True Crime Unit: Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos

Planning for next year? Check out these multi-media resources

If your students are into True Crime as a reading genre, or if you’re needing a “ripped from the headlines” unit to breathe new life into your upper-level high school ELA classes, do I have an idea for you!

And the best thing about this idea is that it’s so topical! In fact, the woman at the center of this Silicon Valley crime tale receives her sentencing bright and early in the fall semester on September 26, 2022.

Photo: Theranos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re unfamiliar with Elizabeth Holmes, here’s a brief backstory.

Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford University engineering student, dropped out of college at the age of 19 in 2003 and used her tuition money to form a company called Theranos Corporation, a Silicon Valley biomedical blood diagnostics company located in Palo Alto, Calif.

Holmes’ company eventually attempted to “change the world,” as Holmes boasted, with its portable blood testing device that could perform hundreds of tests using only one drop of blood–instead of the typical vial-full taken from an arm.

After years of false starts, inaccurate and unreliable tests, and after gaining the trust and millions of investment funding from a well-known board of directors, including former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz and former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis. In January, Holmes was found guilty on four counts of fraud that each carry a possible 20-year prison sentence.

Before the company was dissolved in 2018, Theranos blatantly misrepresented its testing abilities, tricked major pharmaceutical companies to invest, and worked out a deal with Walgreens to establish in-store wellness centers that used the Theranos technology. The wellness centers rolled out to forty Phoenix, Ariz. stores before the company was shut down.

In 2014, Theranos was declared to be worth $9 billion. Today, it’s worth nothing.

And that’s just the basic story.

I’ve been following this story ever since Elizabeth Holmes’ criminal trial ended in January. At that time, the New York Times published this incredible story complete with interesting connections between Holmes and Jay Gatsby of Fitzgerald’s classic novel. I had just been finishing up Gatsby with my juniors, and I created this Article-of-the-Week (AOW) assignment with this article.

Ever since then, this story has been on my radar.

And by that, I mean I’ve been devouring anything and everything about Elizabeth Holmes and the entire Theranos debacle.

With the hunch that this story has the makings of a great curriculum or at least a unit for a True Crime class, I started keeping a list of various articles, videos, documentaries, TV series, movies, and more about the Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos story.

So, for your convenience and possible future use, here’s that list of multi-media resources to check out about the Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos case.

The original podcast: The Dropout

This is the original podcast from ABC Audio that inspired the hit TV series The Dropout on Hulu featuring uncanny performances by Amanda Seyfried (see below). I watched the Hulu series not realizing it was inspired by this podcast, and I gotta tell ya’, the podcast is even better than the Hulu series.

And that’s mainly because, with 27 episodes, there is obviously more time to delve into the inner workings of Theranos and Holmes’ intelligent, yet deceptive, mind. The podcast, hosted by ABC News chief business, technology and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, examines the saga from its earliest days up to brand new episodes created during and after Holmes’ court trial.

The Hulu series: The Dropout

Get ready for a ride! This excellent series on Hulu stars Amanda Seyfried as Holmes, and let me tell you, she nails the presence, gestures, voice, mannerisms of Holmes. It’s truly amazing to watch Seyfried make this transition. The series, comprised of eight episodes, takes you through the entire story, from Elizabeth’s childhood right up to the dissolution of her company.

The news doc: The Theranos Deception

I showed this 14-minute segment from 60 Minutes to my students when I assigned the AOW mentioned earlier in the post. This video will bring anyone up to speed pronto with the Holmes and Theranos case. Again, this is a quick prior knowledge activity you may want to use.

The book: Bad Blood

This is the ground-breaking book by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou, who revealed first the fraudulent activity at Theranos, including the fact that only one blood test performed by Theranos — for herpes — ever received FDA approval. This book is excellent. It’s packed with strong reporting and, based on everything I’ve read about the case, this book is THE definitive record of the entire saga. Carreyrou is a major character in Hulu’s The Dropout series, which goes to show how integral his reporting was to the entire case against Holmes.

The feature film: Bad Blood

There’s not a lot published so far on Bad Blood, the feature film. John Carreyrou is listed as a screenwriter for the movie, so that bodes well for accuracy and authenticity. A brief summary on IMDb reads, “Entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes creates a bio-tech company that skyrockets her to fame with an estimated value in the billions. When federal agencies begin investigating the company, her integrity is called into doubt.

The video: Forbes Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit

This video shows Holmes featured at Forbes Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in 2014. There are lots of videos and recordings of Holmes during the heady days of her success. This is just one of them. It’s fascinating.

The audiobook: Thicker than Water

Listen to this audiobook on to hear the whole story from one of the original Theranos whistleblowers, Tyler Shultz, grandson of Howard Shultz. (Here’s his LinkedIn profile.) It was Tyler, along with other employees, who became addled at the misrepresentation and incompetence he saw happening behind closed doors at Theranos.

Numerous articles from multiple news organizations:

Here are 10 more articles to consider for a Theranos True Crime unit :

Theranos uses key technology in just one test: WSJ

Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled With Its Blood-Test Technology

Elizabeth Holmes wrote personal notes to herself about ‘becoming Steve Jobs’ as Theranos collapse began

The Elizabeth Holmes Trial Is a Wake-Up Call for Sexism in Tech

Ethics Unwrapped from Univ. of Texas at Austin: Theranos’ Bad Blood

Theranos: A cautionary tale of ethics and entrepreneurship

The Powerful Impact of the Theranos Whistleblower

George Shultz Brought Big Names to Theranos Board

Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes Found Guilty of Investor Fraud

How ‘Lean In’ Feminism Created Elizabeth Holmes and the Toxic Ladyboss

Thanks for reading this week! School is wrapping up so quickly and I know that even though summer is right around the corner, you’re probably already thinking of units for next fall. Since I’ve been so obsessed with this story, I thought it only made sense to pass along the numerous resources I’ve read, watched, and listened to. Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a question on my Contact Page. I’ll be glad to hear your questions or thoughts about the Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos case and its coverage in the media.

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Featured Photo Credit: Tali Mackay at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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