Liz Holmes Wants You to Forget About Elizabeth

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Elizabeth Holmes blends in with the other moms here, in a bucket hat and sunglasses, her newborn strapped to her chest and swathed in a Baby Yoda nursing blanket. We walk past a family of caged orangutans and talk about how Ms. Holmes is preparing to go to prison for one of the most notorious cases of corporate fraud in recent history.

In case you’re wondering, Ms. Holmes speaks in a soft, slightly low, but totally unremarkable voice, no hint of the throaty contralto she used while running her defunct blood-testing start-up Theranos.

“I made so many mistakes and there was so much I didn’t know and understand, and I feel like when you do it wrong, it’s like you really internalize it in a deep way,” Ms. Holmes said as we stopped to look at a hissing anaconda.

Billy Evans, Ms. Holmes’s partner and the father of their two young children, pushes a stroller with the couple’s 20-month-old son, William. William enjoys playing in the sand, “The Little Blue Truck,” dumplings and, like his mom, already speaks some Mandarin. But William especially loves the San Diego Zoo, which is why, on a recent Thursday afternoon, I found myself in the surreal situation of trying to make sense of Ms. Holmes’s version of her rise and fall, while watching a restless cheetah and buying a gorilla T-shirt at the gift shop.

“How would you spend your time if you didn’t know how much time you had left?” Ms. Holmes said, her impending prison report date top of mind, perhaps even more so given that we were surrounded by animals behind bars. “It would be the kind of things we’re doing now because they’re perfect. Just being together.”

Ms. Holmes has not spoken to the media since 2016, when her legal team advised she go quiet. And, as the adage goes, if you don’t feed the press, we feed on you. In Elizabeth Holmes, we found an all-you-can-eat buffet. It had everything: The black turtlenecks, the Kabuki red lipstick, the green juices, the dancing to Lil Wayne. Somewhere along the way, Ms. Holmes says that the person (whoever that is) got lost. At one point, I tell her that I heard Jennifer Lawrence had pulled out of portraying her in a movie. She replied, almost reflectively, “They’re not playing me. They’re playing a character I created.”

So, why did she create that public persona? “I believed it would be how I would be good at business and taken seriously and not taken as a little girl or a girl who didn’t have good technical ideas,” said Ms. Holmes, who founded Theranos at 19. “Maybe people picked up on that not being authentic, since it wasn’t.”


Ten years ago, Ms. Holmes was the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, worth $4.5 billion (on paper, in Theranos stock), and one of the most visible and celebrated female C.E.O.s on the planet, running a start-up with a $9 billion valuation. Then, in 2015, The Wall Street Journalpublished an investigation into Theranos, calling into question whether its labs and technology — a sleek, boxy device called the Edison — actually worked as promised, testing for a wide range of illnesses with a tiny amount of blood collected with a rapid finger prick.

In 2016, federal inspectors from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found “deficient practices” in a Theranos lab that posed “immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety.”

That began a saga that would eventually lead to Ms. Holmes being convicted of criminal fraud charges.

Ms. Holmes in an interview in 2015.Credit…David Orrell/NBCUniversal, via Getty Images

The 15-week trial began in 2021 and featured extensive testimony about troubling practices at Theranos. The jury heard from several patients, including one who said a Theranos blood test revealed she was having a miscarriage when, in fact, she had a healthy pregnancy. Ms. Holmes was not convicted on any counts related to patients. But the testimony was a stark reminder of the human stakes of choosing biotech as your start-up.

Ms. Holmes was found guilty in January 2022 on four of 11 charges that she defrauded Theranos investors out of more than $100 million. Her top lieutenant at Theranos, and much older boyfriend at the time, Ramesh Balwani, was found guilty of 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud at Theranos. He began a 13-year prison sentence last month. On Thursday, his legal team filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit.

During the closely followed proceedings, a prosecutor, Robert Leach, said this was a case “about fraud, about lying and cheating,” alleging that Theranos raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors by misleading them about its blood-testing technology’s capabilities.

Lance Wade, a lawyer for Ms. Holmes, said that his client “made mistakes, but mistakes are not crimes.”

By the time I met Ms. Holmes and Mr. Evans, they were counting the days until April 27, when she had been required to report to Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas, for 11.25 years. (Shortly before she was due at prison, Ms. Holmes made a last-minute request to remain free pending an appeal, which automatically delayed her report date by an undetermined amount of time.)

