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Crime News Dateline

The Shocking Real-Life Story Behind Denise Huskins' Brazen Kidnapping

Denise Huskins was painted in the media as the real-life "Gone Girl" after she told police she had been kidnapped from her boyfriend's home under a bizarre set of circumstances, but Huskins' kidnapping claims were true and eventually led police to a surprising suspect.

By Jill Sederstrom

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. 

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Hours after his girlfriend Denise Huskins disappeared, Aaron Quinn reported to authorities that the couple was awakened in the middle of the night by someone threatening them with a stun gun, who used blacked out swim goggles to disorient them, forced Huskins to tie Quinn up, drugged him and then demanded he stay in one spot in the living room while the intruders kidnapped Huskins, according to Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.

When she mysteriously reappeared less than two days later near her mother’s house in Huntington Beach, California — even though no ransom had ever been paid — police began to suspect the kidnapping was nothing more than an elaborate hoax. In the media, Huskins was labeled the real life Gone Girl, a reference to the popular movie in which a woman orchestrated her own disappearance, and police alleged in a damaging press conference that the couple “plundered valuable resources” with their claims.

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But two months later, an eerily similar kidnapping attempt would lead police to a surprising suspect and prove Huskins and Quinn had been telling the truth all along.

What happened the night Denise Huskins was kidnapped? 

On March 24, 2015, Huskins had been spending the night at her boyfriend’s house in Vallejo, California. The couple, who both worked as physical therapists at a local hospital, enjoyed the night together. But the night took a terrifying turn around 3 a.m. when they were awakened by a bright light and electrical noise that sounded like a stun gun.

A man told them to lie on the bed face down, instructed Huskins to bind Quinn’s hands and feet and covered their eyes with blacked out swim goggles. After forcing Quinn to give up his banking information, a man demanded Quinn put on headphones playing calming music, take a combination of Nyquil and Valium, and remain within a square marked by red duct tape in the living room. The assailant told Quinn he was being monitored by a webcam before taking off with Huskins.

Quinn wouldn’t report the abduction to police for hours and when he did, police found the wild story hard to believe. His mother told Dateline, Quinn was given a polygraph five different times, put in jail clothing, kept in an interrogation room without much food or water, and forced to go over the details again and again.

“We are treating this as a kidnap and ransom and we’re requesting the public’s help in locating her,” Vallejo Police spokesman Kenny Park said at an initial press conference.

Then, 33 hours after she disappeared, Henry K. Lee, then a reporter with The San Francisco Chronicle, got a bizarre “proof of life” email including an audio file of Huskins herself providing her name, relaying the news events of the day to prove when the file was made, and describing biographical information only she would know.

“Ok, uh, my name is Denise Huskins,” she calmly said in the audio. “I’m kidnapped. Otherwise, I’m fine.”

Lee told Dateline he was struck by her “absolutely calm” demeanor “as if she was talking to a friend over coffee.” 

“Not terrified, not distressed at all,” he said.

Denise Huskins Is Found Safe

Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn during a press conference

Twelve hours later, the police made a dramatic announcement of their own. Earlier that day, around 10:30 a.m. Huskins was located safely in Huntington Beach, California, about 400 miles from her abduction site. She was allegedly dropped off not far from her mother’s house, even though no ransom was ever paid.

She told the Huntington Beach Police the same story Quinn had told two days earlier about her abduction and said she’d been raped by her attacker. The Vallejo Police requested she fly up to Vallejo and recount the details to their detectives, but she initially didn’t appear. 

Instead, Quinn and Huskins both hired their own attorneys, making investigators even more suspicious of their claims.

In a press conference held less than 12 hours after she had been recovered, Park voiced the department’s concerns, saying they were “not able to substantiate” any of Quinn’s claims about the kidnapping and seemingly suggested it may have been a hoax.

”Mr. Quinn and Miss Huskins have plundered valuable resources away from our community, while instilling fear amongst our community members,” Park said. “So if anything it is Mr. Quinn and Miss Huskins that owes this community an apology.” 

Huskins did arrive at the Vallejo Police station after the police’s bold statement, with her attorney, to insist she had been kidnapped.

Was Denise Huskins' Disappearance a Strange Hoax or Real-Life Horror?

Her supposed kidnapper even reached out to Lee again in lengthy emails, including photos of some of the materials used in the kidnapping and a photo of a room with a window partially covered with cardboard where Huskins had allegedly been held. The letters insisted that Huskins had been kidnapped by a savvy group of criminals. 

“We will not stand by and see the life of a really good person ruined,” one letter stated.

Police, however, weren’t convinced. 

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

Who kidnapped Denise Huskins?

For the next few weeks, the couple largely stayed out of the limelight until another crime would blow the case wide open.

Just after 3:30 a.m. on June 5, 2015 a woman called 911 to report an intruder had broken into their home. She told police she and her husband woke up in the middle of the night to find a man at the foot of their bed, shining a flashlight in their faces. He told them to lay on their bed face down and claimed to already have the couple’s 22-year-old daughter, who had been sleeping in the next room, in his possession.

Fearing for his daughter’s safety, the man attacked the intruder as his wife ran to the bathroom, locked herself in and called 911. 

“Her husband yells out at her ‘honey, go get the gun, go get the gun,’” Dublin Police Detective Rafael Alvarez told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered. “Now this was very smart on the father’s part because they have no gun, but he had to say anything to try to scare this guy away.” 

The man’s lie worked and the intruder quickly fled, but he left behind zip ties and a cell phone at the scene. Investigators tracked the phone to a man named Matthew Muller, a former Marine who had once been a promising attorney. 

Matthew Muller Ap

Muller’s mom told authorities her son was on his way to the family’s South Lake Tahoe cabin. 

When authorities tracked him down at the cabin, they found a room that matched the photo sent to Lee. In a stolen vehicle nearby they also discovered a BB gun, super soaker water gun painted black with a flashlight and laser pointer duct taped to it, and some blacked out swim goggles with a long blonde hair stuck to the tape.

The stolen vehicle’s navigation history showed it had been driven to Huntington Beach and stopped in the same spot where Huskins was released.

Muller was arrested and charged with kidnapping Huskins. Authorities believe Muller, a Harvard educated attorney who later lost his law license when his life began a downward spiral, acted alone in the brazen set of crimes.

Muller later pleaded guilty to the kidnapping in federal court and pleaded no contest to the later home invasion. He was sentenced to 40 years behind bars.

Where is Denise Huskins now?

Huskins went on to marry Quinn and the couple started a family together

As for Vallejo Police, they later issued a formal apology to the pair.

“What happened to Ms. Huskins and Mr. Quinn is horrific and evil. As the new Chief of Police, I am committed to making sure survivors are given compassionate service with dignity and respect,” Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams once said in an email to Oxygen.com. “Although I was not chief in 2015 when this incident occurred, I would like to extend my deepest apology to Ms. Huskins and Mr. Quinn for how they were treated during this ordeal.”