The abduction of Denise Huskins
On March 23, 2015, at 1:53 PM, a Kaiser Permanente physical therapist, Aaron Quinn, called police in Vallejo, California to report a kidnapping and ransom demand for $8,500 dollars. According to Quinn, he and his live-in girlfriend, Denise Huskins, awoke at 3:00 AM to blinding, bright lights shining in their faces. The kidnapper[s] (Aaron and Denise later told police that they could not see how many men there were) ordered Huskins to bind Quinn’s legs with zipties. Swim goggles with covered lenses were placed over Quinn and Huskins’ eyes. The kidnappers placed headphones on Quinn’s head and soon, Quinn heard a pre-recorded message listing the abductors’ demands for the return of his girlfriend.
29-year-old Denise Huskins was a beautiful So-Cal girl, 5’ 7” and about 145 lbs. with sun-tinted blonde hair and glowing hazel eyes. She worked as a physical therapist alongside Quinn at Kaiser Permanente, and lived with him in his charming, two-story yellow home on the 500 block of Kirkland Avenue.
The kidnappers told Quinn they had stashed cameras in the home and that they would see every move he made after they left the scene. He was ordered to refrain from calling the police and then instructed to drink a liquid offered to him in a cup. Drugged to unconsciousness, Quinn fell into a deep asleep while the abductors placed Huskins in the trunk of Quinn’s 2000 Toyota Camry and drove away.
Authorities suspect a hoax
Police found $8,500 an unusually low amount for a ransom demand and not believing Quinn was drugged, wondered why he took so long to report the kidnapping. Later that day, Quinn was questioned by the police for more than seventeen hours. When Quinn recognized that the line of questioning pointed to him as the primary suspect, he requested his attorneys, Amy Morton and Dan Russo, be present. With consent from the attorneys, Quinn provided the police full access to his home and turned over his computer, cellphone, clothes, passwords, and blood and fingerprint tests. Even Huskins’ father supported him, insisting that Quinn had not been involved. In fact, Huskins’ father told police that just days earlier, his daughter had told him, “Dad, I think I’m in love.”
Newspapers covering the event called the story “a possible kidnapping”. However, opinions changed the following day after the kidnappers did the unexpected and began communicating with the police through San Francisco’s largest newspaper. On March 24, 2015, The San Francisco Chronicle received an audible recording of Huskins, “I’m kidnapped, otherwise I’m fine.” Huskins also provided a recent news event as proof she was still alive: “Earlier today, there was a plane crash in the Alps and 158 people died.” Included with the recording was a note from the kidnappers that read:
“Huskins will be returned safely (Wednesday). We will send a link to her location after she has been dropped off. She will be in good health and safe while she waits. Any advance on us or our associates will create a dangerous situation for Denise. Wait until she is recovered and then proceed how you will. We will be ready.”
As expected, Aaron Quinn was overjoyed to hear his fiancé was still alive:
“When I heard the recording, that gave me hope.”
Renewing their efforts, police focused their search on Mare Island, an inlet in Vallejo where the young couple lived. More than 100 personnel joined the search as police combed the Mare Island waterfront. Police were quick to stress that there was no specific tip that led them to the location – they were simply focusing on the area which was in close proximity to Huskins’ home.
Huskins reappears 400 miles away in her hometown
Two days after the abduction, on March 25, 2015, Huskins’ father, Mike Huskins, received a voice message from his daughter. The message simply stated that she was safe, near her parents’ home in Huntington Beach, 400 miles from where she was taken. According to Denise, the kidnappers “just dropped her off”.
At the time of the phone call, Mike Huskins was not near his home in Hunting Beach but rather, had travelled to Vallejo to assist in the search for his daughter. He told reporters that upon receiving the unexpected message from his daughter:
“I almost had a heart attack. I tried to get authorities to pick her up, but they kept asking me a bunch of questions. I said, ‘Send a squad car.’ I was hyperventilating.”
Police again hint something is awry
Mike informed the police where Huskins said she was located and hurried back to Huntington Beach where he found Denise safe and sound in his apartment. She was of course, terrified and in shock. Vallejo investigators worked with the FBI to arrange an interview with Denise and agreed to fly her back to Northern California for questioning. They issued a public statement which once again sounded oddly suspicious.