Day 44: the afternoon we ordered in Mexican food at their quaint rental home near the Pacific.

Day 43: the morning we went for breakfast and Ms. Holmes breastfed her baby, Invicta (Latin for “invincible”) and sang along to Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” on the loudspeakers (“This is the first album I ever owned.”).

Day 42: the time we had croissants and berries and Mr. Evans made coffee and we walked the couple’s 150-pound Great Dane-mastiff mix, Teddy, on the beach.

On the second day we spent together, Mr. Evans asked me what the most surprising part of spending so much time with Ms. Holmes was. I told him it’s that I didn’t expect her to be so … normal?

If you didn’t know she was that Elizabeth, whose trajectory launched a cottage industry of podcasts, TV shows, Halloween costumes and groupies who sold blonde wigs outside her trial, then you might sit next to her at the Lucha Libre taco shop in Mission Hills without thinking twice.

This is when Billy puts on the deep voice. The guttural one that the world heard in Ms. Holmes’s TED Talk and CNBC appearances and in the actress Amanda Seyfried’s Emmy-award-winning turn as Ms. Holmes in Hulu’s “The Dropout.”

If you hate Elizabeth Holmes, you probably think her feigned perma-hoarseness was part of an elaborate scheme to defraud investors. If you are a person who is sympathetic to Ms. Holmes, then the James Earl Jones inflection was a sign of the impossible gymnastics that female founders must perform to be taken seriously. If you spend time with Ms. Holmes, as I did, then you might come away like me, and think that, as with many things about Elizabeth Holmes, it was both. Either way, even Mr. Evans agrees, the voice was real weird.

He was driving the family’s Tesla. Ms. Holmes climbed in, after strapping the babies, calm and happy, into their carseats. I rode shotgun. “That would be crazy, if she answered the door and said, ‘Hi. I’m Elizabeth Holmes,” Mr. Evans said, imitating the voice. Ms. Holmes let out the slightest of giggles from the back seat.


I realized that I was essentially writing a story about two different people. There was Elizabeth, celebrated in the media as a rock-star inventor whose brilliance dazzled illustrious rich men, and whose criminal trial captivated the world. Then there is “Liz,” (as Mr. Evans and her friends call her), the mom of two who, for the past year, has been volunteering for a rape crisis hotline. Who can’t stomach R-rated movies and who rushed after me one afternoon with a paper towel to wipe a mix of sand and her dog’s slobber off my shoe.

After Ms. Holmes was convicted, Rupert Murdoch, who invested $125 million in Theranos, emailedThe Wall Street Journal, a newspaper he owns, calling himself “one of a bunch of old men taken in by a seemingly great young woman! Total embarrassment.” I am not a smarter or more astute observer of human behavior than Mr. Murdoch or George Shultz, the former secretary of state who helped end the Cold War, or James Mattis, the retired four-star Marine Corps general and former defense secretary, both of whom were Theranos board members and investors. So, how could I be sure that “Liz” wasn’t another character that Ms. Holmes had created?

I was admittedly swept up in Liz as an authentic and sympathetic person. She’s gentle and charismatic, in a quiet way. My editor laughed at me when I shared these impressions, telling me (and I quote), “Amy Chozick, you got rolled!” I vigorously disagreed! You don’t know her like I do! But then, something very strange happened. I worked my way through a list of Ms. Holmes’s friends, family and longtime supporters, whom she and Mr. Evans suggested I speak to. One of these friends said Ms. Holmes had genuine intentions at Theranos and didn’t deserve a lengthy prison sentence. Then, this person requested anonymity to caution me not to believe everything Ms. Holmes says.

This warning stuck with me, and it got at something that had been gnawing on me since I first met Ms. Holmes. How do you have an honest conversation with a person whose fraud trial has played out so publicly? I tried to ask Ms. Holmes this directly. How do I believe you when you’ve been convicted of (basically) lying? But how could I ask someone who was nursing her 11-day-old baby on a white sofa two feet away if she was actually conning me?

It was in these uncomfortable exchanges that Mr. Evans often stepped in. “Your question is, ‘How do you say anything when everything you say is going to be doubted?’ You just have to say it,” he said.

So, to just say it: Ms. Holmes knows what you’re thinking about her trial, and the birth of her two babies.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

When she alerted the court on March 12, 2021, that she was pregnant with her first child, Mr. Leach, the prosecutor, called the news “frustrating.” The trial had already been delayed because of the pandemic, and was pushed back a few more weeks, until after she gave birth that July.

