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As Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes prepares to face trial for the biggest medical fraud in history, Stylist’s Hannah Keegan explores our obsession with con artists.
There are so many versions of Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO and founder of the now-defunct and potentially criminal blood-testing company Theranos, that it can be difficult to keep up. There’s the badass tech boss, low-voiced and intense, dressed in an unchanging black turtleneck (a nod to her hero Steve Jobs), a thick coat of liner smudged across her eyelids.
There’s the fleece-wearing, Silicon Valley disruptor (depicted by Amanda Seyfried in blurry paparazzi shots from the set of upcoming Hulu series The Dropout). And more recently, the wide-eyed, angelic Holmes – all blonde curls and sweet smiles – spotted walking into court, a demure pencil skirt stretched over her growing baby bump. This is a woman who knows how to shapeshift. Such is her power to morph between carefully crafted characters, “She could convince me of anything,” a former employee once said.
Later this month, Holmes will appear in a California courtroom to stand trial for criminal fraud. At its height, her company, which falsely claimed it could conduct 200 medical tests (for vitamin D deficiency, thyroid disease, you name it), from a half-inch vial of blood, was worth an estimated $9 billion. She’d raised nearly $1 billion in funding to found the startup in 2003, dropping out of Stanford University in 2004. She alone was worth $4.5 billion, her company’s board stacked with powerful men (including former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who dedicated a profile to her achievements in Time magazine, praising her “fierce and single-minded dedication”).
Before her demise, Holmes could count the Clintons among her many admirers. People would often describe her in breathless, exaggerated terms. “Striking, ethereal, iron-willed,” wrote Kissinger, even going as far as to compare her to a member of a monastic order for her unfaltering commitment to her cause.
Image credits: Benjamin Rasmussen