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Crime News

Is 'Gone Girl' Based On A True Story? Well, Not Exactly

"Gone Girl" came from the imagination of Gillian Flynn, but the popular book has been referenced in headlines about criminal cases since.

By Becca van Sambeck
Gillian Flynn attends the 10th Annual Governors Awards gala.

Spoilers for "Gone Girl" follow.

One of the biggest mystery books of the 2000s, "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn, riveted readers with its portrait of a marriage gone wrong, its twisted female narrator, and the stunning midway twist. It spawned a hit film adaptation, countless copycats ... and headline mentions in real-life crime cases.

In "Gone Girl," Nick Dunne discovers his wife, Amy Dunne, has gone missing — and evidence soon turns up suggesting she was murdered and he was behind it. It turns out Amy orchestrated the entire ordeal, faking her own murder and planting evidence against Nick to teach her cheating husband a lesson. It's a fictional read, but did it take inspiration from real life?

Flynn confirmed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2012 "Gone Girl" is a work of pure fiction, although she did acknowledge readers could see some similarities with the Scott Peterson case. (Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, in a case that generated national headlines — much like Nick, his in-laws publicly withdrew their support of him after learning of his extramarital affair.)

"I definitely didn’t want to do anything specific. One could point to Scott and Laci Peterson — they were certainly a good-looking couple. But they’re always good-looking couples. That’s why they end up on TV," she said when asked about real-life inspirations. "You don’t normally see incredibly ugly people who’ve gone missing and it becomes a sensation. It could be any number of those types of cases, but that was what kind of interested me: the selection and the packaging of a tragedy. In a way, I reverse-engineered some of it. What’s going to amp up the media’s interest in this, and what’s going to make it believable that the media’s going to descend on this?"

She did acknowledge, though, in another interview with the outlet, that she was inspired by fictional works of art, including "Rosemary's Baby," "Notes On A Scandal," and "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?"

RELATED: A Faked Kidnapping, A Serial Killer's Lies And Other Famous Crime Hoaxes

However, "Gone Girl" has become a reference point in other criminal cases since. In the Jennifer Dulos case, for example, her husband's attorney suggested a "Gone Girl" theory to explain her disappearance.

Jennifer Dulos was a Connecticut mom who vanished in May 2019. Her estranged husband, Fotis Dulos, became the prime suspect in the case, as authorities suspected from evidence found in her home she had been murdered. He and his girlfriend at the time, Michelle Troconis, were also also allegedly captured on video disposing of garbage bags, some of which contained bloody clothing, in multiple trash receptacles after her disappearance, according to the arrest warrants for the pair.

Fotis' attorney, Norm Pattis, publicly suggested Jennifer staged her own disappearance in a "Gone Girl"-like move, telling The New York Post Jennifer had previously written a manuscript with similarities to Flynn's novel.

“This is a person who has a pretty florid imagination and motives to use it to hurt Mr. Dulos,” Pattis told the outlet.

He also made a statement to NBC News where he noted “we don't know what had become of Jennifer but the 'Gone Girl' hypothesis is very much on our mind."

A spokesperson for Jennifer's family slammed the theory, claiming the manuscript had "nothing to do" with the plot of "Gone Girl."

“This is not fiction or a movie. This is real life, as experienced every single day by Jennifer’s five young children, her family, and her friends,” spokesperson Carrie Luft said, according to Fox News. “We are heartbroken. Jennifer is not here to protect her children, and these false and irresponsible allegations hurt the children now and into the future.”

Flynn herself also criticized the theory.

"I’ve seen in recent coverage that Jennifer’s husband and his defense attorney have put forward a so-called ‘Gone Girl theory’ to explain Jennifer’s disappearance,” she told local ABC affiliate WTNH at the time. “It absolutely sickens me that a work of fiction written by me would be used by Fotis Dulos’s lawyer as a defense, and as a hypothetical, sensationalized motive behind Jennifer’s very real and very tragic disappearance.”

Fotis Dulos died by suicide in 2020. Jennifer's body has never been found.

"Gone Girl" also became a reference point for the Denise Huskin case, with horrifying consequences.

In 2015, an armed man broke into Aaron Quinn's California home, where he and his girlfriend, Denise Huskins, were sleeping. The intruder tied the couple up and forced them to listen to a pre-recorded message which stated Huskins would be taken and returned in 48 hours, and not to call police. Huskins was then kidnapped and repeatedly raped by her abductor before being released.

When Quinn and Huskins took their account to police, they became subject to online ridicule, with the police even publicly casting doubt.

“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. So, if anything, it is Mr. Quinn and Ms. Huskins that owe this community an apology,” Vallejo police spokesperson Lt. Kenny Park said at the time, according to SF Gate.

Huskins was described as the real-life "Gone Girl," until the intruder — Matthew Muller, a U.S. Marine and former Harvard Law School student — was caught committing a similar break-in and evidence connected him to Huskins and Quinn.

The couple has since a received a $2.5 million out-of-court settlement from the Vallejo Police Department for the way authorities publicly handled the case.

“What happened to us should not happen to anyone,” the couple said at the time, according to SF Gate. “Victims should be protected in their time of need, not humiliated on a public stage. We hope that this settlement brings inspiration to others like us to speak up and keep fighting.”

Sherri Papini also earned comparisons to the fictional Amy Dunne after her lies were exposed. 

Your First Look at the New Special Sherri Papini: Lies, Lies and More Lies

Sherri vanished while out for a jog in California in November 2016. Three weeks later, she was found about 150 miles from where she disappeared with visible injuries and a chain around her waist. She claimed she had been abducted by two Hispanic women, held captive, and been tortured until they let her go.

It was all a lie. Investigators eventually discovered Sherri, a married mother of two, had actually planned her disappearance and had been living with an ex-boyfriend the whole time. She had faked her own injuries to back up her story.

Sherri's husband, Keith Papini, ultimately filed for divorce this year. Sherri was sentenced to 18 months in prison for her kidnapping hoax.

You can learn more about Sherri Papini's story in the 90-minute special "Sherri Papini: Lies, Lies And More Lies," premiering on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 9/8c on Oxygen.