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Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Nicolas Holzer Mass Murder Case

     Some of the most disturbing and puzzling murder cases are ones that even from the killer's point of view make no sense. The good-boy Eagle scout who murders his parents in their sleep or guns down teachers and students at his school falls into this category. A young mother who drowns her baby in the bathtub or a longtime employee who shows up at work one day with mass murder on his mind are cases that defy understanding.

     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 Mr. 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 Nicholas Holzer simply said, "I had to." He added that in killing them he had fulfilled what he believed was his destiny. This, of course, made 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.


  1. I don't believe that there is ever a "murder-out-of-the-blue." If you have eyes to see, it is possible in some cases to intervene. I believe this guy was ready to blow for quite some time. His divorce is my first clue. Courts really try to award joint custody whenever possible. There was something bad going on with the mother. We talk about the travails of single parenting. I also wonder if it was hard to move home again? One theory is that he could not handle it anymore. Mental issues? Maybe. People are often in denial. They want to think the best of loved ones. I believe there must have been warning signs. Nobody just goes off.

  2. I knew nick holzer as a child. They lived on Randall street in ridgecrest California. My parents knew his parents also.
    We moved away and had not heard the holzer name until recently and where of course shocked at the reason we saw. He seemed like a normal little kid back then, just terrible what happened.

    1. Interesting Ron. Specfically which house on Ramdall St did you live at? We may have been neighbors.

  3. Anyone who is able to look at the divorce court file will find that the immigrant mother raised concerns about her husband's mental health. She was ignored and the children were awarded to the murderer. The children did not have to die.

  4. It's unusual the mother not granted custody unless proven unfit. Concerned over her husband's sanity is not an unfit mother. Interesting to see why judge granted this decision.
    Mental illness needs to be brought to the forefront in this country and the world. It's used to be a closeted issue, not so much now. I've been personally touched by this issue and there is so much more work and research needed. Granted we've come a long way in the last 50 years but dialog and information is desperately needed.
    God bless those dealing with this tough diagnosis.