Which is why she was there in a San Jose federal courthouse using the high-tech Elvie breast pump with its glowing aqua nipples. “She looked like a Fembot,” Mr. Evans said.

At her sentencing hearing in November 2022, she was visibly pregnant with her second child. That baby was born in February. In March, Ms. Holmes’s defense team partly cited her “two very young children” in arguing that she should remain free while appealing her fraud conviction. A Daily Mail headline referred to the baby as a “Last-Ditch Bid for New Trial.”

But, as Ms. Holmes explains it, it’s just bad timing (to put it mildly). She is 39. She fell in love with Mr. Evans in 2017. They did not anticipate that she would be indicted. They did not anticipate that she would be sentenced to 11 years. They always wanted a big family.

“If we let how other people might view that, or what impression someone might make of it dictate how we live our lives, then we’ve lost,” Ms. Holmes said. “Finding your person in the middle of all of this and experiencing that love when you’re going through hell is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.”


I’d hardly sat down in Ms. Holmes’s and Mr. Evans’s home the first time we met in person, when Ms. Holmes told me about her work at the rape-crisis hotline. She’d just finished a 12-hour shift, which she does a few times a week from home using her cellphone, answering calls when they come in.

She then put this work into context, telling me how surviving a rape at a fraternity party her sophomore year at Stanford had, in retrospect, colored so many of her life choices. It’s the part of her story that she keeps getting back to. The one she told a sympathetic, but ultimately undeterred jury, according to news reports. The one she wants people to (finally) listen to. (I later reviewed a 52-page Santa Clara police report that documented the details of the alleged sexual assault and Ms. Holmes’s injuries. Ms. Holmes did not press charges.)

Ms. Holmes hands the baby to Mr. Evans. “I’ll give her to you when we’re talking about this stuff,” she said. She continued, “I woke up with this guy who was my friend having sex with me and I couldn’t get him off of me.” Ms. Holmes said the assault, in October 2003, contributed to her decision to drop out several months later and start a company.

To help her do that, she turned to Mr. Balwani, known as Sunny, whom she first met in 2002 on a college trip to China. Ms. Holmes was 18. Mr. Balwani was 37 and had already successfully founded and sold a tech company.

In March 2004, her sophomore year, Ms. Holmes left Stanford and moved in with Mr. Balwani to get Theranos off the ground. (Mr. Balwani guaranteed a loan to Theranos and joined the company in 2009.) “I really thought I’d be safe,” Ms. Holmes said. “My friends at school and that whole universe, it didn’t exist anymore when I was with him. It was all gone.”

As Ms. Holmes explained it, echoing a key part of her defense strategy, Mr. Balwani kept close control over her every action. She detailed extensive domestic abuse and sexual assault. She said that Mr. Balwani forced her to stop speaking to her family and Stanford friends and pressured her to adopt the black-turtleneck, red-lipstick persona.

“He always told me I needed to ‘kill Elizabeth,’ so I could become a good entrepreneur,” she said.

Jeffrey Coopersmith, a lawyer for Mr. Balwani, denied the allegations. “Our client is not a person who is vindictive or mean spirited or aggressive,” he said.

She lived by entrepreneurial tenets that she said Mr. Balwani told her she needed to follow in order to succeed. These included not sleeping for more than five hours, going vegan, getting to the office daily by 5 a.m., no alcohol.

“It was only when people started to raise questions about the company that I started to see that he was not who I thought he was in business,” Ms. Holmes said of Mr. Balwani. “And then that made me start to question everything else.”

The device Theranos called “Edison.”Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

One of the last times we spoke, I asked Ms. Holmes to clarify what she meant. As C.E.O., wasn’t she in charge? She said Mr. Balwani did not control her every interaction or statement at Theranos, but she “deferred to him in the areas he oversaw because I believed he knew better than I did,” and those areas included the problematic clinical lab.

Mr. Balwani’s lawyer, Mr. Coopersmith, said his client was in regular contact with Ms. Holmes about any issues at the lab, adding that she “was a strong woman who had a vision and Sunny was helping her execute her vision.”

Ms. Holmes’s story of how she got here — to the bright, cozy house and the supportive partner and the two babies — feels a lot like the story of someone who had finally broken out of a cult and been deprogrammed. After her relationship with Mr. Balwani ended and Theranos dissolved, Ms. Holmes said, “I began my life again.”

