The almost-too-nutty-to-be-believed 2015 rape and kidnapping case involving Denise Huskins and then boyfriend Aaron Quinn, who lived on Mare Island near Vallejo, has been turned into a new docu-series from the team behind 2022's The Tinder Swindler.
If you lived here in the last decade, it would have been hard to avoid the case of Denise Huskins, who was at first dubbed a "real-life Gone Girl" as her kidnapping occurred about six months after the release of the 2014 David Fincher film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel. 29 years old at the time, Huskins disappeared from the home she shared with boyfriend Aaron Quinn one night in March 2015. Quinn took hours to contact police, and when he did, he told a tale that seemed too far-fetched, too cinematic in its details to be believed.
Quinn said that multiple suspects in wetsuits had snuck into the couple's home while they were sleeping, blindfolded, tied up, and sedated him and put headphones on his ears that suggested multiple voices of attackers. These attackers then took Huskins, he said, but Vallejo police were very quick to disbelieve him — as was most of the local media including SFist — even after the supposed kidnappers write a nine-page email to the Chronicle discussing their designs on being "gentleman criminals" in the style of Oceans 11, and their reasons for demanding a ransom of just $8,500.
Huskins turned up alive at her father's home in Huntington Beach, California, and she said that she had been sexually assaulted during her brief kidnapping. Vallejo police threatened legal action against she and Quinn for wasting their time. And it would be three and a half months before the public learned the truth, and a suspect who was a complete stranger to Huskins and Quinn was arrested for a separate home invasion in Dublin.
That suspect, then-38-year-old Matthew Muller, had been caught after a botched home invasion in which a married Dublin couple had been told to lie facedown on their bed by a strange intruder while he tied them up. The husband fought back, the wife called police, and Muller fled the home leaving behind a cellphone that was used to trace him to a home in South Lake Tahoe.
It would later emerge that Muller had allegedly been committing these bizarre home invasions, typically targeting women, for a while, and that he suffered from bipolar disorder and some sort of grandiosity complex, which contributed to the kookiness of that earlier email to the Chronicle — and to his use of the first person plural, even though he acted alone. He was also a Harvard-educated lawyer with military training who appeared to be spinning out of control.
The case has been covered in a retrospective manner several times since then, including by ABC News in this primetime special in 2021. (Huskins and Quinn are now married with a child, by the way.) But it's never gotten the full documentary treatment until now.
Former SFist editor Eve Batey, now writing for Vanity Fair, has a review out this week of American Nightmare, the new docu-series about the case by Bernadette Higgins and Felicity Morris, now out on Netflix.
And, it should be noted, the Vallejo Police Department declined to participate in the documentary, probably because it's just one more embarrassment of many for that effed police department.
"We would have loved for them to contribute to the series," Higgins tells VF. "It really could have been an opportunity for them to humble themselves — to talk about the mistakes that were made, and to talk about the whole opportunity for learning and opportunity for growth."
Also do note: Batey points us to news we missed that the infamous 2016 Sherri Papini case out of Redding, which was also compared to Gone Girl and was indeed a hoax, has gotten the green light to become a documentary from the director of Britney vs. Spears.
American Nightmare is available to stream now on Netflix in three parts, and the trailer is below.