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 twelve 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.
“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 them the entourage was Hanson.
He had lost the puffer jacket and baseball cap. Instead, 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.'”
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 Evans 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.
“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 if 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 his 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.”
Evans did not return additional calls.