But then I remember that Ms. Holmes was running the cult.


In person, Ms. Holmes is engaging, but she is also somewhat socially stunted. It’s as if Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in his early 20s in a start-up and woke up a 32-year-old at Burning Man. That’s because in the 14 years Ms. Holmes led Theranos she didn’t do any of the normal things 20-somethings do, according to her friends and family. Ms. Holmes had so few actual friends, she said, when she was running Theranos that she once pulled a female pharmaceutical executive aside to ask if the way Mr. Balwani treated her was normal in a relationship. However — the same person who warned me about Ms. Holmes pointed out that she seemed to have plenty of wealthy, famous friends in this period.

In 2015, when The Wall Street Journalfirst reported on serious flaws in Theranos’s technology, Debbie Sterling, an entrepreneur and classmateof Ms. Holmes’s from Stanford, reached out asking if Ms. Holmes needed someone to talk to. “She said, ‘I don’t have any friends. I only work, from the first thing in the morning until late at night,’” Ms. Sterling recalled. “It was kinda creepy.” She corrects herself: “Not creepy, but concerning.” They eventually met for breakfast in Palo Alto.

Ms. Sterling said she thought about her friend as two distinct people: There was “black turtleneck Elizabeth” and there was “real Elizabeth.” Ms. Sterling, along with several other Stanford friends, attended the trial to support Ms. Holmes. But first she bought brown drugstore hair dye, worried that being seen there might impugn her reputation.

In 2016, as regulators scrutinized Theranos, Mr. Balwani resigned. Theranos shut down its clinical laboratory and laid off roughly 40 percent of its estimated 790 employees. Ms. Holmes’s brother (and Theranos executive), Christian Holmes V, helped her pack up and move out of the mansion she’d shared with Mr. Balwani. Ms. Holmes, barred from working in a medical laboratory for two years, checked into a hotel and then rented a two-bedroom home in Los Altos. She had almost no belongings, so her parents sent her some ’90s chintz furniture that they had in storage.

Ramesh Balwani leaving court in San Jose after his fraud conviction last year.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

In 2017, as Theranos faced an onslaught of legal challenges, both civil and criminal, Ms. Holmes moved to San Francisco, where she met a recent M.I.T. graduate and entrepreneur, Billy Evans, at a house party during Fleet Week to benefit wounded warriors. Mr. Evans had gone out to get ice for a party he was hosting at his own apartment and a friend texted to ask if he was going to the benefit. He agreed to swing by for a few minutes and never made it to back to his party.

A mutual friend introduced him to Ms. Holmes and the pair talked for three hours. “My friends were texting, ‘Where are you? We’re here,” Mr. Evans recalled. “To say we immediately fell in love isn’t an overstatement.”

Mr. Evans was 25 and living with roommates in San Francisco, but in many ways he was more mature than Ms. Holmes. She was 32 and had never opened a bottle of wine. “Elizabeth lived in complete isolation with Sunny,” her father, Christian Holmes IV, told me. “It’s hard to explain the extent to which she missed so much of the growing up that someone does in their 20s.” As Theranos settled an onslaught of civil lawsuits and federal prosecutors closed in on criminal charges, Ms. Holmes started to socialize again, reconnecting with family and friends. “Despite everything going horribly in her life, we had our daughter back, and it was wonderful to see how she used to be,” her mother, Noel Holmes, said.

Ms. Holmes and Mr. Evans quickly became more than friends and moved in together. “It had been two years of all this stuff written about me, and I think you get to know someone in a totally different way when you walk in with that skepticism versus if you meet when everything is sunshine and roses,” Ms. Holmes said. “That allowed us to get to know each other in a really deep way.”

In 2018, the Justice Department indicted Ms. Holmes, accusing her of lying when she told investors that Theranos’s devices could quickly perform a full range of clinical blood tests using a finger prick, even though she knew the tests were unreliable, limited and slow.

The much-hyped box didn’t do much of anything. And most of the promises that put Ms. Holmes on the map turned out to be fiction.

The Theranos board, failing to find a buyer for the start-up, eventually dissolved the company.

Where do you go when your life’s work and reputation go up in flames? … Burning Man.

Ms. Holmes and Mr. Evans went to the desert oasis for moneyed bohemians. She burned a tribute to Theranos. “There was an incredible sense of grief because I’d given everything to it, my whole life, since I’d been 18,” she said of that period.

