Denise was kidnapped and held captive. After she escaped, police say she pulled a 'Gone Girl'.

This story includes descriptions of sexual assault that may be distressing to some readers.

Denise Huskins' story sounds like something lifted from the pages of a twisted thriller novel.

In 2015, Denise and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, awoke in the middle of the night to their Californian home being broken into. It was a horrific ordeal, culminating in Denise being abducted and taken to a remote location, while Aaron was drugged and left on the couch.

He woke up the next morning to a ransom demand to ensure his partner's safe return.

Thankfully, Denise was released after two days. But this wouldn't be the moment of salvation that she expected. Instead, she would be re-victimised by the Vallejo police not believing her story.

The police thought the entire abduction was a hoax inspired by Gillian Flynn’s novel and David Fincher's film adaptation, Gone Girl, which had only relatively recently come out in cinemas.

The couple's story and the aftermath of the abduction are masterfully explored in Netflix's American Nightmare, a three-part docuseries featuring interviews with Denise, Aaron, their loved ones, and detectives involved in the case.

Watch the trailer for American Nightmare. Post continues below.

Video via Netflix. 

The documentary effectively weaves different perspectives throughout the episodes, leaving the viewer to grapple with which account is the truth. The first episode relays the events from the viewpoint of Aaron, the second from Denise's point of view, and finally, Sergeant Misty Carausu, who was integral in eventually identifying the kidnapper, Matthew Muller. 

From the filmmakers behind The Tinder Swindler, Felicity Morris and Bernadette Higgins, the docuseries features interrogation footage and audio recordings that cast a harsh light on the ways the justice system fails victims. 

The true story that inspired American Nightmare on Netflix. 

Denise Huskins and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn awoke in the middle of the night to blinding flashing lights and red laser dots crossing the walls. A pre-recorded voice told the couple "Wake up, this is a robbery. We’re not here to hurt you," Denise recalled to ABC News. 

The couple was bound, sedated and had blacked-out swimming goggles placed over their eyes to block their vision of the intruders who, according to the couple, said they were wearing wetsuits.

Denise was put into the trunk of a car, as Aaron was left sedated inside. During the ordeal, he was told not to move or call 911, as security cameras had been installed in the house. When he awoke, Aaron received a message telling him to transfer two payments of $8,500 in order to free his girlfriend.

After hours spent overcoming the effects of the sedation and being frozen by fear, Aaron finally called the police the next day. He was brought in for questioning and from the outset was treated not as a victim but as a suspect.


He was given prison clothes to wear, interrogated for 18 hours and told to take a polygraph test. The lie detector results were inconclusive, but Aaron was told he had failed, which heightened his paranoia.

The kidnapper tried to contact Aaron about the ransom, however, police had put his phone on airplane mode during their interrogation, meaning he couldn't get through.

Meanwhile, Denise was being kept in a remote location, forced to wear blacked-out swimming goggles, and had been told by her abductor that he was part of an underground crime mob.

Denise Huskins in American Nightmare. Image: Netflix. 


One kidnapper told her they'd actually been instructed to take Aaron's ex-fiancée, Andrea Roberts - but that didn't stop them taking Denise instead. 

During the 48 hours ordeal, Huskins was raped twice, her captor videotaping both assaults as collateral so she wouldn't seek help from the police.

Denise was also told that if she revealed the sexual assault to the police, her family would be killed.

After two days of being held hostage, she was released on a street in Huntington Beach, the area where her family lived. Huskins said in the documentary that on the day she was released, "The last thing you’re thinking about is: 'If I do survive, I've really got to make sure that all of this is believable.'"

But the day she was freed, Vallejo police quickly sought to switch the narrative. 

"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," the then-Vallejo Police Lt. Kenny Park stated in a crowded press conference.

"If anything, it is Mr. Quinn and Ms. Huskins that owe this community an apology."

Huskins' lawyer Doug Rappaport said in the documentary that when he asked an FBI agent whether his client was lying, they allegedly said "Haven't you seen the movie, Gone Girl?"

The plot of Gone Girl begins with Amy (played by Rosamund Pike in the movie) going missing on the wedding anniversary to her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck). 


Throughout the story, suspicions are cast over Nick's involvement in the kidnapping, until the entire narrative is turned on its head when it's revealed that Amy staged the entire ordeal to frame her husband, who had been cheating on her. 

Anyways, back to the documentary. The media grasped onto the notion that Denise was a 'real-life Gone Girl', producing salacious stories about how the entire abduction was a hoax crafted by the couple. 

Given the movie came out a year before the kidnapping, it was fresh in the collective consciousness. 

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. Image: 20th Century Fox. 


"The salience of a movie like Gone Girl is that it made sense of something that, at first, didn't. At first, you don't understand it, but the beauty of a movie like that is that it puts together a puzzle that makes you say, 'ah, that's weird, but now I understand it all,'" Melissa Hamilton, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice told the BBC about the case.

"The fact [that the FBI] were drawing on Gone Girl [is because] it was a storyline that was available to them."

In a shocking turn of events, as police turned their backs on the couple, it was the kidnapper who felt the urge to speak up in Denise's defence, sending multiple emails and photographic evidence to a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle to verify the couple's story.

"We cannot stand to see two good people thrown under the bus by the police and media, when Ms. Victim F [Denise] and Mr. Victim M [Aaron] should have received only support and sympathy," said one email. "We are responsible for the victims' suffering and the least we can do is come forward to prove they are not lying."

But the kidnapper's pleas were ignored and the case continued to stagnate, until a starkly similar abduction was attempted in Dublin, California - but this time the victims managed to overpower the intruder, who left his phone behind during the break-in.

Dublin police traced the phone to the mother of Matthew Muller, leading sergeant Misty Carausu to his cabin in the woods - the same location Denise had described as where she was held captive. It was here that Carausu started putting the pieces of the puzzle together tying the failed abduction to Denise's case.


In 2017, Matthew Muller was sentenced to 40 years in prison on federal kidnapping charges. In 2022, he received a state prison sentence of 31 years for rape, robbery, burglary, and false imprisonment, which would be served concurrently to the original sentence.

Denise and Aaron have always maintained they believe there was more than one suspect involved in the kidnapping.

In 2018, the couple received a $2.5 million settlement from the city of Vallejo, and while police apologised, no police officer was ever disciplined for their treatment of the pair. In fact, the detective who interrogated both Denise and Aaron went on to win an award.

Denise and Aaron married in 2018, later welcoming their first daughter, Olivia, and a second, Naomi.

The couple has since released a book, Victim F: From Crime Victims, To Suspects, To Survivors, about their experience, and have become advocates working against unconscious bias in policing and victim blaming.

American Nightmare is available to stream on Netflix.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Feature Image: Netflix.

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