad, or expressing sorrow, or admitting wrongdoing, or saying sorry to the patients whose lives she endangered," he said.

She allegedly even lied about her dog

Elizabeth Holmes may have grown so accustomed to lying that she even allegedly fibbed about mundane, inconsequential, and adorable things. In February 2019, Vanity Fair reported that Holmes began bringing her Siberian husky puppy into the Theranos offices in September 2017 — and that the puppy, named Balto, frequently relieved himself all over the building. Aside from the obvious inconveniences of canine incontinence in a workplace, bringing Balto into the offices and labs posed another risk: Theranos scientists worried that Balto's fur could contaminate blood samples.

Holmes reportedly attempted to train Balto as a search and rescue dog, but "huskies are not bred for rescue; they are long-distance runners, and Balto failed out," reported Vanity Fair. Holmes also reportedly began telling people that Balto was a wolf, but according to The Nest, purebred huskies contain about as much wolf DNA as a poodle or bulldog. 

Final fun fact: Holmes reportedly named Balto "after the world-famous sled dog who, in 1925, led a team of huskies on a dangerous, 600-mile trek from Nenana, Alaska, to remote Nome, Alaska, bearing an antitoxin that was used to fight a diphtheria outbreak," reported Vanity Fair. "…In Holmes's telling, Balto's perseverance mirrored her own. His voyage with the life-changing drug was not so different from her ambition."

She still thinks she can make a comeback

Elizabeth Holmes has reportedly remained optimistic about her future, despite the horrific fall of Theranos. She reportedly resides in the San Francisco area, and according to the Daily Mail, she's engaged to Billy Evans, "the heir to a hotel fortune who worked at a driverless car start-up — and is now a father to Balto the 'wolf' dog." The two were reportedly spotted at Burning Man just days before Theranos was dissolved.

Holmes no longer exclusively sports black turtlenecks, and sources told Vanity Fair that she claims she is "greeted by well-wishers on the street who are rooting for her resurrection." She reportedly has met with filmmakers about a documentary presenting her side of the Theranos story and is eager to someday write a book about her experiences. Perhaps the most remarkable thing Holmes has been up to: Vanity Fair reports that she's been taking meetings with investors again, possibly in hopes of starting another new tech company.