Spoiler alert! The following contains details revealed in Netflix’s new true-crime docuseries “American Nightmare,” now streaming.
Hours after an intruder abducted Aaron Quinn’s girlfriend from his home about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, he sat in a cramped police department interrogation room. A detective accused him of playing a part in Denise Huskins‘ death, either by killing her himself or at least covering it up.
“They did not come into your house and kidnap her and take her for ransom. That did not happen,” Detective Mat Mustard of Vallejo, California, told Quinn, as seen in Netflix’s three-part docuseries “American Nightmare” (now streaming). “The longer she stays wherever she is and she begins to rot, the more of a monster you look like.”
But Quinn stuck to his story. He said in the early morning hours of March 23, 2015, an intruder clad in a wetsuit broke into his home and directed Huskins to zip-tie his hands behind his back. The intruder put blacked-out goggles and headphones on Quinn, took his blood pressure and gave him sedatives. He revealed he’d intended to kidnap Quinn’s former fiancee, Andrea Roberts, but said he would take Huskins anyway, hoping to secure a ransom. The intruder warned Quinn that he installed a camera to watch him and would harm Huskins if he stepped out of view. The kidnapper then shoved Huskins into the trunk of Quinn’s Toyota Camry and fled.
Huskins’ kidnapping, the subsequent suspicion of Quinn and the backlash that resulted when Huskins returned home are chronicled in “American Nightmare.”
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“To call 911 was the hardest decision in my life because the kidnappers had told me, ‘You call the police, we kill her,’ ” Quinn tells USA TODAY. “But I knew I had to do something because I can’t trust people who would do this.”
Officers found Quinn’s story to be too far-fetched. “They put me in prison clothes to make me feel like a prisoner,” Quinn remembers. “They give you a false dichotomy: It’s either it was an accident or you’re a cold, calculated murderer … Case is already closed. We have decided that. And they will do that hour after hour after hour after hour.”
Huskins’ mother recalls in “American Nightmare” that after she informed Mustard that her daughter had been molested as a child he told her that “women that have been sexually assaulted often pretend to have it happen again so they can relive the thrill of it.”
The Vallejo Police Department did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment on the docuseries.
Scrutiny of Quinn and Huskins, who wed in 2018, intensified after Huskins was returned to her hometown of Huntington Beach two days after her kidnapping. She’d been held captive and raped, but law enforcement didn’t believe that, either.
“I couldn’t really feel relief yet until I got to my family,” Huskins shares in an interview. She just wanted her parents. “You revert back to the inner child needing to be loved and embraced, and seeing people who love and care for you, and I didn’t get that. I tried to find my family, and then instead I immediately spoke to police and was told that they were going to provide immunity and basically that they didn’t believe me and that I knew I needed to get an attorney. I just went from one nightmare to the next.”
The ordeal has been referred to in the media as the “Gone Girl” case, a reference to the movie, released five months before the kidnapping, that was based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller, in which a woman fakes her disappearance to frame her cheating husband.
“It could have been whatever other movie of the time that came out,” Huskins reasons. “The truly shocking thing for me was that law enforcement turned to fiction to drive their assessment of a real-life case. That was really shocking, like when my attorney told me that the FBI even told him that he should watch ‘Gone Girl’ (because) it would clear up a lot of things for him.”
Quinn says one of the biggest challenges is the absence of consequences for law enforcement. Mustard was voted officer of the year following Huskins’ disappearance and was promoted to sergeant in 2018, according to reports.
“Part of continuing to share our story is to try to shine a spotlight on the lack of accountability and hope that other law enforcement will change and that our rush to judgment will slow,” Quinn says. “We can’t prevent what happened to us, but we can try to prevent (it) from happening to other people.”
Huskins’ real kidnapper, Matthew Muller, was eventually captured, as detailed in the docuseries’ third episode. The former Marine was sentenced to 40 years in 2017 for kidnapping Huskins and 31 years in 2022 for raping her.
Huskins “had a lot of fears of just being a victim and not wanting someone to be with me just because they felt bad, but he right away said that I was his hero,” she says.
They went to individual therapy and couples counseling to help them heal.
“I think the biggest thing though that helped was that we never once blamed each other for any of it,” she says. “We understood each other, and we had amazing family and friends who supported us as well. All of that really helped. We were really just kind of attached at the hip ever since then.”
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