“We are still treating this as a kidnap for ransom. We have no reason to believe otherwise. At this point, from an investigative standpoint, nothing has changed.”
The family was dismayed. How could the police even hint that this was not a kidnapping? In the police’s eyes however, not only was the ransom amount unusually low but the intricate series of events played out like a plot from a Hollywood movie. Was it coincidence that Huskins had been released so near her parents’ home? Why would kidnappers release her mere hours before the ransom was due? Why did Huskins go to her father’s apartment rather than rushing to the police station to give her account of what had happened?
Police declare the kidnapping an orchestrated event and ask for an apology from Huskins and Quinn
That night, several hours after Denise Huskins showed up in Huntington Beach, detectives announced that she had not flown to Northern California as instructed and stated the kidnapping appeared to be an “orchestrated event”.
“There is no evidence to support the claims that this was a stranger abduction or an abduction at all. This event appears to be an orchestrated event and not a kidnapping.”
Police pointed out that there were 40 officers and more than 100 support staff involved in the search which had diverted attention and resources from “real victims”. Lt. Kenny Park (Vallejo Police Department) told reporters:
“The fact that we wasted all these resources for essentially nothing is really upsetting.”
He went on the say that Huskins and her boyfriend owed the Vallejo community an apology.
Huskins family discount police claims that the kidnapping was faked
On the following day (March 26, 2015), the Huskins family strongly denied the kidnapping was a hoax. Denise’s uncle, Jeff Kane, referred to investigator’s comments as “reckless” and called their statements a “character assassination”. He added that he had spoken with Denise and that she was still in distress. He explained that she did not want to jump immediately on a plane for a police interview because she was in shock and “wanted to be near the family members she feared she’d never see again.”
The kidnappers bizarre email campaign to news media outlets
For the next few days, family members haggled with the police over the situation and prodded the media to keep the story front and center in their coverage. Their efforts were not needed however because on March 31, 2015, the kidnappers contacted newspaper media themselves emphasizing the abduction was real and demanding an apology from the police.
The San Francisco Chronicle received a 12-page email while the Los Angeles Times received a 19-page manifesto detailing the crime and insisting it was legit. In the emails, which used fake addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, the abductors identified themselves as college-graduates and referred to themselves as a sort of real-life “Ocean’s Eleven, gentlemen criminals”. They explained that they had desired a large payout in order to leave a life of crime stealing cars and ransacking homes and said the Huskins kidnapping was intended to be a “practice kidnapping”. However, it turned out to be a practice run gone awry – they admitted that Huskins had not been the true target but upon realizing their mistake, they took her anyway. Then in a sign of genius, they noted that the ransom was kept low in order to remain under the $10,000 threshold at which banking laws required deposits to be reported to the federal government.
The kidnappers said they felt terribly when they discovered Huskins was not their intended victim but since it was a training mission, they decided to carry it out regardless. Eventually, the kidnappers say, they felt so bad, they simply let Huskins go, dropping her off in her hometown of Huntington Beach, California, where they thought she would be safe. Then they lambasted the police for claiming the kidnapping event was a hoax.
“We cannot stand to see two good people thrown under the bus by the police and media, when Ms. Victim F (Huskins) and Mr. Victim M (Quinn) should have received only support and sympathy,” the email read. “We are responsible for the victims’ suffering and the least we can do is come forward to prove they are not lying.”
The kidnappers went on to describe how they drilled holes in the window pane to release a lock to enter Quinn’s home. They then entered the home with plastic squirt guns equipped with strobe lights and laser pointers mounted atop to mimic real firearms. They said Quinn and Huskins were given headphones playing “calming music and some spoken instructions” while the crew went to work with plans to monitor Quinn electronically to dissuade him from contacting the authorities. They then demanded an apology from the police with an added threat that if an apology was not issued, they would be the “direct agents of harm”.
