Suspect pleads not guilty in ‘Gone Girl’ kidnapping case
Matthew Muller asks for a jury trial
A California couple faced national media scrutiny after surviving a harrowing kidnapping for ransom after police accused them of staging the attack in the spirit of Ben Affleck thriller “Gone Girl.”
The 2015 abduction of Denise Huskins and her harrowing 48 hours in captivity — she was raped before she finally escaped — was written off by the Vallejo Police Department as an “orchestrated event,” according to new Netflix docuseries “American Nightmare.”
Directed by “The Tinder Swindler” filmmakers Felicity Morris and Bernadette Higgins, the January release leads viewers through the couple’s ordeal, their efforts to be believed and the ultimate confirmation of their story when a similar crime 40 miles away led to their attacker’s capture three months later.
The couple sued the Vallejo Police Department for $2.5 million, but not before enduring months of public scrutiny. Aaron Quinn, Huskins’ boyfriend, called police a day after his girlfriend’s abduction from his Vallejo home.
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Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn appear at a news conference with attorney Doug Rappaport (left) in San Francisco, Sept. 29, 2016. (Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
His story seemed fantastical. He and Huskins, he said, awoke around 3 a.m. March 23, 2015, to flashing lights and what appeared to be a cadre of intruders wearing wetsuits.
Armed with stun guns, the intruders instructed Huskins to bind Quinn with zip ties. Then, Quinn told police, he was blinded with swim goggles covered in duct tape and affixed with foam earphones.
A pre-recorded message told him that he would be sedated. If he refused oral drugs, the recording allegedly said, it would be administered intravenously. After his blood pressure was taken, Quinn was dosed with a combination of Nyquil and Diazepam, according to the documentary.
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The Vallejo Police Department publicly accused Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn of staging their ordeal, inviting a barrage of negative press before their attacker was arrested for a similar home intrusion. (Associated Press)
When he came to, Quinn was told Huskins would be kidnapped. To ensure her safe return, Quinn relayed to police, the intruders demanded $15,000. They said cameras would be installed to monitor Quinn’s movements, and Huskins would be hurt if he left the device’s view.
Although they said in a press conference that they were treating the case as a kidnapping, KRON4 reported, the Vallejo Police Department suspected Quinn of murdering his girlfriend and fabricating his account. He endured 18 hours of questioning, according to the docuseries.
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Quinn was immediately questioned about why he didn’t contact police sooner after he waited nine hours to call, allegedly concerned about his kidnapper’s threats. In interrogation footage taken at the Vallejo Police Department and shown in “American Nightmare,” Det. Mathew Mustard grills Quinn on the status of his relationship with Huskins and whether he had been cheating on her.
“I don’t think you’re being truthful, and I don’t think anybody came into your house,” Mustard told Quinn, saying he would look like a “monster” if he waited to come clean.
Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn are pictured at a press conference. They both hired defense attorneys after they were publicly accused of faking the home invasion and feared losing their jobs as physical therapists. (Mike Jory/The Times-Herald via AP)
The FBI administered a lie detector test, during which Quinn repeatedly denied an agent’s accusations he had harmed his girlfriend. The agency alleged the polygraph indicated Quinn was being dishonest, but its results were actually inconclusive, “American Nightmare” showed.
Meanwhile, Huskins had been stuffed into the trunk of Quinn’s car and taken to a property in South Lake Tahoe. There, she was sexually assaulted twice on camera, with her attacker threatening to release the footage if she went to police after her release.
During that time, Quinn received text messages demanding money for her return.
Huskins was released two days later near her childhood home in Huntington Beach. She thought her ordeal was over. Instead, she was accused of an elaborate hoax.
Quinn’s ex-fiancee told authorities that she and Quinn had discussed getting back together. With this information, authorities accused Huskins of staging her kidnapping, likening the events to the plot of “Gone Girl,” a movie in which a small-town wife stages her own murder to get back at her cheating husband.
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In a press conference after Huskins’ safe reemergence, a Vallejo Police Department spokesperson publicly accused the couple of a hoax.
“Mr. Quinn and Ms. Huskins have plundered valuable resources away from our community and taken the focus away from the true victims of our community while instilling fear among our community members,” Vallejo Lt. Kenny Park said at the time, ABC News reported. “So, if anything, it is Mr. Quinn and Ms. Huskins that owe this community an apology.”
Matthew Muller, a disbarred, Harvard-educated immigration attorney, was arrested for Huskins’ kidnapping after he was implicated in a similar home invasion by his forgotten cellphone. (Solane County Sheriff’s Department)
Huskins told Netflix the department’s reaction was baffling.
“It didn’t make any sense to have law enforcement — the people who have the power to investigate and to help — just turn against you. It made it that much more frightening,” she told a reporter with Tudum, Netflix’s companion site.
“It was just layers upon layers, and then finding out what evidence they had at the time that they did not use, they could have saved me. There was just so many layers of betrayal and injustice.”
Amid the media circus that followed, Quinn and Huskins told filmmakers they feared losing their jobs as physical therapists in the aftermath.
“You go through something like that, and every moment, every ounce of energy is about, ‘How do I live to see another second?’ That is all you can think about,” Huskins told ABC News in footage sampled by the docuseries. “The last thing that you’re thinking about is, ‘If I do survive, I need to make sure that I’m believable.'”
Huskins and Quinn told filmmakers Misty Carausu, a rookie detective who solved the case, was their hero. On June 5, 2015, a couple woke in the middle of the night to a near-identical home invasion. An intruder was standing over their bed shining a light on their faces.
While the wife hid in a bathroom and called police, her husband managed to fight off the attacker. But he left crucial evidence behind: zip-ties, duct tape, a glove and a cellphone.
Carausu traced the phone to the stepfather of a man named Matthew Muller, a Harvard-educated immigration attorney and Marine veteran.
After reaching out to police departments in the Bay Area, NBC Bay Area reported, she learned that he had been a suspect in a 2009 Palo Alto home invasion. Also at the scene were a pair of swimming goggles blacked out with duct tape that had a blonde hair attached.
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At that point, Carausu contacted the FBI. Muller was arrested for the Dublin, California, home invasion June 8.
Evidence in his home, including Quinn’s laptop, finally linked him to Huskins’ kidnapping. Muller’s confession matched Quinn and Huskins’ stories perfectly, down to the audio recordings, blacked-out goggles and liquid sedatives.
He pleaded guilty to one count of federal kidnapping in September 2016 and was sentenced to 40 years behind bars. Muller also faced state charges for burglary, robbery, kidnapping and two counts of rape by force.
But he was deemed incompetent to stand trial for those charges in November 2020, according to the documentary. Muller allegedly suffered from “Gulf War illness” after his military service, and his attorney claimed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, NBC News reported.
To this day, Huskins and Quinn told People, they have no idea why Muller targeted them.
“Like many victims, or many people who have gone through tragedy, you don’t get all the answers,” Quinn told the magazine. “And that can be a sticking point to recovery. So, for us, we don’t rely on finding those answers, but what we have to do is move forward in the unknown and focus on things that matter the most to us, like our family, our kids, our work. Those are sustainable things. And having the answers of why they targeted us doesn’t change what we do as far as moving forward.”
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The pair married in 2018, released a book on their ordeal in 2021 and welcomed daughters in 2020 and 2022.
Christina Coulter is a U.S. and World reporter for Fox News Digital. Email story tips to [email protected].