The three-part docuseries American Nightmare continues its grip on Netflix’s Top 10 Shows list as more and more viewers become riveted — and infuriated — by the mishandled kidnapping-for-ransom investigation at its center.
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In the wee hours of March 23, 2015, Denise Huskins was taken from the Mare Island, California home of her then-boyfriend Aaron Quinn. The Vallejo PD and FBI were immediately suspicious of Quinn not reporting the crime until the afternoon (he’d been bound and sedated and told he’d be watched) and of the wild, elaborate tale he recounted involving swim goggles with taped-over lenses, headphones that played pre-recorded instructions, and a wetsuit-wearing abductor admitting Quinn’s ex-fiancée, Andrea Roberts, was expected to be in his bed instead.
As Quinn shared the story of the physical therapists’ love triangle, a potential motive emerged: Maybe Quinn and Huskins’ heart-to-heart that night got heated and he killed her. The case got stranger on the morning of March 25, when Huskins was released 400 miles away near her childhood home without a money exchange. That evening, Vallejo PD held a press conference declaring “this event appears to be an orchestrated event and not a kidnapping” and seeming to have already concluded a Gone Girl-like hoax was afoot. Minds wouldn’t change until June, when officers investigating an attempted kidnapping with a similar MO in Dublin, California linked their assailant, Matthew Muller, to Huskins’ abduction.
Then-rookie detective Misty Carausu emerges as the hero of American Nightmare. But armchair detectives’ work may not be done. Herewith are nine burning questions the Netflix thriller left in its wake…
Where Can We Read the Kidnapper’s Emails?
Muller, a disbarred, Harvard Law alum who’d served in the Marines in the late ‘90s, later admitted to sending the March 24 proof-of-life audio file of Denise to then-San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Henry Lee as well as the lengthy emails that followed detailing the formation of an alleged auto-theft ring and aspiring “Ocean’s Eleven, gentlemen criminals” treading into home invasion and kidnapping for ransom. Those full emails are included in this FBI affidavit obtained by SFGate.com, along with correspondence directed specifically to then-VPD Lt. Kenny Park, who’d given the press conference.
Why Was Muller So Adamant Denise Be Believed?
The emails describe “the team” experiencing “a case of reverse Stockholm syndrome”: “We are haunted by the grace and fortitude Denise displayed throughout her ordeal, and by her expressions of concern for her family and patients even while she was tied up in the dark wondering whether she would live until the next day… We would rather risk giving the police information that could lead them to catch us than live in a world where two fine people like [Denise and Aaron] could suffer a horrible crime and then have their lives further ruined by the response to it.”
Why Was Muller the Only Person Ever Arrested?
In a July 2015 jailhouse interview, Muller insisted he acted alone — meaning he’d either lied about having “associates” or was telling the truth when he wrote that he was “primarily responsible for this operation going through.” Denise and Aaron believe they overheard multiple voices, but Muller’s 2016 federal plea agreement notes “a sound recording that appeared designed to simulate people whispering to each other” was found on Muller’s computers. The couple, who married in 2018 and have two daughters, maintain they saw more than one set of legs. Did Muller pose the masked blow-up doll authorities recovered?
How Was Aaron’s Phone Not Closely Monitored?!
One would presume that Rule #1 of investigating a kidnapping for ransom is to keep all lines of communication open. But someone had put Aaron’s phone in airplane mode when it was taken into police custody. While being interrogated on March 23, Aaron missed two calls from an unknown number at 8:31pm and 8:33pm, a fact not discovered until the following evening. Those calls were later traced to within 200 meters of the South Lake Tahoe cabin where Muller held Denise.
Did Vallejo PD Face Any Consequences For Their Tunnel Vision?
Eventually. In March 2016, Denise and Aaron filed a defamation of character lawsuit against the city of Vallejo and its police department, and a $2.5 million settlement was reached in 2018. In April 2016, however, Det. Mat Mustard accepted Officer of the Year for 2015. Mustard was promoted to sergeant in 2018, which came with more controversy and claims of misconduct as reported by the Vallejo Sun. He’s still believed to be with the VPD. Then-police chief Andrew Bidou, who wrote private apology letters to Denise and Aaron in July 2015, retired in 2019.
Did American Nightmare Try to Speak With the Investigators?
Directors Felicity Morris and Bernadette Higgins told Variety they requested interviews with “all the police and FBI involved,” hoping to hear what they’ve done to ensure mistakes wouldn’t be repeated, to no avail. Since June 2020, the California Department of Justice has been working with the embroiled VPD to implement reform recommendations. By June 2023, 20 of the initial 45 recommendations had been fulfilled. Last October, the DOJ announced its plans for the next push, but the enforcement of those efforts is now tied up in court.
Do We Know Why Aaron and Andrea Were Targeted by Muller?
If the emails are believed, homes were cased and those housing children under 18, adults over 55, or anyone with a military background were avoided. The kidnapping was “planned” around Aaron and another person believed to be Andrea, who’d been seen in a photo. Denise reported a kidnapper telling her that Aaron’s home had been entered on five previous occasions. Per the emails, “There had also been belongings and engagement cards in the house suggesting that [Andrea] was still living there and was [Aaron’s fiancée]. However, we had previously entered the house some time before and this information was stale.”
What Happened to FBI Agent David Sesma?
Attorneys tried unsuccessfully to have Sesma removed from the investigation after learning he’d been romantically involved with Andrea before she began her four-year relationship with Aaron. In a recent interview with The U.S. Sun, Aaron’s attorney Dan Russo reiterated the perceived conflict of interest, and reported that Sesma is still with the FBI. The idea that Sesma could’ve even orchestrated the kidnapping has occurred to some viewers. “To be clear, we have no reason to believe that Special Agent David Sesma had anything to do with what happened to Denise and Aaron,” Higgins states in the series’ press notes.
When Is Muller Due to Be Released?
In 2017, Muller received a 40-year federal sentence for kidnapping for ransom. Then during a 2018 jailhouse interview, he claimed he wasn’t guilty and hadn’t been mentally sound when he accepted that plea deal. He planned to fight the state charges, but in 2022, he pleaded no contest to two counts of forcible rape and guilty to robbery, burglary, and false imprisonment. A 31-year state sentence is being served concurrently at a federal correctional institution in Tucson. His release date is listed as July 8, 2049.
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