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  • Netflix’s “American Nightmare” looks at the disappearance of Denise Huskins in 2015.
  • She was kidnapped by Matthew Muller in Vallejo, California, in the middle of the night.
  • Here’s what happened to Muller.
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A bizarre kidnapping case is the focus of Netflix’s latest true-crime docuseries, “American Nightmare,” which examines what happened to Denise Huskins when she was taken from her partner’s California home in the middle of the night by a masked man.

The three-part docuseries, from “The Tinder Swindler” creators Felicity Morris and Bernadette Higgins, features in-depth interviews with Huskins and her now-husband, Aaron Quinn. In it, they recount how an intruder broke into Quinn’s house on March 23, 2015, and forced the couple to ingest a drink laced with drugs to put them to sleep.

Huskins was then put in the trunk of the intruder’s car and taken from Vallejo, California, to a property in South Lake Tahoe, where she was sexually assaulted twice on camera.

Meanwhile, Quinn, who awoke to messages from the kidnapper demanding ransom for Huskins’ return and warning him not to go to the authorities, was being interrogated by the police over Huskins’ disappearance.

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Two days after the abduction, the attacker drove Huskins 500 miles away and dropped her off near her family’s home in Huntington Beach.

The details of the case made Vallejo police suspicious of Huskins when she reappeared. This was partly because Quinn’s ex-fiancée, Andrea Roberts, had told the authorities she and Quinn had discussed rekindling their relationship while he was still dating Huskins.

When Huskins reappeared after her ordeal, Vallejo police accused her of staging the abduction as a hoax. They compared it to the events in Gillian Flynn’s 2012 crime thriller, “Gone Girl,” which was later adapted into a 2014 film by David Fincher. The story sees the devious Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike in the movie) fake a kidnapping plot to toy with her unfaithful husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck).

Despite a San Francisco Chronicle journalist receiving messages from a person taking credit for the kidnapping, both before and after Huskins’ release, the Vallejo police gave a public statement that Huskins’ abduction was an “orchestrated event” and had not been a real kidnapping.

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The truth, however, didn’t mirror fiction. Authorities later concluded that Huskins and Quinn weren’t lying after investigations into a separate kidnapping attempt in Dublin, California, almost three months later indicated that the two cases may have been connected.

The police were led to the former marine and disbarred lawyer Matthew Muller, who had left his phone behind at the scene of the Dublin attempted kidnapping. Muller was ultimately ID’d as Huskins’ kidnapper, and the Vallejo police eventually apologized publicly to Huskins for labeling her ordeal a hoax.

Matthew Muller is in prison after being convicted of the kidnapping, rape, and false imprisonment of Denise Huskins

A photo of Matthew Muller, as seen in Netflix’s “American Nightmare.”
Netflix

After the Dublin police arrested Muller and searched his property in South Lake Tahoe in June 2015, they found video footage filmed by the former lawyer as he assaulted Huskins. A Dublin detective, Misty Carausu, whom Huskins and Quinn called a hero in the docuseries, was the one who realized there was a link between that case and the unsolved Huskins case and contacted Vallejo police with her suspicions.

Not only did the authorities find Quinn’s stolen computer in the house, but the Huntington Beach address where Huskins had been dropped off was still in the GPS history of Muller’s car. The FBI became involved in the investigation at that point because Muller most likely used the US highway system to transport Huskins from Vallejo to his home in South Lake Tahoe and then from South Lake Tahoe to Huntington Beach when he released her.

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Muller was indicted in a Sacramento federal court on kidnapping charges in October 2015, nearly seven months after Huskins’ abduction. In 2016, Muller pleaded guilty to kidnapping for ransom. On March 16, 2017, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

“Muller had advantages in life that most people only dream of, yet he used his considerable intelligence to plan and execute the physical assault and psychological torture of two innocent strangers,” the US attorney Phillip A. Talbert said in a statement announcing the sentencing. “It is difficult to imagine the level of suffering that Muller inflicted on his victims. The sentence handed down today takes into account that suffering and strives to ensure that Muller will never again commit such crimes.”

Muller’s plea agreement says he spoke with a KPIX reporter while detained in the Alameda County Jail and suggested that the abduction of Huskins hadn’t been random, though he didn’t give a reason for targeting Huskins and Quinn. Muller also admitted that, despite initially claiming in his emails to the San Francisco Chronicle reporter that he was part of a group of kidnappers, he’d acted alone and that he sent the emails to the reporter because he’d learned the kidnapping had been labeled a hoax by the Vallejo police.

Muller wasn’t charged with sexual assault or rape in federal court, as a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s office said there wasn’t an appropriate federal charge for those crimes.

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State charges for the rape of Huskins were filed in Solano County Superior Court against Muller in 2018. But the trial was paused in 2020 as the defendant was ordered to take anti-psychotic medication in Napa State Hospital, CBS News reported.

Muller pleaded no contest to two counts of forcible rape before pleading guilty to robbery of a residential dwelling, burglary, kidnapping, and false imprisonment.

In 2022, Muller was sentenced to 31 years in prison on the state charges. He’s housed in the FCI Tucson prison in Arizona, where he’s serving the 31 years of his state sentence concurrently with the 40-year sentence from his federal conviction (meaning the additional conviction hasn’t added any time to his sentence). According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate list, Muller, now 46, isn’t set to be released until July 2049.

Meanwhile, Quinn and Huskins, who have since married and had a child, filed a lawsuit against the Vallejo police for defamation after being accused of faking the kidnapping. They received a $2.5 million settlement in 2018, nearly three years after their ordeal.

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If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) or visit its website to receive confidential support.

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Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) or visit its website to receive confidential support.