The following year, in 2019, after U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila set a date for Ms. Holmes’s criminal trial, she and Mr. Evans hit the road. As prosecutors assembled their case, Ms. Holmes and Mr. Evans spent six months traveling the country in an R.V., sleeping in campgrounds and Walmart parking lots. Ms. Holmes balanced outdoor yoga and long hikes in national parks with working on her legal defense.

I tell Ms. Holmes (in so many words) that it seems like she became blissfully happy just as her life was falling apart. She does not disagree. “Even though that period was a crisis and Theranos was my life and like my child, I gave everything I had to it,” she said. After it was gone, “I also became free.”

At least, for now.


Mr. Evans, whose parents are prominent hoteliers in San Diego, and Ms. Holmes have an us-against-the-world ethos that is both romantic and rings slightly of Bonnie and Clyde. They say they’ve been chased out of residence after residence, no matter how remote. On my way to their front door, I walk past rows of orange storage containers filled with the couple’s personal belongings. They never unpack, Mr. Evans explains, concerned they’ll have to move again when they’re found.

The morning we went to the zoo, Mr. Evans stopped at Starbucks. He returned to find the barista had written “Billy the Kid” on his coffee cup. Ms. Holmes didn’t get the reference.

Mr. Evans took a few calls for work while I was visiting. I asked what he does. “A lot of different stuff, investing, starting companies,” he replied, without elaborating. How is Ms. Holmes paying her legal expenses? “I can’t,” she said. “I have to work for the rest of my life to try to pay for it.” I asked if Mr. Evans’s family was helping to cover her legal expenses. She shook her head no.

An earlier legal team quit after Ms. Holmes could not pay them. One pre-sentencing report by the government put her legal fees at more than $30 million. Ms. Holmes did not detail how those fees would be paid, and her current representatives at Williams & Connolly did not respond to emails asking about her financial arrangement.

Their toddler, William, recently had a 105-degree fever, the couple said. They raced him to the emergency room. The first thing the attending doctor said was, “You look a lot like that horrible woman.” The doctor added, Ms. Holmes said, “I’m sure you’re a better person than she is.” Ms. Holmes continued, “Then he said, ‘Are you Elizabeth Holmes?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘I am so sorry,’ and I said, ‘Don’t be, all you know is what you’ve read.’”

By Billy’s father, William L. Evans’s tally, there are “over 67,600,600” web results on Ms. Holmes, all of them negative, compared with “21 million results, many of which are positive” for Osama bin Laden, figures he wrote in a letter to the court. Ms. Holmes’s mother, Noel, said she stopped cold in a Barnes & Noble when she saw her daughter characterized in a book display as a “paranoid sociopath” who is “devoid of conscience.”

“Everybody got on the train that Elizabeth was evil, and it was great copy, and they took it and ran with it,” Ms. Holmes’s father, Christian, said.

Ms. Holmes’s defenders, stretching back to childhood, said in letters to the court, and in conversations with me, that the feverish coverage of Ms. Holmes’s downfall felt like a witch trial, less rooted in what actually happened at Theranos, and more of a message to ambitious women everywhere. Don’t girl boss too close to the sun, or this could happen to you …

“There’s an unspoken lesson for female executives: you’re allowed to be successful but not too successful,” Jackie Lamping, a Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sister of Ms. Holmes at Stanford, wrote in a letter to Judge Davila, who oversaw the trial.

Ms. Holmes said she believed that making herself the poster girl for women in tech put a huge target on her back. She regrets being the subject of fawning magazine covers (though I imagine the authors of those stories regret it more). “I never lost sight of the mission but I think I did of the narrative,” she said. “The story became this story that was totally snowballed away from what we were actually talking about.”

Of course, Ms. Holmes also tried to control the story, often with scorched-earth tactics. She is typically docile, but got visibly upset when I asked about how the lawyer David Boies had threatened litigation against people who spoke negatively about Theranos. Alex Shultz, the father of the Theranos employee turned whistle-blower Tyler Shultz, and the son of George Shultz, told the court that Tyler “slept with a knife under his pillow every night thinking that someone was going to come and murder him in the night.” (Ms. Holmes and Mr. Boies parted ways and she replaced her legal team in 2016.)

