Netflix has released a riveting new true crime documentary series called “American Nightmare”, examining the shocking 2015 kidnapping of Denise Huskins that police initially dismissed as an elaborate hoax.
Couple’s ‘Gone Girl’ Ordeal Sparks National Outrage
On March 23, 2015, Aaron Quinn woke up handcuffed to a bed in his Vallejo, California home, while his girlfriend Denise Huskins was missing. Quinn told police a masked intruder drugged and kidnapped them, but detectives were skeptical of his story. Two days after Quinn reported the crime, Huskins mysteriously reappeared over 400 miles away in Southern California.
Police then publicly accused Quinn of staging Huskins’ abduction to mimic the plot of the popular book and movie “Gone Girl”. The couple faced skepticism, doubt and blame over the bizarre circumstances of the kidnapping. Eventually, the shocking truth emerged – a dangerous criminal named Matthew Muller was responsible, and systemic failures by law enforcement allowed him to remain free to strike again.
The new Netflix documentary provides an intimate look at Huskins and Quinn’s harrowing ordeal and fight to prove their innocence after police dismissed the case as a hoax.
Police Botch Investigation, Accuse Innocent Couple
Despite Quinn providing evidence of the break-in and reporting the crime immediately, Vallejo police were quick to determine his story was fiction. Even more unbelievably, they accused Huskins of being a willing participant.
“When authorities turned on Denise and I, it was beyond imagination,” Quinn told People Magazine. “It was so dystopian how authorities behaved.”
|Huskins’ boyfriend who was also victimized by the kidnapping
|Victim of elaborate 2-day kidnapping
|Kidnapper revealed to be a disgraced Harvard-trained attorney
|Vallejo Police Department
|Botched investigation, accused Huskins and Quinn of staging a hoax
When Huskins reappeared days later, investigators demanded she come in for questioning, but instead she chose to escape the area, feeling unsafe with how police had already treated her and Quinn.
Meanwhile, detectives prematurely held a press conference naming the couple as prime suspects who faked the kidnapping. The national media picked up the story, fuelling speculation.
“It was absolutely an incompetent, tunnel vision investigation,” leading crime journalist Billy Jensen says in the documentary of the police response.
Vallejo police had wrongly convinced themselves that no kidnapper existed – dismissing evidence to the contrary – while callously allowing the actual perpetrator to escape capture longer.
Voice Recordings Help Identify Real Culprit
A major break in the case eventually came when an unknown person sent Quinn’s brother mysterious recordings of a man apologizing for the kidnapping. The documentary reveals how a critical clue within the recordings helped crack open the truth.
“There was a beep, I recognized it – it was my Harvard clock, which next to my bed would go off every single morning,” Matthew Muller says of what tipped him off.
As a former classmate, Muller recognized the distinct tone of a clock gifted to all Harvard graduates. This clue led investigators to finally focus on Muller as the suspect, rather than the innocent couple.
The disgraced attorney had carried out the bizarre abduction plan as revenge over a previous career failure. His role as the real kidnapper was definitively confirmed through tracing the origin of emails he exchanged with Denise’s employers demanding ransom money.
Vindication – But Trauma Lingers
With evidence mounting, Muller was arrested in June 2015 for the kidnapping. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty.
The documentary captures the relief Huskins and Quinn felt to be finally vindicated and exonerated after the truth emerged. Their lawyer bluntly observes: “I’ve never seen a case with more police misconduct.”
But the couple must still live with the psychological scars from the life-changing event. Heartbreakingly, Huskins reveals she suffered a miscarriage five weeks after the kidnapping, which doctors attributed to immense stress.
Though Quinn has found forgiveness, the pain remains: “I don’t want to carry bitterness, but I hope [the police] feel ashamed about what they did,” he told People Magazine.
Huskins adds she has been diagnosed with Complex PTSD from her trauma. But both marvel at how they endured the unimaginable together: “Aaron is 100 percent the reason I got through this.”
Filmmaker Neta Gerard realized Huskins and Quinn’s story sharply exposed failures in how seriously police take women amid unusual criminal cases.
“It revealed a criminal justice system and a society that revictimizes women again and again,” she told Entertainment Weekly of what drew her to the subject.
What Comes Next?
Now with their storyreaching Netflix’s global audience, Huskins and Quinn hope lasting change emerges from the systemic lapses and prejudice that disrupted their lives.
Quinn has filed four lawsuits against individuals and agencies involved in the botched investigation, seeking accountability. The new publicity from the documentary will likely increase pressure for reform.
Vallejo police also hope to rebuild trust, but for Huskins, Quinn and victim advocates, much doubt lingers on whether genuine changes will come. The couple notably vow they would never call Vallejo police again if victimized anew.
Ultimately the harrowing case highlights how prejudice and lack of empathy among authorities can undermine serving justice – a theme likely to spark debate and calls for change as viewers engage with this gripping true story.
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