'Concerned Citizen' At Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes' Trial Turns Out To Be Family

Sep 14, 2021
Originally published on September 18, 2021 5:59 am

During the first day of jury selection at the federal fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, an incognito San Diego hotel magnate pulled a large Rice Krispie Treat from his pocket.

Loudly. So loudly, in fact, that the judge's voice was barely audible in the back of the courtroom over the sound of his wiggling the brick-shaped snack out of tightly-wrapped plastic.

"My name's Hanson," said the man, wearing a baseball cap and a Patagonia puffer jacket.

He was sociable and chatty, adjectives that rarely describe people attending one of the most high-profile trials in Silicon Valley history. Holmes, the former head of the blood-testing company Theranos, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of defrauding investors and patients about the company's technology.

As trial proceedings started, the man presented himself to reporters as something of an everyman who came out of curiosity and nothing more.

"I fix up old cars for a living," he said.

"Elizabeth and I are the only two people not being paid to be here," he added.

While the courtroom drama then centered on which 12 Californians would form the jury that decides Holmes' fate, journalists in the courtroom had other burning questions: Who was this man? Why was he talking so much to all the reporters? Did he have a connection to Holmes he wasn't disclosing?

When asked, he was cryptic.

"Do I know her? Does anyone know her? What does it even mean to know someone these days?" the man told NPR in the courtroom.

A short while later, he called himself a "concerned citizen interested in the trial." He said it has always been on his bucket list to attend a trial.

His story, however, would soon unravel.

New York Times reporter: "I couldn't believe my eyes"

Over the course of two days of jury selection, he gabbed with reporters standing in line to get in the courthouse, while on breaks, and even during the trial.

He maintained more or less the same story: He was a car enthusiast who was acting as a media watchdog, making sure the news coverage matched what he observed in court. He distrusted how the press has treated Elizabeth Holmes, he said.

Bill Evans, father to Elizabeth Holmes' partner Billy Evans, attended jury selection incognito — as a baseball-hat-wearing citizen who called the coverage of Holmes unfair.
Erin Griffith

"No journalist has ever told the real story about her," he said. "Everyone is just copy and pasting each others' stories without thinking."

Opening arguments in the trial began one week later. Holmes walked into the courthouse surrounded by her family members. And among the entourage was Hanson.

Gone were the puffer jacket and baseball cap. This day he wore a gray suit and a somber black tie.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," said New York Times reporter Erin Griffith. "I immediately started asking other reporters, and they were like, 'I think it was him,' and when we got inside and saw him even closer, it was like, 'Yep that was him.' "

Even before his unmasking, Bill Evans (right), with Elizabeth Holmes, had left some clues for reporters that he was not a car enthusiast just crossing off his bucket list item of attending a trial.
Nic Coury / AP

The revelation spread fast among reporters.

Indeed, "Hanson," it turned out, is William "Bill" L. Evans, the 61-year-old father of Holmes' partner, Billy Evans, with whom she just had a baby boy.

"It took a second to be like, 'Wait, Hanson is Billy's dad?' This is insane," CNBC producer Yasmin Khorram said.

Maverick San Diego hotelier also goes by 'BlitzenBill'

The Evanses are among the most prominent families in the hospitality business in San Diego. Their storied history traces back to 1953, when Bill Evans' parents, William and Anne, founded Evans Hotels. Bill now operates the company, which includes three of the toniest hotels in the city.

He inherited another San Diego institution from his father: Evans Garage, a private museum and event space that houses vintage cars dating as far back as the 1880s. The closed-to-the-public collection includes vehicles that make car aficionados swoon, like a replica of a 1909 Blitzen Benz, which seems to be the inspiration for his Instagram name, BlitzenBill.

The exclusive collection of antique and classic cars was perhaps what Evans was referring to when he said he fixed up old cars for a living.

On its face, that biography did not exactly sit right with reporters, who spotted other clues that gave them pause.

When Bill Evans, aka Hanson, told reporters he was a car aficionado, that part was true. Evans (left), with son Billy, drives his 1905 Pope Toledo Type IV Roi des Belges Tonneau onto the 18th green at The Lodge at Pebble Beach in 2015.
Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"I just didn't fully buy that he didn't know more about Theranos or Elizabeth Holmes in some capacity, because he wasn't elaborating on those questions," said Sara Ashley O'Brien, a reporter with CNN. "He claimed to go by 'Hanson,' but he had a different name on his Starbucks cup."

The cup he was holding said Bill or Billy, not Hanson, she recalls.

She also remembered noticing his shoes: pricey Salvatore Ferragamo loafers.

"Quite fancy shoes for a random man attending a trial," she said.

Before his true identity was revealed, Evans shared an elevator ride with reporters covering the trial.