“I’m still thinking about the journalists being intimidated,” Ms. Holmes said after we’d moved on to several other topics. “As I said at trial, I completely wish we’d handled that situation differently.” She tears up. “I take responsibility for it because I was C.E.O. of the company and at the end of the day, that’s that, but I don’t believe in people being treated that way, period.” (In response to Ms. Holmes seemingly casting blame on her legal team, a spokeswoman for Mr. Boies texted, “Whatever.”)

Ms. Holmes chooses her words carefully when I ask if the prominent men who invested and joined the Theranos board were drawn to the start-up partly because the founder was an attractive young woman. “A lot of people were attracted to this for their own reasons,” she said.

What does she think would have happened if she hadn’t garnered so much early attention as the second coming of Silicon Valley? Ms. Holmes does not blink: “We would’ve seen through our vision.” In other words, she thinks if she’d spent more time quietly working on her inventions and less time on a stage promoting the company, she would have revolutionized health care by now.

This kind of misguided talk is the one consistent thread in my reporting on who Ms. Holmes really is. She repeatedly says that Theranos wasn’t a get-rich-quick scheme for her; she never sold her shares and didn’t come out of it wealthy. Ms. Holmes’s parents said they borrowed $500,000 against their Washington, D.C.-area home to post Ms. Holmes’s bond.

I can’t shake an earlier story that Mr. Evans relayed. In the waning days of Theranos, Ms. Holmes got a dog, a Siberian husky named Balto. Last year, when a mountain lion carried Balto away from the front porch, Ms. Holmes spent 16 hours searching in the woods, digging through brambles and poison oak, hoping to find him alive. Everyone knew Balto was dead, but Ms. Holmes kept searching. The relentlessness. The certainty. The fanaticism. It’s the same way Ms. Holmes kept hanging on at Theranos.

Ms. Holmes arriving at federal court in San Jose, Calif., for sentencing in November.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Over antioxidant smoothies, Ms. Holmes told me she has ideas for Covid testing, drawing on her work in a Singapore lab as a college student during the SARS outbreak.

She maintains the idealistic delusion of a 19-year-old, never mind that she’s 39 with a fraud conviction, telling me she is still working on health care-related inventions and would continue to do so behind bars.

“I still dream about being able to contribute in that space,” Ms. Holmes said. “I still feel the same calling to it as I always did and I still think the need is there.”

If your head is exploding at how divorced from reality this sounds, that’s kind of the point. When Ms. Holmes uses the messianic vernacular of tech, I get the sense that she truly believes that she could have — and, in fact, she still could — change the world, and she doesn’t much care if we believe her or not. “Liz is not a natural born leader; she is more of a zealot than a showman,” Mr. Evans wrote to Judge Davila.

It’s this steadfast (or unhinged?) belief that has kept Ms. Holmes fighting, even though a guilty plea would have likely helped her chances of remaining free. “She could have said, ‘Yes, I lied, and I tried my best to save mankind, but this happened in my enthusiasm,’” her father told me. “But she has taken the position that she is not guilty and that takes guts.”

Ms. Holmes eventually found her beloved husky, Balto, in the woods. But by then the dog was gone, torn apart by the mountain lion.


The last day I spent with Ms. Holmes, I parked and walked up the long driveway to find her and Mr. Evans embracing in the kitchen. They looked like they were slow dancing, swaying slightly, the two of them against the world. Fireplace burning. Seagulls flying overhead. Teddy drooling in his crate. Babies (plural) sleeping.

Mr. Evans left for a workout, saying he doesn’t want “dad bod.” Ms. Holmes and I sat at the kitchen table alone, talking. She didn’t seem like a hero or a villain. She seemed, like most people, somewhere in between. As Ms. Holmes broke down thinking about what her children will be like in 11 years, I kept going back to her central promise at Theranos: The technology that she invented would, in her words, create “a world in which no one ever has to say goodbye too soon.”

And there she was, preparing to do just that.

That Friday, the couple were getting ready to host a group of friends from the Bay Area. They invited me to stay. They repeatedly invited me to come back, to bring my family. We could all go to the zoo together.

I appreciated their hospitality, but I didn’t fully understand it. Usually interview subjects can’t wait to get rid of me.

Then I realized why they kept opening the door wider. Ms. Holmes is unlike anyone I’ve ever met — modest but mesmerizing. If you are in her presence, it is impossible not to believe her, not to be taken with her and be taken in by her. Liz Holmes and Billy Evans know that. I politely declined their invitation.

Audio produced by Kate Winslett.

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