Denise Huskins' kidnapping baffled police, who publicly cast doubt on her and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn for months in 2015
Had police responded properly to Aaron Quinn’s pleas to help track down his kidnapped girlfriend, Denise Huskins, the California couple’s life might have been very different than it is today.
The couple’s harrowing experience – and the police’s botched response to their calls for help – is the subject of American Nightmare, a new three-part true crime documentary that began streaming on Netflix this week.
In 2015, Huskins and Quinn were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by armed intruders who bound them with zip ties, blinded them with blackout swimming goggles, and forced them into a closet. During the break-in, Huskins was kidnapped and Quinn later freed himself, soon calling police for help.
The only problem? Officers at the Vallejo, Calif., police department didn’t believe him. Investigators would soon bring Quinn in for questioning, accusing him of foul play and suspecting that Huskins was not kidnapped, but rather murdered by her boyfriend.
Police questioned him for 18 hours, pressuring him to confess to a crime he not only didn’t commit, but didn’t happen.
“I didn’t do anything,” Quinn tells an investigator, in a tense moment caught on police security cameras and re-aired in the documentary. The officer quickly shuts him down: “Yeah, you did.”
Meanwhile, Huskins was held captive for two days and raped twice by her kidnapper.
Miraculously, she would reappear two days later outside of her family’s home in Orange County – a moment that in many cases would’ve been a time of relief. However, her sudden reappearance at her mother’s house only made investigators even more suspicious and they began to cast their doubt publicly.
“Today, there is no evidence to support the claims that this was a stranger abduction or an abduction at all,” then-Vallejo Police Lt. Kenny Park told the San Francisco Chronicle the same day Huskins was dropped off by her kidnappers. “Given the facts that have been presented thus far, this event appears to be an orchestrated event and not a kidnapping.”
For three months, police would continue to doubt on Huskins and Quinn – a public pressure that Quinn told PEOPLE this month had severely impacted their attempt to return to their normal lives again. The couple, both physical therapists in the Southern California area, struggled to even go back to work.
“Those months in between were unsustainable and we weren't able to go back to work,” Quinn said. “Partly because of trauma and partly because they wouldn't let us. Who wants to hire a hoaxer?”
Three months after Huskins returned, investigators with the FBI stepped in and cracked the case, tying evidence from a similar kidnapping at a home roughly 40 miles away from Vallejo. Authorities would eventually arrest Matthew Muller, a former Marine and disbarred Harvard-educated immigration attorney, who would accidentally confess to the crime during a hot mic incident while being interviewed by CBS.
Muller pleaded guilty to one count of federal kidnapping in 2016, but was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in November 2020 on state charges for kidnapping, rape by force, robbery and burglary.
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To this day, the couple still doesn’t understand why they were targeted.
"Like many victims, or many people who have gone through tragedy, you don't get all the answers,” Quinn said. "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.”
The couple's traumatic three months navigating the public's perception of them is recounted in Netflix's American Nightmare series.
"I hope people come away from after they see the film, that this isn't a bizarre kidnapping,” Quinn said. “What's quite bizarre is just the absolute lack of any sort of investigation. All the evidence was there to catch Muller and the other perpetrators within the first 24 hours, but the police put their head in the sand and said there was no sky. So that is the scary part, is that the confirmation bias and tunnel vision will just lead them to do nothing."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.
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