Out-of-the-blue murders committed by noncriminal types who didn't exhibit symptoms of mental illness are frightening because they can't be predicted and therefore prevented. The murderers in these cases simply blindside their victims. Such cases are insidious in their straightforward banality. The feeling they create is this: no place is safe and no one can be trusted. We are all in danger.
In 2004, after he and his wife Juana were divorced, Nicolas Holzer gained custody of his two sons who were one and three-years-old. Three years later, Holzer and the boys moved into his parents' house in Goleta, California, a town of 30,000 ten miles northwest of Santa Barbara.
Just after elven o'clock on the night of Monday, August 11, 2014, 45-year-old Nicolas Holzer called 911 and without emotion informed the dispatcher that he had just killed his family.
When deputies with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office rolled up to the Holzer house on Walnut Park Lane not far from the University of California at Santa Barbara, they were met at the front door by the composed but bloodstained 911 caller.
Inside the dwelling deputies discovered the blood-covered bodies of William Holzer, 73, Sheila Holzer, 74, and their two grandsons, Vincent, 10 and Sebastian who was thirteen. They had been stabbed to death by a pair of large kitchen knives.
A calm and collected Nicolas Holzer informed the officers that he first murdered his father in the den. He then stabbed the boys to death as they slept in their beds. He said he killed his mother last. Officers found her body lying in the hallway outside the boys' bedroom.
When asked why he had wiped-out his family, Holzer simply said, "I had to." He added that in killing them he had fulfilled what he believed was his destiny. This, of course, makes no sense whatsoever.
Also dead in the house was the family pet, an Australian Shepherd.
The Holzer residence had not been visited in the past by police officers responding to domestic violence calls. And detectives, at least in the initial stage of the investigation, found no evidence of prior mental illness.
Charged with four counts of first-degree murder, Nicolas Holzer was held in the Santa Barbara County Jail without bond. Because California had recently abolished the death sentence, Mr. Holzer, if convicted as charged, faced life behind bars. His attorney, a month after the killings, said he planned to plead his client not guilty by reason of insanity.
Holzer's ex-wife Juana, in August 2016, filed a wrongful death suit against the mass murder suspect.
In August 2018, a jury in Santa Barbara County, after rejecting the insanity defense, found Nicolas Holzer guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing, Holzer's attorney said, "Nicolas Holzer is not evil or heatless and he loved his family very much, but when his delusional beliefs escalated they overtook his ability to be rational.
The judge sentenced Holzer to four life sentences without the possibility of parole.