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American Nightmare: The wild true story behind new viral Netflix show

The documentary details the shocking saga of a kidnapping turned media circus.

TW: This article contains references to sexual assault.

Netflix's latest true-crime obsession, American Nightmare, is playing out everyone's worst-nightmare-come-true right now, and fans of the streaming service are suitably hooked.

The riveting three-part documentary takes a deep dive into the harrowing tale of Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn, unravelling the true story behind a police investigation turned media spectacle, putting the victim in the hot seat with allegations of masterminding her own abduction.

The Netflix docuseries American Nightmare recounts the 2015 kidnap-for-ransom ordeal of Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn Photo: Netflix
The Netflix docuseries American Nightmare recounts the 2015 kidnap-for-ransom ordeal of Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn Photo: Netflix

The series features all new interviews with the couple and explores how they say local law enforcement and the FBI failed them.

Here's what really went down.

The true story behind American Nightmare

The bizarre abduction of the North Californian woman made headlines nearly a decade ago, first for the accusations of a hoax kidnapping and then for the horrifying truth that eventually came out.

On the night of March 23, 2015, Denise Huskins and her then-boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, were jolted awake by an intruder at Quinn's Vallejo, California home. The intruder allegedly bound and blindfolded them, placed duct tape-covered goggles over their eyes, drugged them and kidnapped Huskins for ransom.

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However, when Quinn eventually freed himself and called authorities to report the kidnapping the following day, police didn't believe his story. Instead, he became the prime suspect in Huskins' disappearance.

The first episode of American Nightmare details the intense interrogation of Quinn, captured on CCTV footage, where Detective Mathew Mustard accuses him of murdering Huskins and disposing of her body. During this time, the kidnappers were attempting to establish ransom communication, but police had Quinn's phone on airplane mode.

Quinn became the prime suspect in the case, with detectives telling him during an interrogation they didn't believe his version of events. Photo: Netflix
Quinn became the prime suspect in the case, with detectives telling him during an interrogation they didn't believe his version of events. Photo: Netflix

Days later, when Huskins was found safe about 400 miles away, wandering her hometown of Huntington Beach in Southern California, she told investigators that she was raped twice, drugged, and blinded, but the police ultimately accused the couple of orchestrating a kidnapping hoax.

"I just want someone to believe me," Huskins says in American Nightmare, revealing she has been a victim of sexual assault as a young girl and again as a teenager.

"Here I am, literally taken in the middle of the night, my body stolen and violated, and they still don't believe me," Huskins adds. "I don't know what needs to happen to me, what needs to happen to any woman, for them to be believed."

American Nightmare: A real-life Gone Girl

The ensuing media frenzy drew parallels to a "real-life Gone Girl" scenario, referencing the popular novel and film where a woman stages her own murder and frames her husband for the crime.

“It didn’t make any sense to have law enforcement — the people who have the power to investigate and to help — just turn against you. It made it that much more frightening,” Huskins explained to Tudum nine years after the events.

“It was just layers upon layers, and then finding out what evidence they had at the time that they did not use, they could have saved me. There was just so many layers of betrayal and injustice.”

VALLEJO, CA - JULY 13: Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn stand in silence during a press conference on July 13, 2015. (Photo by Chris Riley/MediaNews Group/Vallejo Times Herald via Getty Images)
Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn found themselves under a veil of suspicion for months. Photo: Getty Images

How does American Nightmare end?

American Nightmare, ends up taking a very different turn to Gone Girl, revealing that the couple was genuinely honest about the terrifying events of March 2015.

Matthew Muller, an ex-Marine and disbarred Harvard-educated attorney, was arrested and charged with robbery and assault after Police Detective Sergeant Misty Carausu drew a connection to a similar home invasion attempt in her jurisdiction.

"They were calling this woman a liar on national news," Dublin Police Sergeant Misty Carausu says of Huskins in American Nightmare. "But I just wanted to reach through the computer and give her a hug and say: 'I got you'."

Carausu went to Muller’s South Lake Tahoe cabin and found items like a toy gun with an attached laser pointer and duct-taped goggles with a blonde strand of hair attached, further corroborating Huskins' and Quinn’s story.

The couple sued the City of Vallejo for defamation and won a $2.5 million settlement in 2018.

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What happened to Matthew Muller from American Nightmare?

As for Matthew Muller, he's currently serving a 31-year prison sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona, after pleading guilty to kidnapping for ransom in 2016.

He told a judge at the time that he was "sick with shame" for the "pain and horror" he caused.

While the couple insists Muller couldn't have acted alone, as of 2024, he remains the only person charged.

Matthew Muller mug shot.
Matthew Muller pleaded guilty to charges of federal kidnapping in 2015. Photo: AP

Are Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn still together?

Since Huskins' kidnapping, the couple has tied the knot and is now raising two daughters, aged one and four.

“There’s a lot to be grateful for in our day-to-day lives, and with [our daughters], it’s even more motivation to step outside of our comfort zones and expose ourselves on a bigger scale,” Huskins told Tudum. “If we can influence any kind of change to help better society for them, then it’s all worth it.”

The couple sued the City of Vallejo for defamation and won a $2.5 million settlement in 2018, the LA Times reported.

“What happened to us should not happen to anyone,” the couple wrote in a statement at the time. “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.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual or domestic abuse, don't suffer in silence, call 1800 RESPECT any time of day or night.

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