Rattled and embarrassed, police noted that details given in the letter would only have been known to Huskins and the kidnappers and thus realized that the bizarre circumstances behind the abduction had indeed happened just as Huskins and Quinn had stated. The movie-like raid with what appeared to be semi-automatic weapons sighted with strobe lights and laser scopes, the goggles and headphones piping calming music and ransom instructions, the sleeping drink that knocked Quinn out for several hours, and Huskins “randomly” showing up, unharmed, at her parents’ home – it was all true. There had been no hoax, no deception, only a complex, complicated crime. Regardless, several days had already passed and authorities had no viable suspects to pursue.
The Dublin home invasion
On Friday, June 5, 2015, Alameda County officials received a call reporting a home invasion on North Terracina Drive in Dublin, a northern California community in Alameda County. According to the police, an assailant broke into the home and tried to tie up a husband and wife. The husband fought back for several minutes while the wife ran into the bathroom and called police. The assailant fled the scene but dropped his cellphone in the home’s hallway. Authorities retrieved the phone and traced it to a Matthew Muller who lived in a home owned by his parents in Orangevale, Sacramento County. Police went to the home but found an apparently-vacant residence, mail piled high in the mailbox.
Three days later, Alameda County Sheriffs tracked Muller down and arrested him in his South Lake home. According to reports, Muller told police he served in the Marines from 1995 to 1999 and suffered from “Gulf War illness and psychosis, and in 2008 was diagnosed with bipolar disorder”. He went on to say he attended Harvard from 2003 to 2006 and taught there from 2006 to 2009 (as a clinical fellow and research assistant). Although the man’s stated credentials appeared respectable and proved to be true, police found that Muller had become a member of the State Bar of California in 2001 but months later, was recommended for disbarment over a dispute in legal fees (Muller was disbarred not because of the fee dispute but because he failed to respond to the State Bar’s notice of disciplinary action).
Harvard graduate Matthew Muller tied to Huskins abduction
Police were certain Muller was responsible for the Dublin break-in and after several weeks investigating the case, they began to suspect his involvement in the Huskins kidnapping too. By July, police say they had ample evidence linking Matthew Muller to the Huskins abduction. There were several similarities to the Huskins’ abduction case, particularly the method used to enter the home. At Muller’s home, police recovered a stolen car. Inside the car, police found “objects” that fit descriptions Huskins described seeing during her kidnapping. In addition, a laptop resembling Quinn’s was found as were water pistols complete with strobe lights and laser-pointers attached. A pair of swim goggles were discovered in Muller’s vehicle and when his cellphone was examined, it was found to have Huskins’ Huntington Beach address programmed in the phone’s navigation system. Given the preponderance of evidence, Muller was charged with the abduction of Denise Huskins providing final validation that Huskins kidnapping and abduction had been real – despite the bizarre circumstances behind the crime.
Sexual assault reported
It was later reported that Huskins told police she was sexually assaulted twice by one of her captors and that she was told the sexual attacks were recorded “to use against her in case she reports the kidnapping to authorities”.
Police scoffed at the case earlier than we thought
Quinn says that when police first questioned him, they scoffed at the story. This was confirmed by the police who said,
“The statement Mr. Quinn provided was such an unbelievable story we initially had a hard time believing it and, upon further investigation, were not able to substantiate any of the things he was saying.”
Quinn’s lawyer, Daniel Russo, explained,
“I think the bottom line is that the story was too unbelievable (for police) to imagine. So they started out from a place that (Huskins and Quinn) were lying.”
Kidnappers attempt to contact Quinn on his cellphone but his phone was turned off
The kidnappers told Quinn to watch his cellphone for details about the ransom demand. The abductors did indeed attempt to contact Quinn, both by phone and email, with further instructions on several occasions. However, both Quinn’s phone and computer were in possession of the police – who were not monitoring them. In fact, they had them turned off completely.
Prior Muller crimes?
A one-man show?
The FBI says Matthew Muller told a television news reporter he had a psychotic break and blamed a side effect from a vaccine in part for his behavior. In an application for a search warrant, FBI Special Agent Wesley Drone said Matthew Muller also told the reporter during a July conversation in jail about the kidnapping that there was no gang involved, just him.
Below is the cover of the Matthew Muller arrest warrant for the kidnapping of Denise Huskins. You may download the full arrest report (PDF) here: 271476364-Arrest-Warrant-Complaint-SEALED