Paul Holes

Unmasked: My Life Solving America's Cold Cases

Nonfiction - True Crime

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From the detective who found The Golden State Killer, a memoir of investigating America’s toughest cold cases and the rewards--and toll--of a life solving crime.

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. I order another drink and swig it, trying to forget about the latest case I can’t shake.

Crime-solving for me is more complex than the challenge of the hunt, or the process of piecing together a scientific puzzle. The thought of good people suffering drives me, for better or worse, to the point of obsession.

People always ask how I am able to detach from the horrors of my work. Part of it is an innate capacity to compartmentalize; the rest is experience and exposure, and I’ve had plenty of both. But I had always taken pride in the fact that I can keep my feelings locked up to get the job done. It’s only been recently that it feels like all that suppressed darkness is beginning to seep out.

When I look back at my long career, there is a lot I am proud of. I have caught some of the most notorious killers of the twenty-first century and brought justice and closure for their victims and families. I want to tell you about a lifetime solving these cold cases, from Laci Peterson to Jaycee Dugard to the Pittsburg homicides to, yes, my twenty-year-long hunt for the Golden State Killer.

But a deeper question eats at me as I ask myself, at what cost? I have sacrificed relationships, joy—even fatherhood—because the pursuit of evil always came first. Did I make the right choice? It’s something I grapple with every day. Yet as I stand in the spot where a young girl took her last breath, as I look into the eyes of her family, I know that, for me, there has never been a choice. “I don’t know if I can solve your case,” I whisper. “But I promise I will do my best.”

It is a promise I know I can keep.

“Paul Holes takes you on a fascinating and sometimes disturbing journey inside the mind of someone who hunts monsters for a living—and in order to live. And his insights on Michelle McNamara—whose loss I still feel every day—are incredible.”
—Patton Oswalt


"Paul Holes is a natural criminal profiler with a talent for describing how the process works. In his book, Unmasked, he marches the reader into the real world of criminal behavior and blends his forensic expertise with his unfiltered personal life experiences as he tackles both cold cases and modern crimes. This is a book you will not be able to put down.”
—Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, author of A Killer by Design and co-author of Sexual Homicide