"Are you a mole?" I asked him point-blank.

He joked about having a mole on his bald head. The conversation veered off course.

Before this, CNBC's Khorram had followed him out of the courtroom to ask whether he was paying for the lush Silicon Valley estate where his son and Holmes are staying. He ignored her.

"And then I said, 'Why did you tell us your name was Hanson?' " Khorram said. "And he booked it for the men's restroom."

Evans responds: 'People have nicknames'

Over the course of his interactions with reporters, he mixed truths with untruths.

For instance, he talked about having recently spent time in Tanzania with his family, a trip confirmed through social media posts documenting the Evans clan soaking up what appears to be a safari-esque resort in the East African country.

"It's too ironic," said Griffith of the Times. "That Elizabeth Holmes is on trial for fraud and the media has this whole two days of interaction with someone who was misrepresenting themselves from her extended family."

When reached by phone about why he offered a fake name and hid his connection to Holmes, Evans said he has no memory of sitting next to me for seven hours during the first day of jury selection. He did not deny telling reporters his name was "Hanson." Instead, he defended it.

"People have nicknames and you can be free to use them," Evans said. "On that note, I'll say goodbye."

: 9/14/21

A caption on a previous version of this story misidentified the picture of a man wearing a baseball cap as Billy Evans. It is Bill Evans.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Elizabeth Holmes trial has wrapped up its second week. Of course, she's the former CEO of Theranos, the startup that promised a miracle blood test that could screen for hundreds of diseases with a pinprick of blood. The company imploded in 2015 after investigation showed the technology just did not work as promised. NPR's Bobby Allyn has been covering the trial and joins us. Bobby, thanks so much for being with us.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: What happened this week?

ALLYN: Well, the prosecution outlined its case against Holmes. They said just as the startup was burning cash and up against a wall, she resorted to lying to investors. Prosecutors say she forged documents and made false claims, like that she was working with the military when she wasn't, basically in order to rescue this startup that was on the verge of bankruptcy. When the defense responded, they said, you know, Elizabeth Holmes may have ran this startup into the ground, but failing is not a crime.

We now move to the witness phase of the trial. We're hearing from former Theranos scientists, accountants and other insiders with direct knowledge of the company and who had a lot of time talking to Elizabeth Holmes.

SIMON: Bobby, based on the testimony so far, has anybody suggested this technology worked?

ALLYN: So the question boils down to, how much did it work? People who worked in the Theranos lab said, indeed, some tests did come out with accurate results. That said, Elizabeth Holmes was on the cover of Fortune magazine. She was talking to investors. She was telling anyone who would listen that her little device, this micro-analyzer called the Edison, could scan for hundreds of diseases with a pinprick of blood. And what we found out during this trial is that really what was happening is blood tests were being sent to sort of traditional blood-testing machines to get results, not her miracle device. And when results were coming out of this Edison device, they were often flawed. They were often inaccurate. The Wall Street Journal reported on this in 2015. And now we're getting more detail just about how sketchy and dubious the results of these tests really were.

SIMON: Bobby, we have to ask you about a mystery man you spent some time sitting next to in the courtroom. And he turns out to have a story. Who is he?

ALLYN: Yeah. So at the start of the trial, the courthouse was quite a scene. It was, you know, packed with TV cameras, teeming with random people. But, you know, there was one person who really stood out. He was there, the first person in line wearing a Patagonia jacket, a baseball cap. He told me his name was Hanson and that he just fixed up old cars for a living. He said he had no connection to Holmes. You know, during jury selection, I sat next to him for seven hours. And he would whisper to me about what he thought about the judge. He criticized the media coverage of Theranos. You know, every reporter in the courtroom was sort of fascinated by this guy. We were unsure why he was there. And, you know, basically, he was saying - he was just a mechanic, this average guy who had a curiosity about criminal trials.

Well, the following week, Elizabeth Holmes walks into the courtroom with her entourage. And who is accompanying her but this individual who said his name was Hanson? In fact, he is Bill Evans, the wealthy hotel magnate in San Diego, who is the father of Billy Evans, Elizabeth Holmes' partner and the father of her newborn baby boy. So just a bit of a strange, bizarre twist in the early weeks of the Elizabeth Holmes trial.

SIMON: What's coming up next in the trial, Bobby, as the weeks proceed?

ALLYN: We've got three or four months left of this trial, Scott, so a long road ahead. A major question to look out for is, will Elizabeth Holmes herself take the stand and respond to these fraud charges? Her lawyers put her on the potential witness list. So, you know, there's a strong possibility we'll be hearing directly from her. But we will just have to see.

SIMON: NPR's Bobby Allyn, thanks so much for being with us.

ALLYN: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.